It is widely accepted that Brexit has decimated the norms of the UK’s political system, whatever the eventual outcome. It has exposed not just the flaws of our system of government, but also the deep divide across the electorate. By introducing the direct democracy of a referendum into a representative system, Brexit has eroded faith in our politicians, pushed the debate from rational to extreme, and pitched hard-right, moderate and hard-left voters against one another. This has brought about a level of vitriol among society that has taken many by surprise, commentators and politicians alike.
It has also led many to want to rip out their hair in anguish, smash their faces into their desks and/or scream “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME, I DIDN’T MEAN IT” over the White Cliffs of Dover.
The sheer lack of empathy, understanding or responsibility from the leaders of the two main parties is unforgivable. Given the scale of the damage that leaving the EU could cause (with or without a deal), for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to blithely and unashamedly stick their heads in the sand and simply return to the same, unsuccessful arguments over and over again is reprehensible.
Come what may, whether we leave the EU or not, historians and commentators will look back on this time as being the moment that Britain finally realised that its political discourse had to change. So, once the dust has settled, the inquest has been held and the heads have rolled, what do we do?
Put simply, we must ensure the creation of at least two more political parties. However, neither of them can be a centrist party, despite what logic might suggest.
An intrinsic part of the ineptitude of our government and shadow government is that neither are united parties. The Conservatives are being torn apart by ‘small-c’ and socially-liberal conservatives having to continuously fight against the openly hard-right factions, led by the grim spectre of the European Research Group and its glorious leader, Chairman Mogg. The Labour Party is led by a man who is essentially a communist, yet the party itself mostly consists of more moderate MPs.
As a consequence of this, if I were to vote Conservative, I would be giving a democratic mandate to both hard-right and centrist policy. If I were to vote Labour, then I would be giving a mandate to both communist and centrist policy. Because I believe in learning the lessons of history, I am neither a Nazi nor a Trotskyite. Therefore, I have very little inclination to give a mandate, or indeed a vote, to either of these parties.
The idea of a Corbyn government terrifies me, but the idea of being forced to vote for the Conservative party out of fear disgusts me. The Lib Dems, then? Realistically, they are never going to recover from the expenses scandal in their current incarnation – they have little or no clout within British politics.
So, if there is currently no viable party to vote for, surely a new, exciting centrist party, like the under-construction United for Change party, would be the answer? To an extent, yes – any new centrist party that cuts through the current political malaise sounds appealing. But what will happen to the great, established parties that have been at the forefront of British politics for well over a century? Are they to be left by the wayside and forgotten about? Is their wealth of knowledge and experience now completely bereft of value because of a few years of poor leadership?
If we create a new, artificial centre, then the Conservative Party would be forced to move right and the Labour Party would be forced to move left. A new party like United for Change would be exciting, certainly, but would it appeal to lifelong Conservative or Labour (or even Liberal Democrat) voters?
Despite the events of the last few years, a huge swathe of the electorate on either side of the divide will never change allegiance, despite its respective party’s performance. For many, politics is tribal, and to suggest that they jump ship now would be akin to telling Liverpool supporters to support Manchester United because ‘Manchester United understand you better than Liverpool do.’ It simply won’t happen. Even if some were persuaded to leave, would those voters in the safe-seat constituencies, the political equivalent of the ‘ultras,’ join them?
When the Gang of Four broke ranks to create the SDP (and subsequent SDP-Liberal Alliance), they did actually manage to garner a huge number of votes away from Labour in the 1983 election – 7.8m to Labour’s 8.5m. However, because of the nature of First Past the Post, they only won 23 seats compared to Labour’s 209. The voters in the Labour heartlands, the safe seats, remained loyal.
Were a new centre to be created, the lifelong centralist Labour voters, and indeed their Conservative equivalents, would stay loyal to their increasingly extremist parties, driven to the fringes of the political spectrum. As such, their loyalty would give their parties a false mandate to govern in a more extremist way – a vote for a moderate party is also a vote for an extremist party when the party contains both factions within it.
Additionally, our system is designed for us to elect MPs to represent their constituents’ worries and concerns, debate them in Parliament, and generate legislation – the people create the agenda. Who could honestly deny, however, that the “conversation” around Brexit, generated largely by more hard-line MPs and fuelled by an alarmist media, has led the agenda of the people instead?
While we, the electorate, are supposed to shape the debate for our MPs, we now live in a soundbite-laden, social media-infested, click-bait-heavy society where MPs, desperate to become a trending hashtag, shape the debate for us. Those who were once moderate voters will become far more susceptible to accepting hard-line views as standard party policy, rather than the extremist views they are.
The further to the right or left the two main parties go, the further they would take their voters with them ideologically, leaving only the “liberal elite” in the middle. Despite everything, I do have some faith in this country, and I believe that a centre party could win a number of seats in an election and maybe even do quite well. However, the reality is that the two main parties will have taken a sizeable number of votes with them to the fringes. Would a new centrist party really be able to win an overall majority?
If, as I do, you would like to see a rational, centrist government appear to help us through this post-Brexit hell-scape, by far the better option is to create a new hard-line party for both sides of the spectrum and leave the old parties to fall back into the centre.
Between Tony Blair taking office in 1997 and David Cameron leaving in 2016 we have seen the two major parties led by centrist leaders (the economic nightmare and subsequent fallout of austerity notwithstanding). One could argue that Labour’s roots lie in socialism, but in this modern, globalised society, the best place for both main parties to set up shop is in the middle of the political spectrum – still clearly and demonstrably right and left-wing, but without hard-line factions trying to pull them away.
To look at hard-line Brexiteer voters for the Conservatives today is to look at the UKIP voters of two and a half years ago. The fall of the far-right political parties like the BNP and UKIP has meant that they have had to clamber onto the side of the Conservative boat, veering it sharply to the right (although Theresa May’s stewardship has also given little resistance). The truly hard-left voices within Labour were silenced for so long by the abandonment of socialism during New Labour. Now they have been given a voice again by the cult of Corbynism, despite the fact that what made Corbyn so god-like to the youth vote in the first place was that he gave us an alternative to austerity, not that he was a communist.
Give these extremists their own parties. Before 2016, before the referendum that gave us this festering dog-mess called Brexit was even a twinkle in David Cameron’s eye, a far-right supporter was seen by most as something of a joke. They were a throwback to yesteryear, almost comical in how deluded they were. For instance, people adored Nigel Farage as being a parody of the British psyche, a real-life Alan Partridge. The remnants of the far-left met in pubs and grumbled, forgotten and irrelevant, with little political stock.
Now, both ideologies hold more power than ever before.
Give them parties that truly align to their beliefs. That way, they might sod off and stop ruining ours.