Monday, 14 August 2017

It's my party and it'll change politics forever...

Setting up new political parties is a tricky business. I appreciate that us politicians all believe - each and every oneof us - that our intellect, wit, charm and charisma means any party we set up would storm to victory on a tidal wave of popular passion for our brilliant policies. But, truth be told, the track record of new political parties in the UK is pretty rubbish - indeed the record of new parties isn't great anywhere.

This, however, doesn't stop people suggesting that a new party would change everything. Here's Spad Superstar, James Chapman (from holiday in Greece):

James Chapman stepped up his online campaign for a proposed “Democrats” party he has been mounting while on holiday in Greece, saying Brexit signalled the demise of the Conservatives.
A number of serving, former and shadow cabinet ministers contacted Chapman after he posted a series of provocative tweets this week, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said: “Two people in the cabinet, a number of people who have been in Conservative cabinets before now – better cabinets, I might say, than the current one – and a number of shadow cabinets ministers have also been in touch.

“They are not saying they are going to quit their parties, but they are saying they understand that there is an enormous gap in the centre now of British politics.”
That this exciting new project from a bloke on holiday in Greece who appears not to have a job at the moment tells you everything you need to know. We've all, with the help of sunshine, Mediterranean food and good red wine worked up incredible schemes to build mighty businesses, transform the game of football, rebalance the British economy and, as James has done, change the face of British politics forever. And when we return to the rain, sandwiches and supermarket lager of Britain these grand plans disappear into the mundanity of everyday life and business. As they should - 'pub talk' as a former colleague David Emmott once called it - because they make little sense.

We know how new centrist parties motivated by divisions over Europe, along with other policies like nuclear disarmament and nationalisation, turn out - even when they are led by a phalanx of cabinet superstars (or in reality three superstars and the one whose name no-one can quite remember):
The SDP began in January 1981 with the Limehouse Declaration, a statement of intent by four former Labour Cabinet ministers—Roy Jenkins, David Owen, William Rodgers, and Shirley Williams—to quit the leftward path that had lately been taken by Labour.
The SDP sputtered on until 1988 as a serious party when most of it voted to merge with the Liberal Party (that it so closely resembled it had shared election campaigns in 1983 and 1987).

While James Chapman's 'Democrats' might be the product of him having too little to do in Greece and too much wine, lots of people seem to think that there's some sort of mileage in setting up a sort of centrist party (presumably one that isn't run by a pleasant god-botherer or aged ballroom dancer) to stop Brexit. Leaving aside that this is perhaps the most short-term justification for creating a political party, it's not going to happen for a couple of very important reasons.

The first reason is that Labour MPs (activists, councillors and what have you) are going to stay right where they are in the expectation that one of two things will happen - Corbyn's leadership will collapse leading to the centre-left getting control again or Corbyn will be prime minister and they'll get some of the goodies that go with power. Folk like Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer won't walk away from safe seats and guaranteed media access to engage in a risky, dodgy new party (even one with a tad more thought and planning than James Chapman gave the idea in between eating, tanning and drinking).

And secondly, with a few exceptions the Conservative Party has already been done over by Remainers and the Conservatives currently have (courtesy of the DUP) all the jobs and most of the power. Why on earth would any unnamed cabinet ministers walk out because of the slight possibility that Jacob Rees-Mogg might get to be leader of the Conservative Party at some unspecified point in the future? Assuming that Rees-Mogg actually wants the job.

Moreover running a political party is about a little bit more than have some influential figureheads - political organisations aren't just a couple of chancers sending out press releases from an office on the edge of SW1 (although I suspect folk like James Chapman think this is all you have to do) but involve a lot of organisation, effort and structure. Remember that, after its initial surge, the SDP essentially piggy-backed on the existing Liberal party structure and organisation - a new centrist party can't assume that the current liberal democrats, for all their opportunism will let this happen again.

The last successful new political party in the UK was the Labour Party. And it's worth bearing in mind that it arrived to the left of existing politics and that it took best part of 25 years to get to the stage of forming a (coalition) government - over 40 years to govern alone. There may indeed be a 'gap' in the centre of British politics because of Brexit and Corbyn but, if people want a party, you have to ask why - just like in 1981 - they don't simply switch to the existing, established and "winning here" Liberal Democrats?

British politics has to get a lot more broken before there's even the faintest chance of a new party - let alone one with any chance of success. The Conservative Party isn't (despite the best efforts of the media to pretend otherwise) split on policy but rather by the competing ambitions of leading figures. This is why otherwise sane Tories give credence to the idea of Rees-Mogg. And there may be enormous policy differences between the Corbynistas and Blairites in the Labour Party but the latter are staying put because they believe people - inside and outside the party - will eventually get bored with permanent revolution.

But Still - pour me another glass of that lovely red wine and let me explain my plan for a new centre-right political party...



Curmudgeon said...

"Good red wine"? Whatever are you suggesting? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Correction - the last successful political party in the UK was UKIP.

It was formed with a clearly-stated objective, it fought for that objective through the standard democratic processes, it achieved its stated objective.

I can think of no other example in UK politics of a political party ever fully achieving its stated objective. If that's not success, then I don't know what is.

If, however, your own definition of 'success' is the creation of a tax-sponsored sinecure for the terminally unemployable, operating under the flag of convenience of a 'political party', then you may choose to reach a different conclusion.