Archive for August, 2016

A new party system?

August 21, 2016

Amid the speculation about whether Labour will split in the event of another Corbyn victory, Tim Montgomerie revived his suggestion that many politicians have more in common with some members of another party than with some in their own party – and so we should have a new set of parties.

It’s a good thought experiment, and one I’m probably as qualified to carry out as Tim is, given that it involves imagining one’s own ideal party and several parties with whom one cannot agree.

Here are the parties that would exist if England’s politicians created a new party system from a veil of ignorance.

Where I agree with Tim is that there would be a left wing party (Solidarity), whose platform would involve being pro-nationalisation and anti- things like fracking and all things nuclear. Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas would both be in it. Serious question: what do they disagree on?

Tim has a National Party which would unite eurosceptics and social conservatives. Their priorities include technical education and small business. This is clearly Tim’s preference, but I don’t see much to separate them from his Patriots party, which is defined by anti-immigration and authoritarianism. The main contentious area is how anti-big business they would be.

Another point: Tim is one of the Right’s biggest proponents of house building but as much as I’d like his colleagues to share his views I don’t think it likely that a National Party would have this as a priority. Many conservatives who’d be drawn to join this political alliance (though not necessarily the voters) would be keen to preserve their property wealth and pastoral views. Pro-housing policies are a much easier fit in other fictional parties. Anyway, within this alliance would be people like Theresa May, Nigel Farage and David Davis.

There are Labour and Conservative MPs who would need a new home, and that’s where the Progressives come in. It would be pro-EU, for a start, and its policy platform would be defined by “what works”. So it would recognise that the housing market is broken and needs significant state intervention, and would seek to empower workers without intervening too heavily in the market. It’d welcome migrant workers, and bring the private sector into the NHS where there was a good business case. It would support renewables but wouldn’t rule out fracking or nuclear. A less ideologically rigid New Labour, basically, but one where I could imagine Robert Halfon and Anna Soubry would be comfortable.

Finally, there are the socially liberal, economically neoliberal Tories who couldn’t stomach the Nationals or the Progressives. They’ll have the Freedom Party. Douglas Carswell will be there. George Osborne too, I reckon. They’ll also want more houses, but instead of investing in new council houses, they’ll tear up planning rules and have developers let rip. Aside from that, and their pro-immigration stance, they’d be terrible, eroding workers’ rights and starving public services of investment.

What’s missing in all of this is the Lib Dems. Could they join the Progressives if “what works” is snooping on people’s email records? Could they join the Freedom Party if there is a fundamental disagreement around the EU?

The truth is, there are good reasons for the party system to exist as it does. Conservatives’ raison d’etre is to govern the best way they can while conserving what the Haves have – and the Haves often disagree (hence the Brexit fiasco). Labour’s is to improve living standards for the Have Nots, but they disagree on the best path to this. The Lib Dems’ priority is individual rights. I think. And UKIP’s is sovereignty – either over immigration or as a end in itself. All politicians make compromises with their fellow party members in pursuit of their overarching goal.

Of course, it is also true that decades of baggage stops them making compromises with would-be allies in other parties.

I suspect that parties won’t stretch to breaking point over their purpose, but because of foreign policy – not just on the EU but, in the case of Labour, NATO and Trident. The cause of conflict is the position of Britain in the world, something even more fundamental.

Anyway, try to guess which fictional party I like best.

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