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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Does Britain Need a New Party?

Background
To discuss this I’m going to need to take you through the short term future of politics in Britain. Here is a (subjective) diagram which highlights where our main political parties stand on the political spectrum at the moment. Just a quick glance demonstrates how the parties and so our political discourse has become bunched together on the right-wing. This is dangerous and disenfranchising since it allows politicians to make the frankly absurd claim that there is only one solution to any given problem, safe in the knowledge that their competitors will not stray too far from their dogma. It also limits the debate around political and economic issues that can take place since no one is presenting an alternative to the 'Big-Business-is-Best' argument that currently prevails.

NB.. I use the word capitalism in the diagram to denote an emphasis on free markets.

Labour
Clearly there should be something of an appetite among the electorate for more socialist policies in 2015, given the effective privatisation of the NHS and the further erosion of rights and services by the coalition. For this reason, Labour will engage in a great deal of rhetoric as a veneer for not very much policy. The issue is this, Labour do not need to be left of centre to win an election. The poorest people in Britain who benefit most from socialist policies, have fairly set voting patterns in that they tend to be either staunchly Labour or staunchly Conservative. Thus even though they are the clear majority in the country they will not determine the outcome of an election. Therefore Labour only need to be to the left (or seen to be to the left) of the Conservative party to compete, and so they will continue to target their policies at Middle England and London where the majority of the floating voters are located. They will frame themselves as the alternative to the unpopular right-wing policies of the Tories without actually offering a real alternative.  Because of this, most of their campaigning will be negative and focus on the bad things that the Coalition has done during their time in office. Labour's position is also likely to harden with the potential loss of Scotland from the Union as the Scots constitute a part of their traditional left-leaning base. Labour will therefore have to place even more emphasis on luring traditional Tory voters and so their creep to the right which began in earnest under Blair, will continue and accelerate.

Conservatives
In contrast, the Conservatives are masters at selling the unsellable and having set out their stall on the far right during this term, they cannot backtrack without looking weak – political suicide. They have masterminded the right's high-jacking of the agenda over the last four decades using the media to mobilise the poor to vote against their own interests. They have also been remarkably successful at using propaganda to link socialism with communist experiments in other parts of the world. Sobriquets such as the “Loony Left” have forced left and centre parties to the right, creating a climate where dialogue around alternative economic models has been impossible and so all major parties now attempt to use the same tools to achieve only slightly different ends. In ideological terms there is no realistic electoral threat from the left and on the right the Conservatives will have no serious concerns about UKIP’s relatively modest vote share.
They will be conscious of the damage to their image among Middle England voters from their ‘austerity’ and ‘squeeze the middle’ policies and so they will play to the patriotism of the British, most likely by attempting to provoke another war with Argentina in the run up to the election – the scrapping of naval assets has virtually been an open invitation to the Argies to attack the Falklands. Of course this will bring with it expense and therefore a further mandate for austerity after the 2015 election. Nonetheless, they will not communicate a commitment to further austerity until after the 2015 election since it will certainly be a vote loser. They will attempt to force the coalition to collapse about a year to eighteen months before the contest, and then roll up the most politically damaging policies and hang them around the necks of the Lib Dems - they do not need to be completely successful in this endeavour, they merely need to create some doubt concerning their percieved 'nasty party' antics. They will follow this by embarking on a charm offensive based on spun statistics of what is likely to be a jobless recovery much like that in the US. - More manufacturing and technical jobs will quietly move  to cheaper countries overseas while the vacuum continues to be only partially filled by low paying 'flexible' service sector jobs which will allow the Tories to claim unemployment is being reduced. Money is likely to be pumped into the real economy (instead of into the banks) for a short while roughly eighteen months to a year ahead of the election to create something of a feel good factor, but this will only be spent on short term projects that can be ditched without drama, after the election.

A Note on Patriotism in Politics
Digressing briefly on the subject of patriotism since I mentioned it above, politicians speak of it conveniently when it suits their interests. Threats to our freedom, Terrorism, the Axis of Evil, and malcontents who want to hold the country to ransom all figure prominently in their hyperbole. No real reference to patriotism as a love for your country and fellow citizens is ever made though. It can’t be, otherwise we would have the contrasting relief to see how treacherous our leaders and their financial backers really are. Our politicians should take a leaf out of Hollande’s book who notes that the wealthiest should pay higher taxes in France since it is their patriotic duty to contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the nation; to help the people whose efforts have provided their wealth. Unfortunately that can’t happen in Britain since we still equate patriotism with the glory of the Crown.  With an outdated imperialist vision that sees us line the streets as our young people die in wars that they don’t understand and ignore the fact that many people profit from their deaths. Regardless of the questionable motives for war in Iraq, who do you think profits when embargos are lifted as a result of Saddam’s passing and the free flowing oil that results? Who profits from the government’s purchase of weapons to fight an extended war in Afghanistan or incursions into the Middle East? Whether or not you believe in the moral or legal cases for these military campaigns, no-one can ignore the money trail. Meanwhile the donors to all political parties and the lobbyists and politicians who have supported the conflicts, auctioned our public services and sold our rights, store the proceeds off shore and avoid even contributing a small portion of their blood money to the cause of the public good. Talk of patriotism is a smokescreen, a front to manipulate the easily led and poorly informed to think, act and vote as will be required to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.

Liberal Democrats (although I’m not sure there’s much point…)
As far as the Lib Dems are concerned, they are fighting a losing battle to the point where it’s hardly worth wasting a paragraph. Their unpopularity as a result of their sheepish, whipped  support for Tory policies is irreversible whether or not they now terminate the association. Clegg knows this and I would guess his escape route is already assured, probably as a conservative MEP or some ‘non-partisan’ figurehead position such as taking over from Chris Patten at the BBC. The Lib Dems will try to present a new Clegg-less face of hope and leftward reform. This will not wash however, and the Libs vote share will be halved at best, making them even more irrelevant than they have been in coalition. Because everyone knows this, they will struggle to garner the corporate sponsorship that is now a pre-requisite for election success in that it is the basis for the expensive smearing campaigns that are now a necessity.

The corporate donor issue will also cripple any idealistic plans Labour might have too. As much as many MP’s and party members will champion a movement to the left, the leadership will be well aware that they need to get elected first and foremost, so they will have to chase funding from the super-rich corporations and donors that this government is creating with its current and its historic Public Sector “reforms”. Promises will clearly have to be given about 'favours' to be delivered in return, for such is the nature of politics in a corporate fascist democracy. Not buying it? Ed Miliband acknowledged this recently, stating in a speech that no political party can afford to be anti-big-business.

General Election 2015
In reality then, little will change in the run up to 2015. The Conservatives will stay ultra-right and attempt a PR coup to maintain power. They will have a vague manifesto and a plan to shade the election and continue their policies to make the rich richer and the poor and disadvantaged work harder for their scraps. Labour will decide that all they need to do to beat the Tories, is to not be the Tories (not being Bush won Obama a Nobel prize remember), and so their policies too will be vague and effectively they will maintain the status quo if they attain office. For Labour – and because the public will always equate them with the left no matter how misguided this is - it means a slow drift ever further rightward which will contribute to the on-going reduction of confidence in the party and a strengthening of the belief that the only way is the Tory way. Fundamentally, this means the only choice we have is a faster or slower movement to the right now, and an unavoidable accelerating movement right as we head further into the future.

An Alternative?
There is another way however. If another party were created and supported, if a modern party of nationalisation, employment rights and responsibility for all were to emerge. A number of things would change. Yes there is the threat that the left would be divided, but this is only a concern to those who seriously believe we still have a party of the left. A new party would offer the potential for a wider popular movement which could then begin to seriously discuss equality and rights in the public domain. More importantly though, it would put pressure on the Labour party - precisely because their vote share would be threatened. They would be faced with the choice of committing to the left or holding the moderate right. No longer would they be able to coast into elections without real convictions and values beyond stopping the Tories. No longer would they hold their position as the major opposition to Conservative rule, by promising only to not be as bad as the Tories. If they hold the centre-right they will condemn the Lib Dems to long term extinction, and if they move left they begin to provide a real alternative to the corporate fascism that we currently endure, as was their function in the early 1900’s. The Tories too would need to respond, they would need to renew their message that capitalism can be socially responsible, and in all likelihood they would commit to promises of greater regulation (probably in the financial sector) since this is the cheapest guarantee (both in terms of spending and their own private interests in large corporations) that they can give in the near-term. Again, this would put pressure on the Labour party to move further left to differentiate themselves and thus go some way to putting social and economic justice back on the agenda. Unfortunately though, the emergence of a new party at this late stage is somewhere between unlikely and the second-coming. This has to be the long term plan, in the immediate future we must seek to limit the damage.

What Now?
So then, either the Tories get re-elected, or Labour edge it without making any 'risky' ideological changes. Even in the latter scenario Labour merely keep the government benches warm until the Conservatives return at the following election. And return they will, with a reinforced argument to criticise their most obvious competitors on the basis of their limited achievements during that period, and continue their looting of our country. Once we strip away the PR, the spin and the mainstream-media smokescreen, modern politics is not about patriotism, policy, conviction, ideology or representation. It is about one thing and one thing only – career politicians getting elected! This means that manifestos will get progressively more vague, rhetoric ever louder and real debate ever marginalised until something changes, or something is changed. Until as a populace we create a viable conviction based leftward challenge that represents real political plurality. Until then we have only the choice between staying right or moving further right, and that means a smaller Public Sector, the eventual complete loss of free healthcare, education and the police. The gradual disappearance of employment rights, corporate regulation, our progressive tax system and the abolition of our already diluted democracy. In concise terms we as a nation will head further into the neo-liberal wilderness as the wealthy become the overlords of a post-modern feudalist state. As people, our status as resources will be solidified and our ability to protest or force change irrevocably compromised for another generation at least.

Summary
We need a new political movement to make change - real change - because the truth of the matter is that the Labour Movement has fizzled out. Either it has been infiltrated by the more priviledged classes or its political leaders, like the pigs in Animal Farm, have fallen pray to the spoils on offer in our society for the wealthy and well connected. They are now themselves part of the top 1%, and too many of them will have too much to lose by implementing the policies that would really help the majority in our country. In 2015 we all need to vote anywhere but Tory; to vote for the person standing against the Conservative candidate with the best chance of beating them (best to avoid BNP though). Not just to protect the poor, but because we all deserve a stronger, fairer and happier society where we value each other as free individuals rather than inanimate factors of production.

But after 2015: Yes, Britain does need a new political movement and a new political party. We need them because in the long-term, we will have to create our own alternative to resurrect our democracy.

15 comments:

  1. Personally, I have seen a shift towards the right since "New" Labour and Blair. Note the change from Labour to "New" Labour marked a shift to the right immediately. As you can now see, Tony Blair is part of the 1% elite monetarily. The politicians are careerists who want to warn a living and more (if you recall from the expenses scandal) and their livelihoods are constantly at stake. I think a new ideology is the key and a new model of thought entirely regarding politics. Otherwise, we may as well vote for the BNP or Monster Looneys- it'll all still end up the same as before. We, the people expect more than previous eras and should allow ourselves to deserve more too. Twitter@RapinderA

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  2. No Britain does not need a new political party, we need to remove political parties, they have outlived their usefulness in today's networked and connected society. The crappy old boring tennis about either individual blue survival (one before many) or social red protection (many before one) it's actually both. By the way it's certainly not the lost yellow fencepost (protect my own arse).

    Alternatives are always imaginary arguments, but just imagine a system where:

    1] Only serving local councillors can be elected to national parliament, so that they actually have to represent a real place with real people (it'll improve LAs and stop toadyism). 2] MPs pay is directly related to their level of active voting and one of the votes is to appoint a cabinet via it's a knock out. 3] Those MPs can be removed at any time by their tiny constituency, their diaries are property of their constituency and any inaccuracies are grounds for removal. 4] Political whips are illegal, all donations to politics go in one pot and MPs can stay there as long as their constituency supports them so there are no general elections (only local ones). 5] Most importantly anyone who wants to be a politician is banned for life from ever being one.

    Just an idea ... I wonder where in the world it works like this?

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  3. Interesting thoughts - I woke up from a disturbed sleep with the same conclusion a few weeks back. Some points:
    1) we need an end to the Westminster protectorate - too many politicians from all parties have been Professional since they were at school - some outgrow this (Wm Hague) but others are too enshrined in the Party ethos, and lack independent thought. (This includes Spads and Civil services). We need our politicians to be proven Managers (businesses, schools anything) - any new Party would have to go down this route anyway.
    2) Green party has potential to offer an alternative (and push Labour around), however it still seems obsessed with "Green" issues, vs real-life economic & social problems. NHA party is a possible, esp. if it can get good people to stand, build a wider platform.
    3) A new party would be free to throw out the ideas that certain things can't be changed (eg, drugs policy) and argue properly about evidence-based policies.
    4) As you rightly point out, a new party can't hope to get electoral power quickly (i'd guess min. 15 years - if it could survive that long), but WOULD influence the bigger parties and could be all over the (new) media pointing out the obvious, and shaping opinion.
    5)So how do we do it? - so many wonderful bright eloquent and seriously clued up folk following people like you on Twitter... Can I suggest the "Governance Party" - seeking to govern all the people in the land with fairness and intelligence.

    And i'll stop eating cheese and peanuts before bed in future! - @silentfp

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    1. Take a look at the detailed Green Party manifesto - I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised at how radical the policies are concerning social justice and the economy :) Many people wrongly assume they are obsessed with green issues - perhaps a name change is in order!

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  4. No arguments on needing a new party. The question is, how would such a party a) get the resources to compete, without being in the pockets of big business, and b) be taken seriously at all? The Respect party tried, and is considered a laughing stock.

    Twitter@Karaden32

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    1. I had high hopes for the Respect Party and was genuinely disappointed it didn't do better as I've always been impressed with George Galloway's public persona, oration and powerful presence.

      To try and answer your 2 questions I'd hazard a likely feeble guess at -
      a) starting off with like-minded, dedicated but unpaid volunteers who can write, agree upon and adhere to a Party Constitution, set of Rules, Manifesto and leaflets for the general public;

      b) No new political Party will ever be taken seriously by any existing Party until it starts to take Members and Constituency seats from them. So we'd need plenty of patience to remain calm and resolute, regardless of how long it takes to build up a fairly decent group of Party volunteers and Members UK-wide.

      Simple as that, huh? lol ;)

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  5. It just could happen that the electorate, especially the new young electorate will wake up to what's been going down, considering the way they have been treated they would be a prime target for any party, new or old. I'm sure if there isn't a violent revolution the young are going to be pay attention to who and what is on offer in 2015. The other problem with new parties is they divide the electorate, split the vote. Unless there is a very charismatic leader of this new party, with some new concrete ideas for change then I can't see it doing anything else. One thing I would suggest is that the manifesto it offers be actionable in a court,lets contract legally. But this is all on the basis if I wasn't an anarchist who has had enough of government and politicians Good luck, your going to need it.

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  6. It's the way political parties are funded which is surely the key;as you write above: "The corporate donor issue will also cripple any idealistic plans Labour might have too. As much as many MP’s and party members will champion a movement to the left, the leadership will be well aware that they need to get elected first and foremost, so they will have to chase funding from the super-rich corporations and donors--".

    We need to tackle the funding issue once for all; as long as it continues as now, any party will be open to "persuasion" (corruption)by its donors.

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  7. We do need a new party... but this is like the 80s and the SDP that was so full of hope but failed for all sorts of reasons

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  8. Two points

    1) I prefer to view the political not as a one-dimensional scale as you have pictured, but more two-dimensional (think Political Compass http://www.politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010).

    This aligns broadly with your assessment, but there is one important point to note. The success of the SNP is no doubt due in part to the fact that they have emerged as a well organised and disciplined party (contrast the fortunes of the Plaid Cymru who occupy a similar political space), but their dominance shows what a viable alternative party would have to reap from a more centrist position.

    The SNP have almost gained their position *despite* their nationalist agenda. Many folk I know support them as they offer a credible alternative to Labour/Tories whilst still baulking at the idea of independence.

    However, the SNP had that base to build upon and when the stars aligned they were there to capitalise.

    However, the UK has no such 'other' party and getting one off the ground considering my second point, is unlikely...

    2) We lost our chance to bring a new party to bear on UK politics when we (and I say that collectively) wholeheartedly endorsed the FPTP system.

    The people who voted no to AV are the reasons we are stuck with this increasingly unfair and unrepresentative political landscape, but 'the people' voted for it so 'the people' deserve everything they are going to get.

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  9. "they will play to the patriotism of the British, most likely by attempting to provoke another war with Argentina in the run up to the election – the scrapping of naval assets has virtually been an open invitation to the Argies to attack the Falklands."

    While from a British perspective, this is surely on the ball in the sense that the Tories can only use distraction to obtain popular support, from the perspective of Argentine politics (the "Argies" as the Sun would say) it is a nonsense, I have to say:

    Galtieri and the military junta are long gone. In place is a government that has done everything an executive branch could to ensure the dictatorship era criminals are being brought to book and crucially, whose policies have much to teach the European left. It's foreign policy stance (in practice and discourse) is based on the pursuit of peace and diplomacy. The military there and Galtieri's little adventure in 1982 are the object of scorn, just as people are passionate about the islands falling under Argentine sovereignty (an entirely separate issue).

    Cameron's Argentine twin Carlos Menem cut so much that, like Cameron he even (thankfully) cut the military. But looking at things in the "boy's own" terms of military capacity again misses the point: What's lacking is the brutish political attitude.

    So Cameron will either have to continue bluffing about those islands as he has done to date, or, like in 1982, find someone else who has as much a need as he has to distract their population, somewhere else.

    Excellent blog otherwise, I came to it recommended by Jacky Davis' tweet.

    @Nico22a022

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  10. This website is a marvelous place to come for important data! Will you be mind if I pingback some of your entries on my private blog?

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    1. No problem, you're welcome to use it - and thanks for the kind words! Could you send me your blog link so that I can have a read?

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  11. Time to revisit this me thinks :)

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