Friday 20 April 2018

The Binary of our Politics

The obstacle to a new Centrist Party

1.       The analysis of the results of the elections of 2010, 2015 and 2017 show a clear tendency of the voters to revert to a pure binary choice: yes/no, either/or. This tendency is not new as it is inherent in our system of government which combines the constituency system with a majoritarian first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral procedure. It aims to create two political parties alternating in government; and that was how it worked for the last few centuries.  This back to basics, back to a binary electoral choice, was reawakened and revitalised by the effect of the last two Referenda where a straight yes or no was required to determine the results.  So, while before it had become easier for a third party like the Lib-Dems to grow, it once again became more difficult in the new electoral climate where there is no space for a third party unless it can replace one of the two incumbents.  A new Party will take ages before it can achieve anywhere near to what the Lib-Dems achieved before it blew it up through arrogance and the euphoria of joining the Coalition in 2010.

2.       When the two political parties: the Tories and the Whigs dominated parliament in the 19th century, their MPs and Lords came from similar backgrounds. Although generally Tories were rooted in land and inheritance while the Whigs were merchants and professionals, their division was based on interests and policies not on social classes. One could say they merged into one Social Class. Their young attended the same private schools and aspired to serve in the army, the clergy and the colonies. In Parliament, although the two were divided in name and aim, there was no problem moving between the two. Gladstone started as Tory then he moved to lead the Whigs. Churchill started as Tory moved to the Whigs and returned to the Tories. They were all connected to different parts of the country through their constituencies. All that changed however with the advent of the Labour Party representing the working classes. Social Classing surfaced as the prime differentiation between parties and personal parliamentary representation gave way to party delegation. The Party took away the freedom of the individual member of parliament and transferred it to the party. The barriers between parties became rigid. The concept of Disraeli’s one nation aspiration disappeared from our political canvass. Ideologies replaced national interests, delegation replaced representation and rigidity pushed aside flexible practicality. This situation is alien to our national tradition of fairness and pragmatism which characterised the genius of the people of this country.

3.       Therefore we must not be surprised at the recent polarisation of political opinions between the extreme Left of Labour and extreme Right of the Tories resulting in a lot of recent talk in the media about starting a new Centrist Party. As explained it is not easy to start a new political party which would take maybe two or three election cycles just to establish credibility. Moreover, it will be very difficult to attract sitting MPs to move their allegiances after years of loyalty and service. But above all in our present political and electoral system based on the constituency determining one victor there is no place for a third party. Under the Constituency FPTP System a new Party has to replace one of the two main Parties to survive. Otherwise it stays as a pressure group.  In the early 20th century Labour displaced the Whigs. Towards the end of the Century the merger of the Labour Right with the Liberal Party breathed life into it with a hope of replacing Labour. Tony Blair saved Labour by reincarnating it into New Labour. That was made possible because it followed the earlier weakening of the two wings of the original Lib-Dem Party with the Two Davids (Steele and Owen) pulling in two directions that rendered it too weak to challenge the one or the other main Parties. Its revival at the end joining the Conservatives in Coalition blew its chance to become a viable main party. Charles Kennedy, the only Lib-Dem MP who voted against joining the Coalition understood that joining a main Party would lose its chance to replace either party. The last blow came about when they fought a hopeless Referendum campaign to replace FPTP with a faulty AV against the declared position of their Conservative partners.

4.       Let us now consider also the anomaly of the recent elections results, e.g in the 2015 Election: 1,157,613 Green votes gaining one MP or 3,681,129 UKIP votes gaining one MP or even the Lib-Dems 2,415,888 gaining 8 MPs i.e. a total of 7,254,630 votes gaining just 10 MPs while 1,454,436 SNP gained 56 MPs!  This is an affront to common sense and an insult to our concept of democracy.  So with the considerable vote losses of the Lib-Dems, the Greens and almost the disappearance of UKIP there is little possibility of creating a new Centrist Party to challenge the one or the other of the incumbent parties under FPTP voting.  But even if there is, pending that possibility, there is an urgent need to at least create a Movement that will give voice and hope to those 7-8 million fluid voters/dissenters of these three parties plus a similar number of voters who gave up voting altogether amongst the electorate in safe constituencies.  

5.       However another question pops up: why should the advocates of a new Centrist Party resort to the use of a sledge hammer when a screw driver can do the trick. All what they (and may be others like-minded) need to do is to canvass and create a national drive to tweak our electoral system and modify it to make a limited room for parliamentary participation for those dissenting floating voters left hanging in the air.

6.       Such a tweak has been available in the public domain for the last 20 years and it needs to be dusted down and brought to the attention of the media, the political leaderships and to all who care about our democracy. This is the innovative and simple system of TR Total Representation which gently modifies our present electoral procedure. TR is an Electoral System that fuses our present Constituency FPTP with a small dose of PR Proportional Representation. TR gives vent to the frustration and a temporary home in Parliament for those who do not support either the Conservatives or Labour and enables them to join together to build an alternative party with a view to potentially replacing one or other of the two main parties.