UK Politics

In this election, Britain is neither left nor right, but a smörgåsbord of opinion

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The British electoral landscape is at its most volatile in years, Brexit dominates doorstep pleas, and the Tories just thought it would have been easier. Now, either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May will set foot in Number 10 tomorrow. Today at the polls, where class becomes more and more irrelevant, voters must make an informed choice based on issues alone.  

This time, both main parties offer policies further away from the centre ground. Despite the mudslinging, the chaotic radio interviews and the backfired soundbites, issues matter most. No longer can we expect, as last year’s Brexit victory showed, working class voters to continually side with the socialists, after the populist hijacking of globalisation, portraying it as something impossible to balance with home affairs, rather than something bringing great opportunity and success. Similarly, no longer can we expect wealthier and more middle class voters to always side with the Conservatives. Class boundaries have become so hazy that we may even question the effectiveness of predicting outcomes based on wallets, and indeed the current working or middle-upper class dichotomy. This is the end of big party tribalism in UK politics. 

Today’s snap vote, originally designed to erode the foundations of the Labour party, has instead reshaped the British political landscape, bringing the resurrection of the left-wing that Theresa May only two months ago thought was dead. 

The past two months of campaigning have indicated that Britain is about to pass through an important political portal, however. At the end of this campaign, the Labour and Conservative parties will not be the same as they were several months ago. Party politics is no longer, as Clement Attlee, Tony Blair, and David Cameron seemed to believe, entirely about class. Instead, politics is now more about policy, and more particular factions. Whilst we can still describe parties as either left of right of the spectrum, voters cannot rely on leaders to speak for one entire branch of society; the entirety of the left or the right.

In this election, both main parties have tried to catch-all, looking to reel in all sorts of voters, regardless of class. With May’s focus on strength and stability, and Corbyn’s impetus on governing for the greater good instead of the top 1%, both campaigns have run with messages which partly forget class divisions. One of the most astonishing developments of the Brexit vote only last June was that it leapt across social class boundaries. 

As a result, Theresa May has attempted to prove that Brexit is a transformation which can benefit all – the disenchanted working class, and the wealthy who look to abandon the red tape of the European Union. Similarly, the Labour Party, with its campaign of compassion and a celebration of society, has tried to attract both voters on average incomes, and even the most high-end of champagne socialists.

Right-wing and left-wing parallels can still be drawn with the main parties’ respective social care policies and increases in corporation tax. But largely, Labour and the Tories are out there to grab everyone. Myriad columnists and political scientists have reported that the Conservative manifesto is – wait for it – surprisingly socialist in places, regulating the energy industry, and even talking about a kind of centre ground in its manifesto.

But are the main parties really that similar? In reality, however, Theresa May’s party remains adamant that an intensely right-wing Brexit will be a success. Similarly, Corbyn’s Labour party remains quintessentially 70s-style socialist in places. The two parties, however, as much as they have tried to appeal to all, still remain within their individual right-wing and left-wing camps. Crucially, the two parties don’t even represent the entirety of their right or left wing bases, instead arguably speaking only for smaller details of the bigger picture – Brexiteers for the Tories, and traditional socialists for Labour.

Perhaps, therefore, the Tory party represents only Brexiteers. If this be the case, surely much of the British population remains unaccounted for. Not even Theresa May herself voted for Brexit. As for Jeremy Corbyn, he may have achieved overwhelming success in the past month, but there still exists a fiery branch of more Blairite, New Labour-oriented MPs, who have received little limelight since Corbyn’s anti-Tory crusade gained real traction over a month ago. New Labour MPs in the next Parliament will surely be keen to flex their muscles.

Not everyone can be a winner. Perhaps this is just a fact of democracy. But as society breaks down into more specific groupings, with more fluid conceptions of class, perhaps the big, social class aggregate party is now dead, and can be rendered impractical. Trans-class issues have dominated this election. The Tories are quietly torn between Brexit and liberal internationalism. The Labour party have, until only very recently, found themselves sitting on the fence between Corbyn’s radical socialism and the Blairite third way. How can these parties now appeal to all, if they represent one distinct portion of their ideological wings, let alone their entire right-wing or left-wing sides? Perhaps there is a new gap in the political market. 

There are several possible solutions – firstly, that the catch-all, all-encompassing party becomes successful in pleasing all (a rather utopian idea, based on this campaign and the politics of previous years). Secondly, the UK political landscape could break down, heralding a wider range of political parties, each reflecting different pools of political opinion, welcoming a new proportional system of voting. Or, parties could learn to agree internally – something that the Tories have performed at better over Brexit. Hopefully, however, Corbyn sceptics will consider the success of the party leader of late, and run with his more socialist manifesto.

Chiefly, perhaps our political system is outdated, with a need for rejuvenation if it is to facilitate a wide-range of political opinions. I fear that, despite the successes of Jeremy Corbyn in this campaign, the numerous New Labour supporters in the PLP will rise up against him if Theresa May wins on Friday morning. Furthermore, if Theresa May pushes on with her Brexit agenda, perhaps centrism will resurgence, as Corbyn and May polarise the system. Perhaps a more centrist force like French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche will soon come to the fore.

Centrism needn’t be the answer, and could only confuse things more, aiming to match the weaker right-wingers with left-behind Blairites. The Labour party may find itself with relative post-election peace, allowing Corbyn to do his socialist job. If intra-party feuds spawn, however, a pluralist proportional system could be the answer.

Today, however, the message is clear. Voters must vote based on the issues. Prime Minister Theresa May has shown herself to be unaccountable in debates, and has proven that a vote for the Tories is a blank cheque for Brexit. The Conservative Party’s plans for Brexit will turn the nation into a bargain basement economy. The party’s record, which so many government ministers have suggested that voters examine, shows myriad cuts to public services, and an NHS on its knees. Food banks shouldn’t have to be the core of so many communities. May has revealed herself as a leader who isn’t afraid to overlook the disgraces of Donald Trump’s presidency, let big business take the controls, turn away from the massive benefits of free movement, or broker deals with dodgy dictators. What’s more, reducing the effects of climate change isn’t high on Theresa May’s creaky agenda.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has galvanised much of the British population, and re-engineered the left’s platform. Once the media abandoned him, the Labour leader was last year deemed all too quickly as someone who just wasn’t electable. Reducing the Tory party lead from over 25 points to five would show otherwise.

Corbyn’s Labour Party has shown that it stands up for progressive politics in Britain, and is a truly possible antidote to May’s damaging game plan. Under Corbyn, work may truly pay, and public services will be injected with new life. Labour’s insult-free campaign of compassion, morality and straight-talking socialism has worked wonders. Labour will defend important human rights, uphold Britain’s place as just one cog in a complex international civil society where individual nations cannot always supremely call the shots, and reduce hardship at home and abroad. The nurturing of human success will be placed at the heart of society.

Corbyn’s campaign has been revolutionary, and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the electorate and those who feel upset by the failings of New Labour. Even in opposition, Corbyn has finally given a platform to those left behind. His supporters will not easily fade into the background. However, his next mission is to keep the Blairites at bay, just as Theresa May must calm down the more internationalist, liberal conservatives if she wants to be successful. Class is growing less irrelevant in UK politics, and voters instead shop around on issues and manifestos. Both May and Corbyn now have the tricky task of healing the divides in their parties as they veer their respective right and left wings in specific directions. Failing to do so could mean great constitutional change for the UK, if the huge class-driven aggregate parties which have for so long defined the UK’s political landscape soon fail to speak for all.

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society, UK Politics

The Westminster system is halting UK political progress

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It doesn’t take the most keen of political junkies to tell that British party politics is reaching a frustrating stalemate. The Labour party, since the growth in support for – and election of – Jeremy Corbyn, has become the arena bearing witness to fierce internal strife over its position on many issues. But the current debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union has smashed the complacency of many Conservatives who believed they were safe from the epidemic of divide. A huge rift has developed between staunch supporters of David Cameron and other hard-line Eurosceptics. If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party last year marked a significant turning point in Labour policy. Torn between the Blairite ‘third way’ and Corbyn’s by-the-book socialism, vast numbers of MPs are struggling to find much common ground. The Tories have proven to struggle with similar issues of their own, with a camp strongly in favour of ideas from further right, and war over the quandaries in relation to immigration and EU status.

This is worrying for a democracy like Great Britain. If parties fail to wholeheartedly unite and allow such instability to thrive, the future of British government looks bleak. The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour. There is simply no way that Britain can be forced to mould itself into such an uncomfortable structure which takes only a few indecisive policy options into account. Without change, governments will become ineffective, oppositions feeble, and the electorate switched off.

This issues lie with the Establishment and its pace alongside a fast-changing society.  Our main political parties of Labour and the Conservatives were once formed with the target of aggregating their respective working and middle class citizens. But nowadays, our political society cannot operate in this way. Social class is now far less important for voters than it was during the war-time and post-war periods.

Thus, the factors of gender, political personality, age, location, and simply the precise issues themselves have gained in astounding importance over the past decade. The attempts of many ‘catch-all’ parties in Britain, and further around the world, to gain the support of the average voter may be somewhat genius abroad, but is seemingly not practical in the UK. The diversity of our nation’s society today means that each person is looking for something different from politicians, and our leaders are failing to inspire each and every one of them. The Westminster parties in Britain are struggling to adapt to the new challenges of the 21st century, and aren’t succeeding in raking in the trust of all sorts. The British political system is stuck in the past in its old social class boundaries, and needs new rules.

So how can Westminster become the dynamic environment for engaging political debate that it once was? The people and the society are in place, but the institutions aren’t keeping up with the electorate’s transformation. The fact that both of the largest parties must deal with somewhat eternal internal splits, and juggle two very different pools of policy, must hint that the political framework of the UK needs to be taken a part and put back together again.

PR is the answer. Many reports have shown that if proportional representation had been used in recent elections, the share of seats in parliament would be markedly different. In 2015, the SNP in Scotland would have seen substantially less seats, UKIP would have achieved a whopping increase, and the Liberal Democrats would gain a position as fourth party in parliament with a 7% share. The key advantage with PR, is that it is a modern system designed for a modern society, which takes the growth in issue voting into account. The most important thing is, however, that PR would nurture Conservative and Labour party splits which are much needed for any form of progress. PR would not mean instant death to one of the parties’ internal camps, but would build a separate party stage allowing them to truly proclaim their message, instead of begrudgingly succumbing to their inner opposition.

Perhaps the Tories and Labour would be reluctant to split currently, eager to cling onto their inevitably greater share of power through the First Past the Post system. But in the next ten years, unless both sides unite, the crevasse will grow deeper and a parting looks inevitable. Separate parties with pacts on their similarities, giving a degree of leeway for their differences would revolutionise the Westminster system and make the party system considerably more workable.

We need a change. Through a complete overhaul of the Westminster institution via voting system, politics would become fairer and more true. Certainly, large sections of Britain would become more politically engaged, waving goodbye to the blockaded politics we have witnessed for too many months. Many societies worldwide have made the change, including Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, Scotland. It is time for Westminster to follow suit. If the London Establishment continues to trudge on in Westminster – the abyss of torment and interparty battles – Britain’s democracy will become decayed and society will grow bored of the nation’s dysfunctional decision-making.

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