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 If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.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 The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour.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.