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 If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.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 The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour.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

Inner party rivalry is widening the gap for more united centrists

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Last May’s general election delivered a surprising result, with the potential for refreshed British politics. For many, though, the two largest Westminster parties have grown increasingly tiresome. Their petty infighting has continued to dominate headlines and manifest political stalemates. Despite a clear leadership mandate from Labour’s members, Jeremy Corbyn and his socialist team endure a seemingly eternal tug of war with hardcore Blairites, clashing over spending, defence and cuts. Moreover, the complacency derived from the Tories’ May result has come back to kick them. Its right-wingers who long criticised Labour’s disarray have now become aware of their own party’s disharmony. In much the same way as Labour, David Cameron’s Conservative party has become increasingly fragmented, jarred in dispute over Brexit, Boris and budget cuts. The surprise resignation of Iain Duncan Smith has further highlighted such divides. The next few weeks, which centre around the Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and Greater London Assembly elections, as well as the pivotal EU referendum, could pose problems for both main party leaders.

If anything, the months following May’s election have shown that British politics is becoming increasingly polarised, and is perhaps in need of new players. The disillusion with Labour and the Tories has opened a gap in the political market. An alternative is needed, and a political entity which has solid policy and loyal supporters could exploit this opportunity for an effortless advance. A force willing to drop strict ideological rules, and instead stand as a united, pragmatic movement could come to the fore.

One particular force does come to mind. In May, the Liberal Democrat party was dealt a blow by the electorate for indecisiveness and coalition pitfalls – a development that many would consider just. The decline the party has suffered since 2015’s general election must now have hit home. After months of lamentation, it is time that the near-destroyed party arrived re-energised at the political scene, ready to exploit the gap in British politics created by endless rivalry by Labour and the Tories. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats could become the true party of welfare, promoting a more centrist, balanced policy for which much of the electorate seemingly yearns. A decisive Tim Farron could start to command unity, strict policy and wholehearted support. With these qualities and intelligent strategy, Farron’s party could, if he chooses, turn into the movement of welfare and social justice that both Cameron and Corbyn’s parties have failed to become.

And what about the possibilities of such an hypothesis becoming a reality? Staunch divides over Brexit, a damaging budget, striking junior doctors, and quarrels over Cameron’s successors may well pave the way for an alternative party like the Lib Dems. Similarly, Labour’s tribulations over nuclear weapons and public spending, making it a dysfunctional force, could soon contribute to the fall of Corbyn. Political discontent is growing, as shown by one stark Ipsos MORI survey carried out recently. It was revealed in February that a surprising 60% are dissatisfied with the Conservative government, and that 51% feel the same with regard to Jeremy Corbyn. These numbers can only have increased by now, given recent developments, and show that the small Conservative majority government has failed to stabilise British society.

The nation’s archaic voting system will also continue to block a centrist revival. First Past the Post has fallen short of adapting to the effects of issue voting and personality politics which may otherwise give voice to smaller political entities. With Britain’s two main parties in a mess, an SNP whose Westminster voice seems marginalised, and modest Plaid Cymru, DUP, Green and UKIP forces, it is time that Westminster became pluralistic and representative.

Perhaps the electorate will soon give way to an alternative after such disorganised politics from all areas of the political spectrum. Maybe Tim Farron’s cleared-up Liberal Democrats are ready to reclaim their positions as kingmakers and moderators, placing themselves closer to the centre of political gravity. Ignoring this chance for political reincarnation would be a missed opportunity. Whilst not at all numerous in parliament, and let alone in government, operating from the sidelines by positively criticising current disarray would be a highly intelligent move. Amidst such chaos, a more coordinated movement, which the Liberal Democrat party has the opportunity to become, could make it a genuinely representative voice within UK politics.

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