The United Kingdom needs an entirely new set of political parties to represent the real divisions in today’s society.
To the surprise of no-one, Jeremy Corbyn fended off Owen Smith’s leadership challenge, cementing his place at the reins of Labour and condemning the party to many more months of disastrous polling. To Labour’s traditional voters—working class men and women in the north of England—the fierce war between “Blairites” and “Corbynites” must seem like something of a farce; it’s almost as if the two sides are competing to see who can represent them the worse. A clear majority of Labour voters support a British nuclear deterrent, but Mr Corbyn wants nuclear disarmament. Support for Brexit was very high in northern Labour constituencies, but Mr Smith wants to keep Britain in the EU. Today, the average working class voter is patriotic, culturally conservative and concerned about immigration; the Labour Party—torn between fluffy, liberal social democracy and hard socialism—couldn’t be more irrelevant to them.
Of course, it’s not just Labour that’s drifting towards political insignificance: the Lib Dems, the supposed heirs to Gladstone and Lloyd-George, have ended up on the wrong side of history, preaching a soft-left “progressive” internationalism that becomes less popular by the minute. The Green Party have little more to boast than “we were Corbyn before it was cool”. Even the Conservative Party, despite its impressive polling numbers, is arguably propped up by little more than Theresa May’s leadership and its moderately positive record on the economy. The Conservatives have become the natural party of governance by default, for want of a decent opposition. Even Ukip, the closest thing to a genuine alternative political force in the UK, remains stuck in a quagmire of infighting (sometimes physical), occasional racism and general ineptitude.
What Britain really needs is an entirely new set of political parties: parties that represent the range of groups and positions that exist within today’s society, not the society of the mid-1990s. Obviously, designing and constructing a completely new party system from the ground up would be impossible. Instead, the parties that already exist will have to transform themselves. This would be helped greatly by the introduction of a proportional voting system; under PR, a big tent party such as Labour could split into two or three smaller parties (e.g. a leftist party, a social democratic party and a patriotic “blue Labour” party) and still hope to obtain electoral success. Since FPTP is (unfortunately) here to stay, a new two-party or three-party system is more feasible.
This system should not be grounded on the traditional oppositions of “left” versus “right”, “liberal” versus “conservative” or “capitalist” versus “socialist”. Socialism, despite undergoing somewhat of a populist revival since the 2008 financial crisis, is still largely a fringe movement. The big economic question is not “capitalism or socialism?” but “what kind of capitalism?” To this, there are three main contemporary responses: (1) free market capitalism with a small state, limited regulation and merit based immigration, (2) social democracy with generous welfare, open borders and free trade, and (3) protectionist capitalism with a powerful state, highly restricted immigration and an aversion to globalisation. Britain needs three major political parties to represent these three economic stances.
On social policy, the contemporary divide is less stark, at least in most cases. Hardline US-style social conservatism—opposition to abortion, LGBT equality, free artistic expression and so forth—is not a mainstream position in today’s UK. The social argument has evolved into a discussion about culture, security and nationalism. On one side we see strong cultural conservatives, deeply skeptical of immigration, multiculturalism and globalisation and favourable to tough “law and order”; on the other side, internationalist cultural liberals, favourable to immigration, cosmopolitan, globalist, and dismissive of all forms of nationalism. In the middle, soft civic nationalists mix a desire for preserving nation state democracy and important cultural institutions with tolerance and openness to the outside world. These are the three main social positions in modern Britain.
The British political stage is crying out for a mainstream party that combines economic nationalism with cultural nationalism, a new workers’ party, a sort of moderate British equivalent of the French Front National. The left of Ukip and the right of Labour could join forces to form such a party, and win former Labour seats such as Dagenham, Heywood & Middleton and Hartlepool. To oppose this “Patriotic Labour Party”, we need a Conservative Party (no name change required) made up of the right of the current Conservative party, preaching small government, free market economics and civic nationalism. Like its contemporary namesake, it would dominate the South. Finally: a “Liberal Party”, composed of the Lib Dems, alongside centrists from Labour and the Tories; this party would preach social democracy and internationalism, and would perform well in London and other major urban areas.
Trundling behind the major triad, we would need a new set of minor parties. Those Greens who are too radical for the Liberal Party could join forces with Corbynites to form a new far-left “Green Socialist Party”, the right of Ukip and some of the more conservative Conservatives could form a “Traditionalist Party” (bushy moustaches mandatory), and perhaps Tim Farron could form some kind of “Christian Democratic Party”. Together, these newly constituted minor and major parties would form a political menu more suited to the tastes of contemporary Britons. The major ideological divisions of today would be represented on the political stage, re-engaging millions of voters whose dissatisfaction with the current set of parties has left them languishing in apathy.