February 21, 2019 2.40 pm This story is over 62 months old

Barry Turner: Breaking the mould – New politics for old

Can a new party really emerge in a system designed to strangle them at birth?

The defection of eight Labour and three Conservative politicians over the last few days has fired up the imagination of the press, in particular the feverish broadcast media with stories of ‘new politics’ and breaking the mould of the old political system. Existing as it is a in a political system utterly obsessed with convention it is likely be neither.

The defectors are largely small fry politically and never fitted comfortably in the party machines they had chosen to join. Their dissident voices have been heard for a long time and their departure therefore was no great shock to the system. Only time will tell if they can form a coherent center party or if indeed they have anything more in common than a shared view on EU membership.

The political system in the UK is undoubtedly a shambles. Parliament, dominated as it is by two monolithic parties in the process of falling apart though infighting, is inept and not fit for purpose. The parties themselves are factionalised, driven by conflicting ideologies, not only across the parties but even more distorted and magnified within them.

So the arrival of yet another ‘new’ political model immediately grabs the interest of the political pundits and journalists and hits all the buttons that those on the inside track of journalism call ‘news values’. Another platform from which the ‘old’ politics can be kicked in the teeth, more ‘embarrassments’ for the party leaders, more photo opportunities for the defectors, more denunciations and expressions of sadness.

Will anything change though? Are we at the dawn of ‘new’ politics? Is there in fact any sign of a change at all?  The answer is a stark no! The Independent Group is not a party and has no political manifesto that is in anyway identifiably different to what is already there. All that they have in common is a shared belief that Brexit needs to be stopped and that is a major failing.

The last three years have seen what was originally an obsession within the political parties themselves subsume the entire nation into a polarised and unbelievably poorly informed conflict. The propaganda spouted on both sides of this, what some still euphemistically describe as a ‘debate’ still more resembles that of the belligerents in a war than the ideas of an electorate in one of the world’s most mature pluralist societies. Its poison will last for many years after the ‘war’ itself has ended.

At some time in the near future the UK will be out of the EU. That is now inevitable in spite of the still futile calls for a people’s vote. There is still a range of possibilities that we do not need to describe here. It is safe to say that none of them will be acceptable to the belligerents in this sorry state of affairs. No deal or no deal, No Canada+ or Norway+ will work for many, no single market or customs union will ever fit within the boundaries of ‘red lines’.

There is no more a solution in ‘new’ politics than there was in the ‘old’.

The British people need to wake up to reality. The problem does not lie in the ossified ideologies of some in the major parties. It is with the electoral system and the structure of Parliament itself. It does not lie in the disgraceful and racist nationalism harboured by some on one side and the disturbing anti-Semitism and anachronistic Marxism by some on the other. It is in a system that is specifically designed to prevent change.

Our electoral system of first past the post is from a bygone era, primitive and determinedly undemocratic — its purpose is to stifle political innovation, not nurture it. While we have an electoral system that props up a party system designed to arrest political evolution in favour of a status quo, it will not matter how many defections there are.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.