The UK is suffering division, so our politicians and media are calling for unity. It is old wisdom that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The old-style parties no longer represent the people. Some Conservative ministers could just as easily belong to Labour. There was very little to distinguish Cameron from Blair, and Theresa May is another Blairite. What’s the point of a Conservative Party that’s half full of MPs that could as easily have stood under a Labour banner?
With disintegrations, resignations and rebellions all round, this is a better time than ever to reform the parties. We need a clear spread of easily distinguishable and well-focused alternatives to choose from. The old main parties adopted indistinguishable values to capture the same chunk of the electorate, only differing in competence, so voters who didn’t share those values felt disenfranchised and responded by moving to the fringes. In a referendum where people had to choose between quite different value sets, all of the existing parties except UKIP and the vast majority of politicians occupied the same space, and collectively only actually represented 48% of the population. The important views of half the electorate were shared by only a quarter of politicians, while the other half had three quarters, or three times as much representation. Now that the referendum has been won, UKIP has no lingering purpose so could also be thrown into the mix to redesign new parties.
Having half of the population represented by three times as many MPs as the other half is bad democracy, but instead of trying to take a lead by fixing it, it looks likely that the Conservatives will try to preserve the unfairness by selecting Theresa May, rambling on about the need to restore unity. Unity of the half that are represented, while still keeping the other disenfranchised? That’s how revolutions and civil wars start, probably, though history isn’t my strong point.
We have the Greens and Corbyn offering a clear-cut far left. A few sacked UKIP candidates and some ex-BNP people could field a tiny far right too. Labour, LibDems and Conservatives are all badly in need of reinvention, while UKIP has done its job so can also be thrown in the mix. They should all discuss things with one another until they finally discover what their real differences are, and form new parties. Usefully, they could also agree that they actually all share some values in common. Everyone wants fairness, nobody wants racism, everyone wants to end poverty, nobody wants an unhealthy environment or pollution, everyone wants good health care and to look after the ill, the weak, the disadvantaged, everyone wants to educate kids and to make a strong economy. If they disagree on how to accomplish these common goals, then they should work out clear differences that can be offered to the electorate. If differences on such issues are minor, then they could agree to use cross party committees to manage those things and focus elections on their bigger differences.
If that was all accomplished, politicians would stand for clear values and clear approaches. They would no longer have to pretend that they want exactly the same things and avoiding every answering a question.
Our parties served the country well in the 20th century. It has become absolutely clear that they are not suited to the 21st. We do not need unity and a return to normal, because that normal only worked for a fraction of the population. We don’t need any more Blairs, any more fudges, any more pretense. We do need a total remix, a redesign, a re-crystallization along new axes, with very different parties that different people can vote for.