STRANGE THINGS are happening across the political spectrum but they have a common theme. The old political parties are imploding and electorates are playing a major role in their demise. From Brexit to Trump to Italy, people are using whatever tools they can find to attack a system that has made them poorer and marginalised them into the bargain. The political elites have become hostages to fortune as years of deceit come back to haunt those who put their own careers and ideology before the wellbeing of those they were supposed to serve.
Matteo Renzi, the Italian Premiere (pictured) wanted greater constitutional powers but the Italian people feared this would simply translate into greater authority for Brussels, which has shown it has an effective veto over the nomination of Italian prime ministers. The result? A rejection of greater powers and the resignation of the prime minister. This saga is by no means over.
The Labour Party made the fatal mistake of allowing Jeremy Corbyn to stand for leader and with his re-election his hard-line supporters are rapidly making the party unelectable. Although the moderate wing still has the most MPs and some are undoubtedly considering forming a new party, this is easier said than done and could end up in a legal battle over the name and funds. Whatever happens, Labour is finished as a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future and has already been wiped out in Scotland.
The Lib-Dems flew too close to the sun and got burned by their coalition with the Tories. There can be no future for a party of protest with only one party to protest about. However, the Lib-Dems lack the resources, vision or appeal to replace Labour and have already proposed forming a new, pro-EU, party with others. The Richmond Park by-election changes nothing – only winning the Sleaford by-election this week would do that. If they lose that then the Lib Dems will have had their bubble burst.
UKIP won the battle of the referendum but has just come through a bitter leadership contest between nonentities most people have not heard of. Nigel Farage is rumoured to be contemplating the launch of a new party/movement with main sponsor Arron Banks. Farage was plainly ill-at-ease with many in his party and recently described UKIP’s National Executive Committee as “amateurs” and “among the lowest grade of people I have ever met.” However, Nigel Farage is a charismatic anti-establishment figure who could yet play an influential role. It remains to be seen if Paul Nuttall can make UKIP relevant again.
The Conservative Party is holding together due to its ruthless capacity for self-preservation. It is being greatly helped by Jeremy Corbyn and the collapse of the other parties but has significant problems of its own. The prolonged nature of the Brexit process, with a majority of its MPs for Remain, the strong personalities involved and the unremitting pressure from an ongoing monetary crisis all point to extremely difficult times ahead.
Even the highly-disciplined and gradualist SNP is now coming under pressure from its own Militant style movement, the Radical Independence Campaign http://radical.scot/. The SNP recently gained over one hundred thousand new, pro-independence, members and also moved significantly to the Left to sweep up a large body of disaffected Labour supporters. Those are two horses that will be increasingly difficult to ride. The 2015 General Election gave it 56 out of 59 Westminster seats but the 2016 Scottish elections saw a drop in support and it lost its overall majority.
The splits in the SNP are becoming increasingly fractious including calls for it to ditch the Monarchy and form a republic. At the last count, Scotland required cash support of £307 million per week from the Treasury and, even though Brexit has handed it yet another lever to break up the United Kingdom, the future also looks grim for the SNP. Now a YouGov poll suggests support for independence is falling and the approval ratings for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have fallen to +11, behind her Tory opponent Ruth Davidson on +25!
The political elite may have received an unprecedented mauling but has yet to moderate its beliefs. Professor AC Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities in London, recently wrote to all 650 MPs urging them not to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU. Professor Grayling justified his call, ‘made on a personal basis,’ on the grounds that the electorate had been lied to, the majority was insufficient for a decision of this magnitude and that MPs, the majority who were for remain, had an overriding duty to act in the national interest.
These are valid points and the Brexit campaign may well have exaggerated the benefits of leaving the EU. That said, Remain also exaggerated its case and was termed ‘Project Fear.’ Prof Grayling went on to suggest that the EU referendum was a manifestation of ‘ochlocracy’ or, in simple terms, mob rule. The implication being that Brexit voters were incapable of understanding the issues, a common belief in the corridors of power.
We are now only allowed to vote for a change of government once every five years and largely ignored in the interim. Although this is plainly unacceptable in an age of instant communication, a large chunk of the electorate is for sale to the highest bidder or susceptible to dog whistle politics. Political parties do not use terms such as ‘saving the environment’, ‘the rich must pay more’, ‘fairness’, or ‘the privileged few' without good reason. These phrases are all designed to attract votes from people who have an axe to grind or a perception that others are receiving more favourable treatment than them.
The political gravy train also provides a moving feast for the media. Co-operative reporters are fed ‘scoops’ to give them copy, whereas critical reporters, such as Nick Robinson during the independence referendum in Scotland, are blacklisted and can even face calls for their dismissal.
The answer to these problems is to devolve sufficient power to the people that weakens the power of the parties by giving them a stake, a share and an interest in how their country is run.
We must ‘educate’ the electorate by bringing them inside the tent. Not full on Direct Democracy, as in Switzerland, but by keeping decision-making as local and close to the people as possible. An essential element to any reform will be a system that allows competent and principled MPs to perform to the best of their abilities rather than having to act as party ciphers to protect their careers.
One of the barriers to reform is the perceived length of time that it might take to modernise a centuries-old system where the vested interests still hold the levers of power. Such is the contempt for the status quo, however, and the pent up need for reform that any changes will most likely take place a lot faster than normal. We must therefore open our minds to the radical reforms that will undoubtedly be required.