Crisis in UK parliamentary politics

Two weeks ago I wrote these words in conclusion to a post on this site regarding the principal Right wing party in the UK, the Conservative party.

“it is fundamentally a crisis of identity and core belief – it is a crisis of philosophy.

How long can the Conservative Party go on harbouring the internationalist, interventionist, Statist and fundamentally materialist thinking of the Left within the parliamentary party ?

How long can it continue to live at odds with its gut instincts and its historic role as the Party of an identifiably proud and unapologetic Right wing philosophy based on prizing the historical, moral, practical, responsible and individual ?”

The crisis is the result of the Government’s handling of Brexit negotiations: on what terms will the UK leave the European Union; indeed will it ?

The fundamental tensions within the Conservative Party are now becoming seriously strained.

One is the tension between the Left and Right in the parliamentary party – Conservative Members of Parliament. That tension is so acute that Brexiteers are now organising to pressure their Leader and  Prime Minister Theresa May into backing down on her Chequers proposal under threat of a leadership challenge by a Brexiteer.

But the Brexiteers plan could be thwarted by Conservative MPs refusing to give a no confidence vote, or to allow the Brexit champion Boris Johnson through to the final round of voting by ordinary Conservative members.

Johnson as leader would unite the grass roots members around what they overwhelming want – a no nonsense Brexit.

But that would split the parliamentary party in the same fundamental way in which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party has split that party’s MPs.

In both the principal political parties of the UK – the Conservatives on the supposed Right and Labour increasingly on the Left – there is a serious Left/ Right split among MPs.

At the same time,  there is also a fundamental tension between what ordinary members of these two  parties want,  and what many of their MPs want.

Grass roots members are more emphatically Left wing in Labour, and Right wing in the Conservative party. But too many of their MPs adhere to the centre ground, eschewing what they see as the extremes among ordinary members. They do so out of personal conviction  but especially because they worry about getting  re-elected come the next Election.

The Crisis in Labour has been building since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015 whereupon the membership figures exploded. Labour now has over 500,000 members and is by far the biggest party. By contrast the governing party, the Conservatives, have only 124,000 and a history of continuous membership decline.

But Labour is also suffering  serious tensions about how it views Jews and the State of Israel. Such tensions cause considerable angst in a party which sees itself as the champion of multi-culturalism.

The crises in both Britain’s principal parties desperately require resolution, and something needs to happen soon.

But what ?

Well, the Conservative Party must unequivocally become the party of Brexit – ie true to its Right wing roots. Either Theresa May backs down on Chequers and accepts the demands of the Brexiteers; or Boris Johnson is elected leader and so becomes Prime Minister to deliver faithfully on the Brexit Referendum vote.

Then the Left of the Conservative party need to find their true home with the Liberal Democrats, where indeed many of the parliamentary Labour party should go to avoid yet another confrontation with Labour’s overwhelmingly Left wing membership.

Anna Soubry a former Conservative minister and ardent Remain-in-Europe campaigner has floated the idea of an alliance with the Right of the Labour party. That would provide a truer reflection of what is happening in British politics. In France Emmanuel Macron did just that with his totally new party, La Republique en Marche. 

But in the UK, every one remembers the fate of the Gang of Four back in the 1980s. They tried but failed, eventually joining the Liberals to form the Social Democratic and Liberal Party, forerunners of the current Liberal Democrats.

So, ordinary Conservative party members want a  party true to the Right; and ordinary Labour members want a party true to Socialism.

But too many professional parliamentarians refuse to represent these concerns; they are preoccupied by how they think the wider electorate perceives them.

MPs owe their position to their party. Candidates in elections without a top brand Party label just don’t get elected in British politics.

MPs know this.

Their defiance of the deep felt concerns of their party members is telling.

Ray Catlin

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