Today’s news about Seven Labour MPs leaving the Labour Party and forming The Independent Group could, of course, be a seminal moment in UK Politics or of course, it may be a footnote in history and quickly forgotten. Is this a full-blown Labour split or a Splinter.
It’s interesting that the announcement was made today in a brief gap in the Brexit furor. Some have wondered whether this should have waited until after next week but then again will the legislative process for Brexit ever end.
The wider question, of course, is whether or not it will succeed in re-aligning Westminster politics.
What’s interesting is that no new party has been formed (at least not yet) a Limited Company has been formed instead. Contrast that with Nigel Farage and the formation of a full-blown registered party ‘The Brexit Party’.
If and when a new party is formed it faces the two key barriers.
Firstly the electoral system – first past the post is unforgiving to new parties. UKIP got 14% in the 2015 Election and came out with 1 MP and even he was a Conservative retread.
Secondly, parties need members and infrastructure ( officers, data, money and election agents for example) and this can take years to build up.
UKIP’s failure to break through and win seats in the House of Commons in 2015 was down to both these factors.
At this stage, we can say the 7 ex-Labour MPs have planted a Flag in the centre ground and we will see how many others join them and what the next steps are.
There is a pretty wide consensus that Labour and Corbyn had a good conference and presented themselves as a Government in waiting focussed on wider domestic policy. Their nuanced policy of ‘Constructive Ambiguity’ on Brexit looks likely to keep their Coalition of Leave and Remain voters together too.
As the excellent Stephen Bush points out ‘Labour may not have started the culture war but they certainly benefited from it at the last election. Now they essentially want to bring that to an end, bank their gains among social liberals, graduates and the middle classes and win over voters with an economic offer.’
Whilst the Conservatives seemed to have to ditched their reputation as the party of business who would have thought a Labour Shadow Chancellor like John McDonnell would be making a pitch to fill that gap in the market.
It was telling that McDonnell name-checked Gordon Brown and Corbyn did the same for John Prescott some distinct connecting with the days in Government.
This seems a marked contrast with the Conservatives who gather in Birmingham this weekend?
The Conservative increasingly resemble an Opposition Party dominated by the poisoned chalice of implementing Brexit struggling to find a voice or define a vision of how they would tackle the domestic policy challenges that lie ahead. Former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Robert Halfon called this Conference ‘Make or Break’ have we ever heard that language from a Senior Conservative before.
Its almost an equal and opposite position to Labour and who would have thought that 2 years ago?
Meanwhile, Labour who already advocates many of the features of a ‘Norway+Customs Union‘ style Brexit deal. Its seem they will be firming up their position and for mainly tactical reasons adopting a second referendum or ‘peoples vote’ as policy.
As we know the Liberal Democrats have always advocated an #exitfrombrexit and remaining in the EU.
And so we are now very close to the point where all three UK wide parties have clear positions on Brexit. Up until now the Constructively Ambiguity of Labour on Brexit and the ‘compromises’ of ‘Chequers’ have made the idea of another General Election to settle the issues untenable soon it may not be so and a #PeoplesVote may look like a less attractive way of resolving a constitutional impasse.
That is of course so long as neither Labour nor the Conservatives split!
With the Civil Wars in both Labour and Conservatives now escalating we seem to be in uncharted territory at no time in modern political history have both larger parties been in crisis at the same time.
At the same time, we seem to be seeing a realignment of voters with the Tories becoming a non-metropolitan pro-Brexit party and the Labour Party seeing its support shifting in the opposite direction.
You could argue that Lib Dems are the only ones left standing in their post Coalition (doesn’t that seem longer than 3 years ago !) but their recovery is in its early stages.
So we seem to have a unique situation just about the whole of our Party system is dysfunctional yet our Voting System ( First Past the Post ) makes it hard for the new parties that could emerge from the chaos to succeed at Parliamentary level.
Somethings got to give and its hard to see what yet?