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Politics at the Crossroads

There is a possibility that, even as I write these words, another MP may have left his or her party and joined the newly-formed Independent Group. Even if none has more immediately, it is still possible that some may do so over the coming days and weeks.

This ‘crossing the floor’ as it is known, is not new and although it is not frequent, it has been going on almost since the day Parliament was invented. It is one of the great freedoms we have; that of changing one’s political beliefs and acting accordingly – something that has been overlooked in all the hoo-hah of the past week. Screams of treachery and insults of one kind or another have been bandied about liberally on social media but that again is one of our freedoms – to give vent to our feelings, to speak offensively and to be offended.

That freedom however, should, and must, be tempered with a little consideration. I may well disagree with Anna Soubry for example, but even though I would argue my case against hers with passion and vigour, I would not descend to personal insults in doing so, and I would also defend her right to hold her views and to express them. Just as I would do the same for Jeremy Corbyn.

I might not agree with Mr. Corbyn over many things but if one strips away the emotions for a moment (difficult I know but do give it a try) and actually listens to some of the issues the Labour leader raises, does he not have a point? Is he not right to ask why the UK has food banks? Is he not right to ask why people cannot afford to feed themselves? Is he not right to ask why so many people cannot afford a home, whether a rent-payer or mortgage-payer, somewhere to call their own, somewhere warm to rest at night?

The difficulty arises in Jeremy Corbyn’s way of doing something about these problems. Just as it does with the Conservatives – whichever point of view you may have, the two are diametrically opposed in almost every way and the majority of the population are, now, becoming rather fed up with words but no realistic way of solving anything. What the public see are two political parties hurling insults at each other but neither actually having any answers. The consequence is a mass disillusionment with politics and politicians.

Yet it does not have to be so. There have been two major referendums in recent times, both of which saw a significantly larger turnout compared to the general elections that preceded them. These were of course, over Scottish Independence and the UK’s membership of the European Union. Both asked a similar question – do the majority of those eligible to vote want to stay in a union or leave it? In the case of Scotland, the result was significantly in favour of remaining. In the case if the EU, a narrow majority was to leave. One result has been respected, one result has not.

The Scottish National Party (the SNP) continue to press for the country to leave the UK – but this is entirely understandable since it is after all, the SNP’s reason for being. What the SNP have not done however, is ignore the result and pursue a determined course of action to get Scotland out of the UK – unlike those who want the UK to stay in the EU. European Union ‘remainers’ point out that the result of the referendum was very narrow; this however is immaterial. It doesn’t matter how close the result was. A majority still won the day – the UK must therefore leave.

This is where the insults start to come along. It is one thing to use a fake name on Twitter to throw offensive language around but it is another entirely when those who consider themselves superior to the rest of us, including politicians, accuse those who voted to leave of being racist and ignorant. It is gratuitously offensive for some to accuse more mature members of society of cheating the young and ‘harking back to the days of Empire and maps coloured pink’ simply because of they way they voted.

That so many voted in both referendums is by itself an indicator that ordinary people across the UK will take in an interest if they feel that politicians will actually listen to them – and the perception, and for that matter, the fact also, of a referendum is that politicians are asking the people to make a decision. The result, in any democracy worthy of the name, is that the majority wins. The minority, however significant (and as I phrased it in my book, ‘Comments of a Common Man’) gives way, shuts up and campaigns for a different decision the next time around.

When the result of a referendum is however, ignored or perceived to be, by those who voted in it, it is not surprise that people tend to be rather cynical about politics and politicians.

The current feeling of despair by most people is not new however, and is not confined to the matter of the EU referendum. On the contrary, the behaviour of MPs comes as little surprise to many. Ordinary people have, to a degree at least, become used to the idea that politicians are not interested in serving the people and their country, but are interested only in themselves. This is a view that began to take serious root over twenty years ago – some time before 1997.

1997 was the year Tony Blair swept to power, doing so on the back of a time when the Tories were seen as a bunch of malcontent infighters, only concerned with promoting themselves individually, jockeying for power, vying for position. One has to ask – has much changed? Most would say not a lot. The problem with Blair however, became apparent rather quickly, that he was a rather shallow individual, surrounded by other shallow people, none of whom had achieved anything or done anything or been anywhere. Hence you could not call them ‘has-beens’, but most had only been politicians, and from early adulthood. Few had held ordinary jobs, got their hands dirty, spent serious time worried over how they would pay the bills. Prior to 1997, most politicians did at least have some kind of life other than parliament but Blairism was found out and quite quickly. The Tories however, provided no realistic alternative, spending most of the Blair years continuing to fight among themselves, which is why Blair ‘won’ three elections, the first Labour leader ever to do so. He did it however, on a very low turnout in all three of those elections – Tory voters stayed at home, in effect handing power to Labour. The problem didn’t stop with either of Blair’s successors. Gordon Brown may have been marginally different but David Cameron was cut from the same cloth as Blair, another out-of-touch careerist with no idea of the lives of ordinary people and one result of both Blair and Cameron’s time was the rise of UKIP.

Nigel Farage was seen as more ordinary; he smoked cigarettes, had a pint and was often seen with both. UKIP’s major obstacle however was that they were seen as a single-issue party, that of getting the UK out of the EU, which is why they never became a real force in British politics. They did however, take a significant number of voters away from both Labour and Tories, but in particular the Conservatives. UKIP are now something of a fading force, and many of those who left the Tories are now returning to them – the moaning from some Conservatives of a ‘purple momentum’ is utter nonsense and is nothing more than an attempt to paper over their own flaws.

UKIP’s star may have waned but where does this leave both the main parties? Can the Independent Group become a new party that commands enough support to form a government? Not if its members are not elected. There will be new candidates to replace the Independent Group members for the Tories and Labour and it is not unreasonable to suggest that the tribal nature of British Politics will see those candidates returned. Or will they?

Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s clear and unambiguous denouncing of anti-Semitism during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday February 20 (I watched it and heard him do so), Labour have degenerated into a party riven with bigotry and prejudice under his leadership. A hard-left Labour party has never been elected to govern – yet. It may still be, but only if the Conservative vote is diluted by people not going to the polling booth when the times comes – as happened when Tony Blair won his three elections. To avoid that means one of two things; either local Conservative constituencies order their existing MPs to shut up and behave, or they kick them out and select new candidates. The same of course, could be said of Labour but since a significant number of local Labour constituencies are now in the hands of the hard left, it is less likely.

There is of course, another possibility. The new Independence Group could be very short-lived if its members are not returned to parliament at the next general election; that is a distinct possibility given that they may be thought of as opportunist chancers but what if competitors to them do not come from the traditional parties? That ‘could’ open the way to a resurgent UKIP but this is again unlikely. That means either another minority party or – genuinely independent candidates, especially ‘Independent Labour’ and Independent Conservative’.

If such candidates were comprised of people who had spent some twenty or more years working as ordinary people and were thus not career politicians, could demonstrate that they are not of extreme nature, either hard right or hard left, but would still stand by the more traditional views of British politics, it is just possible that the biggest group of MPs in the next parliament may not be Labour or Tory. Or for that matter Liberal Democrat either.

Who forms a Government would be interesting to watch.

© Kevan James 2019.

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