Time for a new political party?

Summary: the increasing dissatisfaction with the direction of drift of the Labour Party is leading to some serious attempts at thinking what really could be done. Focusing on getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn is far too short-term. There needs to be a genuine focal point on which to rebuild a centre-left consensus with wide appeal. Starting a new party might seem attractive but given the time available before an election is completely impracticable. Unless some core centre of gravity of the Labour MPs, Labour Party members and Labour constituency parties can be identified there is little prospect of any real progress.

There are now hints of genuine attempts at finding ways around the impasse at the top of the Labour Party that is stopping any plausible progress towards electoral success. Last week Richard Dawkins wrote an article in The New Statesman arguing for a new party (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/03/richard-dawkins-we-need-new-party-european-party ).

Richard Murphy in his Tax Research UK blog developed the ideas although not in a particularly supportive way (http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2017/04/03/time-for-a-new-political-party/comment-page-1/#comment-776724 ).

In a piece by Toby Helm (3 April 2017), the political editor of the Observer says that a group of more than 75 Labour MPs led by Clive Efford MP have re-launched the centre-left Tribune group (see:  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/01/labour-mps-revamp-centre-left-tribune-group-to-win-back-middle-class-voters / ). However it does look as if this group was actually relaunched about five months ago, at least going from the website which is wonderfully slick and remarkably content free for five months-worth of effort.

When things are going badly it is very tempting just to say “let’s start again”. The only point of a political party is to achieve influence, and that influence has to be great enough to ensure it succeeds in gaining a majority at the next election. Many of the sympathies of Richard Murphy’s piece and in the comments are clearly left of centre.

The Labour Party has on paper an extraordinary level of support. A new party has to be sure of generating a comparable degree of support in the time available. Giving any new party a label that turns of as many of the general public as it turns on is simply not going to work. There are lots of sensible left of centre people in the UK who really have problems with Europe.

To succeed it must have an appeal that is broad enough to bring in a wide range of support. Even the word “Labour” has enough negative connotations to make that name a disadvantage. Words like “Momentum” and “Tribune” are relatively free from this. Their reputations will be generated as a consequence of what they do or do not do.

I am convinced the only way forward is to find a political centre of gravity for the Labour MPs, the broadest Labour membership and the constituency Labour parties. In the UK political parties do indeed have sub-groupings that push more particular agendas. We urgently need a refocusing of what Labour is. It is widely agreed that a new leader will be needed but that must not be the focus of the party now. After 18 months of Corbyn’s leadership we still don’t have anything that might be called “Labour Party policy”. They have just sent around a policy consultation sheet in a simple multiple choice format. Surely there is enough evidence from public opinion polls what actually matters to the general public. Labour desperately need a list of things they will actually do rather than just cataloguing the aspirations of the left.

Momentum sounded promising when it was set up but, like so many political sub- groupings, it is subject to infighting and manoeuvring to the detriment of the principles of that movement and certainly to the traditional principles of the Labour Party. Perhaps Tribune can do better. The Guardian reports today that the new Labour Tribune MPs group has just been launched though the website suggests this actually happened five months ago. Unfortunately the name “Tribune” also suffers from historical baggage though most young people will not be aware of that.

Already that delay is worrying. I thought I was fairly in touch with what was going on with current centre-left thinking. A grouping like Labour Tribune and won’t work without some serious PR. In needs money and a website that is less slick but has more content. Above all it needs full-time people to push it properly. It might be able to make some genuine progress in establishing a foothold in the centre of the Labour Party but it looks at present as if it has some considerable way to go. Without it or something like it I cannot see any prospect of regenerating a centre-left political party in the finite future.

But I’m very clear that there aren’t any other parties around that have a chance, and setting up a new party with a name that starts by polarising the electorate is simply not going to get anywhere.

All I’ve managed to do is put together a blog called outsidethebubble.net, but it is so hard to find any way of moving these things forward otherwise. The next big challenge is to generate a plausible centre left-wing policy document which has clear goals and, above all, clear economic costings. Hard ideas are needed, not a series of aspirational documents with the intellectual texture of a slice of cheap white bread.

Momentum sounded promising when it was set up but, like so many political sub- groupings, it is subject to infighting and manoeuvring to the detriment of the principles of that movement and certainly to the traditional principles of the Labour Party. Perhaps Tribune can do better. The Guardian reports today that the new Labour Tribune MPs group has just been launched though the website suggests this actually happened five months ago.

Already that delay is worrying. I thought I was fairly in touch with what was going on with current centre-left thinking. A grouping like Labour Tribune and won’t work without some serious PR. In needs money and a website that is less slick but has more content. Above all it needs full-time people to push it properly. It might be able to make some genuine progress in establishing a foothold in the centre of the Labour Party but it looks at present as if it has some considerable way to go. Without it or something like it I cannot see any prospect of regenerating a centre-left political party in the finite future.

But I’m very clear that there aren’t any other parties around that have a chance, and setting up a new party with a name that starts by polarising the electorate is simply not going to get anywhere.

All I’ve managed to do is put together a blog called outsidethebubble.net, but it is so hard to find any way of moving these things forward otherwise. The next big challenge is to generate a plausible centre left-wing policy document which has clear goals and, above all, clear economic costings. Hard ideas are needed, not a series of aspirational documents with the intellectual texture of a slice of cheap white bread.

One Reply to “Time for a new political party?”

  1. Indeed a thorny problem and thank you for your blog. I should comment here more – I do regularly visit but tend to comment on Richard’s blog. Some of are setting up a progressive blog (including Richard) ; but there is a worry that it will dilute effort. There are a number of issues that make things particularly difficult in the UK. Two of the major ones are the lack of a PR system and the dominance of England. I’ve never been happier to be a Dubliner though things could get very difficult for a few years in the North of Ireland. I can’t see Scotland hanging around much longer given the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

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