Out with the old: what’s the future for party politics?

Saturday 13 October, 10:0011:30, Level 1 Members' LoungeFuture thinking

Across Europe, political parties seem to be in crisis. Whether its awkward coalitions between failing establishment parties or the upsurge in so-called ‘populists’, politics is changing. But what has happened to parliamentary politics in the UK? Over the past two years, both the Labour Party and the Conservatives have been to the brink of civil war and back. What’s going on?

Brexit is perhaps an obvious cause, with infighting between MPs making daily headlines. Although the vast majority of MPs voted Remain in the referendum to leave the EU, the process of EU negotiations has caused battles in both the big parties. While so-called Tory rebels have been causing controversy for threatening mutiny if Theresa May doesn’t secure a ‘good deal’, a cohort of Labour MPs have been campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit. There is even talk of a new centrist party, headed up by ‘Blairites’ and which would include a mixture of pro-EU Lib Dem, Tory and Labour MPs. This follows rumours of Lib Dem MP Vince Cable plotting to form a new party which would allow anti-Brexit campaigners like Gina Miller to stand for election.

But the B-word is not the only problem. The Labour Party has just about survived one of its worst summers to date, with claims of anti-Semitism causing splits within the party. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn claim that much of the discussion is being used to smear him. But others, like veteran MP Margaret Hodge, believe Corbyn to be the cause of all problems, and want him to step down. But Corbyn has caused controversy since his election. While some Labour supporters claim that he has brought the Labour Party back to its left-leaning roots, others seem to think his election has ruled out any possibility of the party ever coming to power.

The Tories have had their fair share of woes, too. Formerly known for being able to keep disputes behind closed doors, it seems that the Tories are no longer able to keep a lid on their battles. Theresa May seems to be at the centre of many of the issues. So hated was she by the former chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, that he reportedly said he wanted her ‘chopped up in bags in my freezer’. Boris Johnson continues to undermine her Brexit strategy, prompting rumours of a leadership bid, while the Chequers plan led to the resignations of David Davis and Steve Baker, too . And who can forget the scandal of Pestminster earlier this year, in which cabinet ministers Michael Fallon and Damien Green were forced to resign after accusations of sexual harassment? Many female MPs threatened to quit if Green was not forced to go.

Is it all over for the old parties? While there was a slight uptick in 2017, voting numbers at general elections have been low for years. But despite the shake-up promised by Brexit, many Labour and Tory voters continued to vote along traditional party lines in 2017. Both UKIP and Lib Dem numbers have tanked following the EU referendum, but are these voters migrating elsewhere, or giving up on parliamentary politics all together? Could we be on the brink of a new political landscape or will the old parties manage to hold on?