Without an anchor at sea: British politics in 2016

It’s been a while since David Cameron declared the ‘sweetest’ of victories in the General Election. With so much having happened between then and the Holyrood elections this coming May – a time which seems distant but I promise will fast approach – this calm before the storm offers a last chance to reflect on recent times. We have drifted, it seems, into a bitterly divided period.

First, let us consider the landscape. For better or worse, the Conservative Party confounded every pollster by securing a majority in May, something which gave them the ticket to pursue the low-spend, high ambition society of its ideological predecessors (there’s an argument to be made the present crop are in total denial that they are not, in fact, One Nation conservatives).

Labour, meanwhile, has found itself with an unlikely leader in Jeremy Corbyn. Now close to February 2016 he appears more permanent than many critics thought possible. With Labour membership more than doubling in one year to 388,103 by the end of 2015, his championing of re-nationalising the railways and activist-style awareness of raising the plight of refugees in Dunkirk and Calais has clearly gained a following. Many papers, however, describe him as a failure of varying magnitude; YouGov found on the 14th-15th January that 63% of the public thought he was doing ‘badly’ – a statistic which will only embolden his supporters to invest more in a turnaround of his image.

There were other times where such a left-right divide was prevalent – the 1980s. In this era, though, voters could turn to an SDP-Liberal Alliance party which gained 25.4% of the vote in 1987 – (compared to Labour getting 27.6%) as a more realistic alternative. Now in 2015, however, their Liberal Democrat successors have become all but a spectre.

The SNP, meanwhile, has brought a yellow, left of centre wave to parliament with their electoral outcome at the Scottish Parliament looking guaranteed later this year. With Nicola Sturgeon able to play on a ‘holding Westminster to account’ manifesto (with the politicking of ‘they’ve not delivered for Scotland after the referendum’) she has assured her party remains the dominant voice for Scotland at Westminster too.

In this all, the centre has been lost.

The creation of these sharp divides is detrimental to British political society. A centrist element is imperative in fostering a steady and polite debate – it enables voters to see a world in which they can pick and choose what they like about a given party rather than have to go all-in.

Furthermore, how can the electorate be informed about parliamentary politics if the agenda of the two parties are so radically different about the same issues? Jeremy Corbyn appears on The Andrew Marr Show to talk about Trident, buy cheap accutane online Osborne is discussing the latest austerity measure – who does the electorate pay attention to? There is no anchoring point, leading to a broken political agenda which confuses onlookers.

As argued earlier, supporters on all sides also find themselves increasingly entrenched in their views. Moderate voters are forced to either adopt a standpoint or be cast into a no man’s land – something which breeds cynicism as many feel they are no longer represented. According to Anthony Down’s Median Voter Theorem, the majority of voters are neither particularly left nor right but have a mixture of views from both sides. So where does that leave them today?

There doesn’t have to be a specific party to answer this call. New Labour provided a fresh face by accepting the neoliberal status quo under Tony Blair but advocating social justice, getting elected in 1997. The Heath One-Nation Conservatives of the 1960s and 70s advocated a mixed economy and slum clearances to help the disadvantaged. Churchill ran in two post-war elections, his second (and successful) attempt in 1951 was billed on ‘consolidation, not innovation’ of Labour’s revolutionary welfare state.

In short, there need not be a new party or the revival of an old one, nor is there reason to lose hope. It’s just noticeable that there isn’t the moderate, middle-way voice of reason that once defined British politics as the unlikely winner which gave them carte blanche to speak and speak it as it was.  It’s for that the late, great Charles Kennedy will always be remembered.

The upcoming EU referendum will surely provide a platform to unite and transcend party lines. Infighting among both Labour – with its Corbynite vs other factions (especially Blairites) – and the Tories – over the EU and the still distant leadership contest – will at some point lead to a change in the current deadlock.

Elsewhere, questions over how long the SNP can continue its pro-independence momentum once Holyrood wraps up in March for the May elections means the standoffish rhetoric to Westminster may fade, whether good or bad. Indeed, the Lib Dems are down but not out and whether they rebuild is yet to be known.

It’s an absurd time to be observing British politics in this early quarter of 2016, then.

Battlefronts are scattered. Political agendas are, at best, murky. Looming battles over Europe, party leaderships and the future of Scotland present storm clouds on the horizon. Some important conversations are about to happen, new ideologies will be bounced around and things will change.

This rare feeling of floating anchorless, even rudderless, is going to subside. For now, though, we can enjoy this funny stage of watching all the tumult and wondering what on Earth is going on.

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Idrees Sarwar 2 Articles
Idrees is a Politics and International studies student at the University of Warwick currently living in Canada.

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