Party politics and tribalism has ruined Britain. Let’s rip it up and start again.
The last few months have been ‘interesting’ – yes, that’s the word – for British politics, not least because of the way politicians have been jumping from party to party like a bored teenager channel hopping. Labour MPs quit over anti-Semitism, Tories quit over Brexit, a new party forms and then flops majorly (because what is really new about a party made up of opportunist career politicians?) and then everyone joins the Lib Dems because, quite frankly, where else can they go? Boris Johnson throws a bunch of MPs out of the Conservative party as part of his plan to reinvent the party in his own image, and most of them announce their retirement from politics come the next election rather than fighting on as independents, suggesting the move was as much a publicity stunt to keep the more excitable Brexiteers onside as a genuine cull of the disloyal. And through it all, angry supporters who would vote for a turnip if it had the right coloured rosette pinned to it rage that if someone switches party, then they should resign and force a by-election, critically misunderstanding the way politics work in the UK – namely that – legally, if not actually – you vote for a candidate, not a party. They also rage about disloyal MPs who fail to back their leader, right or wrong – party loyalty above all else.
This is seen a principled idea, but it’s blinkered madness – how can you possibly, as a voter or even an activist, be so completely wedded to a single party that you cannot imagine that party ever being wrong, ever needing to be defied, even when its principles today are barely recognisable as the principles that you voted for? That the most hung-ho of these supporters are the ones who most fervently backed serial rebels like Corbyn and Johnson shows the joke of it – they are entirely blind to the idea of principled rebellion from anyone but their chosen demigod.
It’s everything awful about politics. The idea of party loyalty, do or die, is frankly psychotic. That most MPs cling to it – my former local MP proudly boasted that he would never vote against his party, no matter what – is shameful. These are supposedly our representatives and yet they view party loyalty above the interests of their constituents or the country as a whole. We put people on trial as war criminals in other countries for not disobeying orders, yet in British politics, it’s seen as somehow admirable. The party conference season, underway as I wrote this, is a depressing series of back-slapping confirmation bias that has nothing to do with the needs of the nation and everything to do with the most depressing forms of naked tribalism that are ripping the country apart. And they treat it as though it is a game.
Party politics is why we are in this mess and why we’ll struggle to get out of it. It’s a horrible throwback to a failed form of politics, one that says that a particular side is always right or always wrong, and that ideas cannot be taken on their own merit. It’s the main thing that encourages the tribalism and divisions that have brought the country to a standstill, because no one is acting according to personal principle, and the worst people in the world are the ones who become our politicians based solely on representing a safe seat. These are not people of talent or principle.
If Brexit breaks British politics – and it just might – then that might not be a bad thing. What an opportunity it would present. We could lead the way in reinventing the political system for the 21st century. No parties, no strident dogma, just a collection of individuals who get together to manage the country for the good of everyone, compromising where necessary, not allowing tribal interest to override national interest. Co-operation, not conflict, with policies and laws based on evidence, not emotion. Imagine a Parliament where ideas were heard and discussed, not shouted down by a bunch of boorish morons who like to bellow at each other based on which side of the room they are sat in. Increasingly, I find myself wondering why we even need a Prime Minister – let’s get rid of that and instead allow a consensus of people who are not driven by a lust for power.
I know, I know: this will never happen. Tribalism is far too deeply ingrained in our culture – and is worse now than I’ve ever known it. It’s entirely probable that if the current party system implodes, something similar – and perhaps even worse – will emerge. But it’s nice to fantasise.