There is a lot of talk about a new political party being formed, largely seen as a centrist creation, with Labour members who are really unhappy with the direction that the party is taking regarding Brexit, Antisemitism and general attitudes between member factions. Coupled with Centrist anti-Brexit Tories and perhaps a few others, then the rumour-train is rife with speculation, and more depressingly lots of comments of “off you trot then” or words to that effect then. So, should this talk of a new party be surprising? Should we fear or embrace it? Should we not be learning from what happened to the SDP last time?
Lets deal with the “easy” stuff first. Comparing with the SDP exercise is not, in my opinion, helpful because this is a different time, different circumstance and lets not forget that the SDP led to the Liberal Democrats which has provided a different perspective on politics. In 2010 the Cameron/Clegg love-in was deemed to be a new era of coalition politics. Yes, they are very low in representation right now, but I think that could be pointed at one simple, bad decision. Imagine if they had not voted against their own manifesto pledge on tuition fees.
I think that also lends itself to the next issue, many people highlight that a new political party would not win the next GE “so what is the point”. Personally I would not expect it to. Its going to take time to get its message across, get its campaign machine working, and to talk to people to gain support. In reality, I would be very wary of a too quick a rise, because it would struggle to cope.
Many also point to the Labour brand and the organisation. If the party splits then the new party will have nothing, or very little. The organisations could be copied (if they want to) and a new name could be developed, which wouldn’t have the history, but that works both ways, it has none of the negative history either.
So, lets look at the harder stuff – the stuff of the heart. Many Labour members in this boat, have been members for 5/10 and in many cases, 20 or more years. Its difficult to contemplate that you would want to leave an organisation that you have literally shed blood, sweat and tears for. You don;t go far round my house without finding a rosette, sticker or sign and I’ve only been a member for 9 years. But Labour has changed dramatically over its lifetime, and while we talk that we know the broad church approach to membership is our true strength, at the moment, that broad church simply isn’t tolerated. And tolerance is what I always associated with Labour.
And that takes me to the big issue. I joined Labour, not because of the people, not actually on the policies of the time (for those of you who know me, I first got engaged in politics because of a disagreement with Labour Policy), but because of the underpinning values. Those values of Compassion, Community, supporting those who need it, helping people become the best they can be. Equality in the workplace, and joint endevour in our home and communities. Fundementally you should not need to know the detail on any of the policies, attitudes or direction of the party, you should be able to lean on the core values and “know” what the right answer is.
This is why, for me, a new party will struggle and not be appealing. Because a party can not be just a place that is seen to be saying the right thing, but it needs to be doing the right thing too. It should be unsurprising when it deals with issues of racism, anti-antisemitism and bullying with an unequivocal no-tolerance approach, it should be expected. Its policies should be grounded in the core values that it doesn’t flip flop for votes, it gains votes by doing the right thing for the majority of the country.
This is not to say a new party could not do that, it would just take time. And if a new party is going to give it a go, then now is the right time for it to try, because both the Labour Party and the Tories are suffering a similar issue of faultlines within the parties, and being exaserbated by the current politcs of the day. A new party would need to be very clear on its core values, and tug atthe heart strings of both politicans, but more importantly the public. This is where the Lib Dems have consistently failed. They are great on a local level becuase everything is geared around getting a good headline, but that has never translated well nationally. Fundementally most people understand the core values of Labour and the Tories and the Greens. But the Lib Dems are a shifting sand of populism, and that has been their fundemental issue and why they are not that attractive to jump ship to.
So yes, we should fear “SDP Take 2” – it will predominantly take centre left votes if they get it right and will weaken Labour considerably. But there is a deeper question, I’ve outlined why I think they will get it wrong and it wont work, but what if they get it right?