The dramatic resignation of eleven MPs from the two major political Westminster parties this week could be the beginning of the end for the traditional two-party system that has dominated UK politics for almost a century and lead to the realignment of the Centre. Just as easily, the breakaway group could see their efforts end in tears, with an electoral system and machine politics strangling their new venture at birth.
Much will depend on how the Conservative and Labour Parties react to the defection of the eleven.
On the face of it the Labour leadership and certainly its membership has responded to the defectors in a mightily aggressive and tribal fashion. I have seen little narrative from the Corbynistas who now dominate the party that has suggested an olive branch being offered to any of those who have felt the need to walk away, or indeed the adoption of a more conciliatory tone towards those of us who remain in the party as ‘moderates’, ‘Blairites’ or ‘treacherous neoliberals’ (tick whichever box you wish).
Perhaps they do want a narrow church rather than a broad one, made up of Marxists, Trotskyists and assorted space cadets. If that’s the case I would simply say to them, be prepared for a lifetime of opposition politics.
Tom Watson, John McDonell and Barry Gardiner have attempted to reach out to the membership beyond Momentum, but union boss Len McCluskey was as uncompromising as ever in his reaction to the ‘splitters’ and many of the Labour front-bench, activists and keyboard warriors followed his lead.
There was a smattering of sympathy expressed by some for the heavily pregnant Luciana Berger, who has been the victim of a torrent of evil antisemitic abuse – but much of it came across to me as contrived, too little, too late. Only a genuine and comprehensive investigation into those who have indulged in antisemitism from within the Labour Party followed by lifetime expulsions for the perpetrators can give the party leadership any credibility back on this crucial issue.
By contrast, the Tories appeared to manage the loss of its three female MPs a little more pragmatically. The prime minister expressed her ‘’sadness’’ at their decision. Home secretary Sajid Javid said that he hoped the three would reconsider their decision and return to the party one day. The online vitriol was out there, but nowhere near the volume levels suffered by the Labour eight.
Of course, the case spelled out by both sets of defectors is difficult to argue with. Labour is now in the hands of the ‘hard’ Left. The Conservatives are allowing a ‘party within a party’ – the European Research Group (ERG)- run the government and the Brexit negotiations.
The question folk like me are asking themselves is this. Is this a temporary aberration or has my party been hijacked by extremists forever?
The words and actions from Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May in the coming weeks will tell those ‘moderates’ within both parties if their political home has been taken over and irreparably damaged for the long-term. If there is no noticeable change in direction and tone from the PM and the leader of the opposition, expect a much bigger defection not only of MPs but of party members too.
Have the traditional parties be poisoned for good? Are they diseased without any cure? We’re about to find out.