Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections (and THAT referendum)

Stifling Political Diversity

The acting leader of the Labour Party is a great believer in diversity – even if she does not stray much beyond the dimension of gender.

It has struck me however that the Labour Leadership Election is a major exercise in reducing the diversity of political opinion that is to be offered to the British electorate. It seems that we can be offered Socialism or “Modern Labour” but not both. Which is a shame.

In some parts of the country the major choice that the electorate wants is probably between Conservatives and Modern Labour, but in others it is more likely that the desired choice is between Socialism and Modern Labour. But this latter choice is not on offer – except possibly in Scotland?

The argument of course is that under First Past the Post these nuances cannot be offered to the electorate, so the differences are flattened out within parties either through uneasy compromises or one “side” temporarily “winning”.

This has happened before. Most of us can remember back to the Foot / Kinnock / Smith / Blair years. Doubtless those with longer memories will remember similar troubles in the Gaitskell era.

The result is a turbulent party with underlying smouldering disagreements. Then the choice that appears to be offered to the electorate is between apparent competence (Conservatives) and incompetence (Labour). The British electorate seem to have a predisposition to support competence over incompetence; and that gives us Thatcher and Cameron.

Alternatives have appeared – if only fleetingly.

In the 1980 we arguably had a Liberal Party that was comparatively united – and competent at promoting a Liberal manifesto.

We briefly had a “Social Democratic Party” that again would have been reasonably united and competent if it had not become a refugee camp for disaffected members of other parties from across the spectrum.

If the Social Democrats had left Labour en-mass for the SDP, the latter party would have been stronger and more competent. And perversely the remnants in Labour might have become a united and competent Socialist Party (possibly after realising that some on the extreme left were too destructive to remain as useful members).

But the Labour remnants flattened their differences and “united” behind a Leader on right of the party for the sake of putting the party in power. But the veneer was thin.

The SDP and the Liberals reduced diversity by merging – possibly losing focus and competence at promoting a clear message.

The argument of course is that there is no point in being united and competent on a narrow front – the current electoral system will squeeze you out. You have to be a “broad” – if fractious – church. Yet at the last election “boring” Labour lost out to a “fourth party” that was demonstrably competent, united and offering a left-wing anti-austerity manifesto – in Scotland.


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