With the Conservative and Labour parties doing their best to drive their historical support away one has to wonder what might happen next. I don’t mean next week, or next year, but the next election and the one after that. All the traditional political parties are suffering as they have drifted to the extremes, thereby limiting their appeal to that huge block of middle England that a party needs to be successful.
If you can’t support the Conservatives or the Labour party, who can you vote for?
It’s not as if there aren’t alternatives, just the opposite, there are hundreds of them. Since the referendum 119 new political parties have been registered to contest Great Britain elections (Northern Ireland is a different register). Bizarrely, 28 of those include, within their name the words ‘independent’ or ‘independents’, which is a contradiction in terms, but allowed by the Electoral Commission.
The rate of applications is interesting as the pace seems to be quickening:
Amongst them is the Brexit Party which, with Nigel Farage’s support will get the exposure necessary, though a month and a half after registration one still cannot join it and there is very little information about it in terms of its organisation, structure, constitution, rule book, etc. etc. Currently it’s a couple of web pages asking for money. Even those who have registered an interest have heard nothing by way of updates or progress reports.
However, this appears to be a vehicle for the EU elections only, should they take place. The latest news regarding Catherine Blaiklock’s resignation as leader for inappropriate social media comments just magnifies the concerns about the party as a stable organisation.
It’s essential to have a national profile of some sort because people will not vote for a party and a leader they don’t know. In this sense Nigel Farage would appear to be critical to voting success all the while Brexit is the backdrop.
It’s not for no reason that new political parties fail, even those with high profile people involved. It’s rather like a large company, but instead of doing business and relying on a defined product portfolio, it must survive on opinion, eventually expressed as votes. The organisation and structure must be as professional as any business yet the vast majority of its activity is carried out by volunteers, including the management functions.
Typically, small political parties wind up with people in positions they are not well qualified to undertake. Equally, election candidates are selected from limited membership numbers, thereby leading to poor quality all round. On top of that many people tend to vote tribally, so making a good case or having good ideas is lost on people who aren’t listening.
The usual outlets for mass communication are generally barred to small parties. TV and radio simply aren’t interested. There’s plenty of airtime for elected MPs to make up an android panel and even a spot for pointless celebrities, but honest and patriotic people who put their efforts into a politics with integrity are ignored. Such is the landscape we inhabit.
Other problems a political party has is the national sense of its purpose. If you are a small party who have cobbled together a dozen candidates in a dozen constituencies, you are still trapped in an artificial convention of having to present a national manifesto as if you were seeking government. This is pointless yet essential. The small party will have to present a view on defence capability but will never be in a position to implement that.
Usually, amongst a raft of good ideas lurks the idiotic policy which sucks the life blood from any campaign for a period. Furthermore, wherever they sit on the political spectrum they will be opposed by their generic opposition. If a party is centre right, centre left and further left won’t vote for them; the reverse is also true. Wherever you stand politically there will be substantial numbers of people whose votes are lost from the start.
Then there is the perennial problem of negative pandemics, in the political sense. UKIP suffered greatly from this. A party councillor or candidate says something alleged to be non-PC and the entire party is tarnished with it for as long as the news cycle, driven by political opposition, lasts.
Political parties need massive support, widespread constituency bases, money, and most of all time to develop all these constituent parts. Most, even when fielding candidates, will barely register with voters. An additional yet potentially crippling factor is that in some constituencies new parties will be fighting each other and there is no mechanism to prevent that from happening.
However, it is essential that the voting public, in each constituency, have a credible alternative, so how is this to be achieved?
Let’s look again at the possibility that this credible alternative could be the independent. It’s worth comparing their respective problems:
- Political parties have a national dimension in their campaigns, in that it is the party, a central and homogenous group, seeking to spread their ideology down into constituencies with their representatives, thereby needing a national profile to achieve this. However, the independent has no national dimension and no need for the big national figure. This is a ground up approach, not a top down one.
- Political parties are bound to present a national manifesto, no matter how irrelevant. Independents do not.
- Political parties can suffer greatly from mud-slinging, whereas an independent can only damage themselves.
- Independents have no need of a national organisation, just a local one.
- General elections are, in fact, 650 local elections, so where media is concerned there is a greater likelihood of local media exposure than national. After all an independent is not addressing the nation.
- There will always be opposition for parties with a defined political stance, whereas independents can reflect the mood of the constituency in general. An independent Conservative will not do well in Newham, in just the same way as an independent Labour will tank in Tonbridge and Malling.
- Parties strive to contest everywhere, and it plays very badly when they fail. UKIP discovered this to their cost as the powerful argument of 3.8m votes in 2015 sank without trace with just 594,068 votes in 2017. Independents are connected to just one election, not 650. There only need to be 50 independents in the UK parliament to make a massive difference to government policy. That means, perhaps, focussing on the 50 most winnable seats.
There are a range of options and independents are not without their problems also. However, with good candidates and good local campaigns presented in an environment where many people simply cannot vote for their traditional parties, they do represent a real alternative. That’s what I’m seeking to achieve. To find out more see the website of the Coalition of Independents.