Like a distant drum beat becoming ever louder, so talk of creating a new political party intensifies. I first heard the sound when I read Professor Stein Ringen’s blog dated 21 March. He stated flatly: “British parliamentary democracy now runs without opposition. The centre-left, the main population constituency, is without representation. This is the time to bite the bullet and form a new political party.”
Then, over the weekend, Andrew Grice reported in The Independent that “the chattering classes are chattering about creating a new centre party again. Pro-Europeans in Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats make common cause over their concern that the UK might be heading for an economically damaging hard Brexit.”
Nick Clegg intervened on Monday, though not going so far as to propose a new political party. As a recent Lib Dem leader, he could hardly do that. He told The Guardian, in an interview: “No one can beat the Conservatives on their own, so it’s not that complicated – we’re condemned to work together … I would welcome and embrace more thinking and writing and talking and speaking amongst liberal Conservatives, one-nation Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, centre-ground Labour folk who want to mount a proper ideological response to [Theresa May’s Government].”
We should be more ambitious than this. After a 40-year period when it was thought that governments knew best (roughly late 1930s to late 1970s), followed by the belief that markets knew best (late 1970s to roughly now), I hope we shall soon come to a new dispensation: people know best. A “fresh start” party should be highly consultative. In other words, I am arguing for a change in our political culture.
In his book, Democratic Legitimacy, the French political scientist Pierre Rosanvallon wrote: “Citizens are increasingly conscious of the way in which they are governed. They want to be listened to and reckoned with. Around the world, survey after survey has shown that a central concern of people everywhere is that political leaders should share their experiences and consult them about what ought to be done.”
How might this be done? Here is one idea. Let asylum cases, for instance, be decided by asylum juries comprising ordinary citizens rather than by immigration officers employed by the Home Office. This would be more fully democratic than the present system.
A new political grouping should also draw its inspiration from civil society. Civil society has a notion of the common good; when concerned citizens see a shortfall in social provision, they organise themselves to do something about it. Their initiatives can be ad hoc and informal, or more permanent, such as charities, community organisations, professional associations, pressure groups and think tanks.
The establishment of food banks is an example of what civil society can achieve. The Trussell Trust opened the first food banks in Britain in 2000 when one of the founders started the Salisbury Foodbank in his garden shed and garage, providing three days of emergency food to local people in crisis. In 2004, the UK Foodbank Network was launched to teach churches and communities how to start their own banks. The latest statistics show that more than 1m three-day emergency food supplies were given to hard-pressed people in 2015-16.
Celebrities who have hinted at entering politics
Celebrities who have hinted at entering politics
Smith told the Hollywood Reporter: “As I look at the political landscape, I think that there might be a future out there for me. They might need me out there."
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
2/8 Kanye West
At the 2015 VMAs Kanye said: "I have decided in 2020 to run for president" before dropping the mic and leaving the stage.
3/8 Lindsay Lohan
Lohan announced on Instagram she may run for President in 2020, citing Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama and Kanye West as her inspirations.
John Phillips/Getty Images
4/8 Angelina Jolie
The actress told ITV news she would enter politics if she felt she could 'really make a difference'
5/8 Ben Affleck
Jennifer Garner told Allure magazine she wouldn't be surprised if Affleck went into politics but right now 'he feels he can do more good for people politically from outside the system'. The comments were made in 2013, before the couple separated.
6/8 Alec Baldwin
Baldwin told Piers Morgan in 2012 he would like to enter politics but "what I would run for and when it would be [is] something I'd have to give a lot of thought."
Jemal Countess/Getty Images for DGA
7/8 Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson
The former WWE star told Moviefone in 2012 that one day he will 'impact the world through politics'
8/8 George Clooney
One celebrity who has ruled out ever entering politics is Clooney. He addressed rumours he was running for office during a press conference where he said: 'I just think it's hell' and questioned 'who would ever want to live like that?'
Unfortunately, however, because national politics has become a lifelong career, few members of civil society think of standing for election to the House of Commons. The only recent examples are Martin Bell, a former broadcast war reporter who became MP for Tatton from 1997 to 2001, and Richard Taylor, a doctor and former Royal Air Force officer, who served as an independent MP for Wyre Forest between 2001 and 2010.
This reluctance will need to be overcome if there is to be a return to the concepts of public service that were commonplace in politics before the emergence of a power-hungry political class, and which have long flourished abundantly in civil society.
And if there is to be a new party, it should dispense with traditional political labels. If a group of like-minded people committed to launching a new political party is assembled, their first task should be to draft an election manifesto with the help of experts and deliberative polling techniques that take into account the opinions of ordinary people.
No doubt some of the policies that came out of this process could be classified as left-of-centre or as right-of-centre by the labelling systems of earlier political ages. But that would be irrelevant.Reuse content