Ending one year brings reflection. It might seem disheartening to review the political year for Britain, a country growing more isolated, divided and lost by the day. So instead why don’t we focus on the New Year by asking what progress looks like, and how to reimagine politics for the future. Learning from the past, but leaving the mistakes there is a resolution we all strive for and is especially important in politics. As unsexy a topic as it might appear, constitutional change is where it needs to start. People need to have a system they can trust in. Politicians need a system that delivers. We all need a need a system that works. This is not an essay of pessimism or crisis, but with a new year comes an amazing opportunity to shape something new that does work. For everyone.
UK General Election 2017
Knowing and understanding are very different, and I had to experience standing as an Independent candidate in the 2017 Election so I could see why the UK system was not fit for purpose and how we could address that. I thought I knew the constraints of the political bubble having worked in Westminster and several think tanks. Essentially, I’d walked away from politics for a decade and worked in the real world. Surely, I told myself, it must be different now. You probably don’t need a spoiler alert here. Observing with disappointment at the way the Coalition failed to work, and the post Brexit chaos, how much more evidence did I need that the UK system needed an overhaul?
I am now more certain than ever that two-party style politics cannot meet the demands of the modern world. Its adversarial approach alienates people, divides the nation and has proved inefficient at dealing with major national issues. Whilst it is a fight between two, politics does not serve the rest. Roundtable governance and consensus philosophy must be at the heart of our system. Party politics isn’t going anywhere; it’s not dead as the pundits taunt, and if anything, more parties, more choice and more independents are the future. The diversity of voices and opinions is part of the solution – the gender, ethnicity or perceived status they come from is irrelevant. The questions they ask and solutions they find are more interesting.
Proportional Representation and E-Voting
Old Left and Right labels must be consigned to the history books. For that to work, the entire system we use needs to change, we need to completely reimagine politics. Why don’t we reform The House of Lords into an active and efficient upper house? Let’s review the voting system, is FPTP best or would Proportional Representation be better. What about e-voting? Could we reduce the monarchy to better reflect an equal and modern society? While Westminster itself is in need of repair, it might seem like a good time to review how Parliament could be arranged for less conflict and more co-operation as seen in the semicircular settings in other European countries which foster consensus. The possibilities are endless because while perfection is never attainable, the journey there is paved with ideas.
The mainstream media ignored a passionate debate in Parliament on Proportional Representation last year, but making every vote matter could provide real change and make politics relevant. It is positive to see many politicians campaigning for, and in some cases against their own career ambitions, a change in our system. They want to work with the people, not against. This is the evolution we need to be focusing on.
Second Coming of Tony Blair
After processing the experience of the election and observing more post Brexit mayhem, I decided to take things into my own hands, open some personal dialogue with the great and good, (and the really not so great or good), asking the difficult questions (are there any other kind worth asking?!). Mostly the response has been positive from those on the periphery of the political bubble. Academics, peers, business leaders asking me when can I get started with aiding our political evolution is a sure sign we are all broadly looking for the same thing. One well-known historian told me to wait for the second coming of Tony Blair (I may be slightly paraphrasing) and that his new party would solve everything. While sceptical that any new party would lose out by playing a part in the same old system, academics’ optimism is naively but reassuringly uplifting!
‘He who rejects change is the architect of decay.’
Yet, it is the hard-line apparatchiks who prove time and again; it’s their party way or no way. At best some are cagey, inclined to agree something new is needed but scared for their own careers. Or perhaps just scared of change. At worst, one negative response summed up the problem so succinctly. Lord Heseltine, in just one email, shows all the obstinacy cultivated by party politics and demonstrates why it stunts progress and constrains freedom of thought. He wrote, ‘I must be frank, I don’t see a way in which a new party is going to emerge in the UK’. I had deliberately never once mentioned the word ‘party’. Though technically right given our FPTP voting system, was it a Freudian slip or just a lack of interest in innovative ideas that may not fit the traditional Westminster model? While he is deserving of respect and admiration in so many ways, such a stance in our present climate is part of the problem. In one line, to close a potential dialogue about how best Britain can heal rifts and move forward is the antithesis of the Freethinking spirit. As Harold Wilson put it, ‘He who rejects change is the architect of decay’.
In sharp contrast to others I have met with, who see that without creating something else, we are stuck in this nightmare time loop of talking about Brexit which holds the UK back and prevents discussions on anything else. We need to get out of this constitutional quicksand and know that reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and a quest for progress. Lord Owen was more open and candid in his communication when he said, ‘Until we have broken the mould of two-party politics, progress cannot be made’. While we both share a desire to see PR a reality, his pessimism on how the extreme Left will divide Labour also backs up the reality of how two-party ego games stunt progress for the greater good. However, his ongoing desire to see social change and consensus philosophy is an inspiration to younger generations keen to take up the challenge.
Let’s Reimagine Politics
If we keep doing things the same way, we get the same results. If we want different results, we must find a different way. We need to reimagine politics entirely, it is the only way we can all have a say in how our society is going to go forward and cope best with the challenges which the 21st century is bringing. Or indeed to fully enjoy the adventures it holds. When we have a political system fit for purpose, then we can have a politics that not only works but works for us all.
The opinions in The Freethink Tank’s Opinion category are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owner.