As politics splinters across the West, the old divide of Left vs Right no longer seems to explain how voters think. Is the two-party grip on the existing system faltering? Could a new movement give voters what they want? It’s political realignment week at UnHerd and we have asked our contributors to invent a party and put together its manifesto. Will it be for the many – or the few? Graeme Archer kicks us off.
How often do you watch the news and think “Why on earth are they doing that? Why don’t they do [insert favourite hobby-horse] instead?” We all have a seductive inner tyrant, whispering the charm that things could only get better, if only you were in charge.
Some inner tyrants achieve fleshly power. What was Blairism, other than “Do what I will shall be the whole of the law”? I find it telling that the loudest recent cries for “realignment” — for a government of all the talents (that is, one led by Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna) — should come from the dispossessed-Blairite, column-writing, centre-Left.
It’s not enough that their icon wanders around, urging sinners (Brexit voters) to repent; his last bastion of potency (those columnists) gobble away that “if only good people [i.e. politicians who agree with them about the EU] would throw aside their tribalism, we could stop this madness [i.e. inflict our political will on an unwilling electorate].” You could call it Unpopularism, I suppose, a political fetish loudly to be deprecated.
Well not me! And not my new Not Blair party, which I’m proposing as a vehicle for political realignment. Vote Not Blair, and we promise we won’t smear victims of train disasters, or hijack funeral services to “give” our quivering-lipped Mark Antony impression to the nation. We won’t hire ex-pornographers to thuggerise the management of the news cycle, and we won’t hang about with spivs on yachts.
We will never, ever give Keith Vaz any responsibility whatsoever, not even to buy the office a washing machine. We won’t snigger up our sleeves and lie to you about immigration. And we’re basically sceptical about wars; just as a default. Certainly we won’t send working-class men to be killed by savages, for reasons no one can ever satisfactorily explain.
But being Not Blair is a necessary, but insufficient, condition for our new movement. The Not Party is against a much longer list of things than merely Tony Blair. I’m grateful to UnHerd for giving me this opportunity to launch the Not Party’s manifesto.
We’re not for building houses on suburban fields, for example, certainly not in outer London boroughs, because whatever those wide-eyed 20-something lobbyists insist in their endless think tank reports, there are too many people in southern England. Of course we need more homes — hundreds of thousands of them a year — but as far as possible these will all be built in Sheffield Hallam, as the concreted-over thanks of a grateful nation to its voters, for putting Nick Clegg on the national stage for so long, only finally to replace him with something worse.
In education, the Not Party is against university expansionism, and instead will close any institution that fosters Marxism, or has banned Germaine Greer from speaking, or which ever employed Baroness Chakrabarti. We’ll just have to struggle on without the LSE, and the late Colonel Ghaddafi’s relatives will have to find other places to award them their PhDs.
The Not Party will proscribe various terrorist organisations, and HR. “Suppression of wages and deflection of tribunals” departments will still be allowed to exist, but there will be zero tolerance for dressing this up as drivel about “shared company values”. Anything with mission statements about “social mobility” will be terminated; the Not Party will meritocratise the professions by making unpaid internships illegal, a simple but effective policy to stop the offspring of rich Left-wing people from running everything.
David Lammy will be asked to set up a taskforce to investigate the scourge of identity politics, which the Not Party disfavours, but will only be allowed to share his findings in public once he’s passed a foundation course in Deductive Reasoning. We’ll book the hall for you and everything, David; don’t rush it: Marie Antoinette didn’t discover radium in a day.
You see the problem: try to create a new party and too easily you end up with something ghastly, fashioned from your id’s self-image. “Realignment” is a chimera, and wishing for it a displacement activity from engaging with the world as it is, and the political institutions which exist.
You can long for an un-Corbyn, pro-EU Labour party as much as you like, for example, but Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party: tackle that, if you want to change Labour, rather than wasting Sunday afternoons imagining what might have happened had Blair not resigned. The most important lesson for democratic politics was issued from those luscious Jagger lips back in 1969: You can’t always get what you want.
To which I’d add: and nor should you. Demanding that the world conforms to your inner vision, else foot-stamping fury, is the mental state of toddlers, terrorists – and the leadership of the Labour Party. The country doesn’t need my Not Party.
But let’s see the game to its conclusion, for the game itself is instructive. The party Britain needs would be broad; unfussed by internal contradictions; with just enough motivating ideological force (to oppose socialism, to support economic growth, to side, instinctively, with messy liberty over tidy oppression) to give it a focus, without such ideology ever being allowed to over-ride managerial competence and an awareness that choices mean losers. (We really do need hundreds of thousands more homes in southern England, however fearful that renders my leafy suburban soul.)
The party for which the country cries for would be honest when dealing with complex issues: Brexit is boring and tedious and will take decades. Whether strongly pro or strongly anti, anyone who says otherwise is lying. Leave them to the lunatic fringe and the House of Lords. (A party defined by Brexit — in either direction — is about the most destructive construct I can imagine.)
The party I have in mind would draw its leaders from any background, without fussing over which ethnic heritage, religious tradition, marital status or chromosomal disposition such leaders possess, and it would be sensitive with reform, neither rushing headlong into changes that could unravel communities, nor lying about any necessary steps to secure a future common good. It’s probable, in fact, that such a political organisation wouldn’t be designed by anyone, but instead would be the outcome of centuries of exposure to lived human reality.
Such a party is a dream, of course, an impossibility in the vicious dividing-line identity-shrieking (r)age we inhabit, but if it could be willed into existence, it would require a name.
The “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what you need” Party is a bit of a mouthful, so how about we call it The Conservative Party. Do you think that could ever catch on?