Britain has an interesting political system, one that in many respects we share.
As well as the formation of effective new parties like that of the Labour party or the Unionist party at the start of the 20th century or the UKIP more recently, it also uses the occasional splits of MPs splitting away from parties.
The effect is to realise the formation of streams of political effect. Often this is not as a result of actual electoral success and a role inside government, but usually because it causes shifts in the positions of the major parties that form the governments.
For me, one of the most notable was the singleton break away of Winston Churchill from the tories to the liberals back in 1904. It was something that invigorated both parties.
The Conservatives, plagued by the remaining Hughlagians, slowly moved from a simple conservatism of privilege to a party that managed to survive in the modern world. The Liberals used the almost excessive energy of a young Churchill to spearhead support of the ‘peoples budget’. Which in 1909/10 which was vetoed multiple times by the House of Lords. A refusal that, after two successful elections by the Liberals in 1910, allowed the passing of the Parliament Act reducing the ability of the House of Lords to block legislation. Arguably that budget allowed the start of a formation of the welfare state in Britain. It certainly changed the political balance in Britain.
Another was the formation of the Social Democrats in 1981 when two Labour MPs and several former Labour MPs broke away from Labour, followed eventually by 26 other Labour MPs as a result of internal divisions inside Labour between centrist and harder left Militant tendency factions. They were joined by a single conservative MP. Eventually they wound up going into coalition with the Liberals.
The effect of this was threefold. It led to a period of Conservative party domination under Thatcher. Subsequently the internal war inside Labour led to the shifts in the balances of power that led to the ‘New Labour’ of Tony Blair as Labour repeatedly failed to win the votes to go into government. It didn’t do much for the centrist Liberals or Social Democratic parties.
This time I rather suspect that there will be a centrist grouping that owes itself to factional fighting in both the Conservatives and Labour over both Brexit and the hardening of factions in both parties. In the conservatives the seemingly eternal war over ties with Europe that has spanned much of the last century as well as this is steadily descending in further conflict. Inside Labour the repetition of the conflict about an internally broad based or narrow coalition of interests. In both parties the limits of internal tolerance are fraying.
Meanwhile the group of what increasingly look like pro-european MPs and supporters are likely to form a new party (or a group within the Liberal Democrats). The question will be if they are capable of gathering enough support to retain individual electorates, between now and a remote election, to fight off what is likely to be a fierce attempt to unseat them.
This isn’t as unlikely as it seems. The formation of the Labour heavy early SDP drew its support widely.
Although the SDP was seen as being largely a breakaway from the right-wing of the Labour Party, an internal party survey found that 60% of its members had not belonged to a political party before, with 25% being drawn from Labour, 10% from the Conservatives and 5% from the Liberals.
The continued internal conflict in both major political parties in the UK and the support of the leadership of both for support of the Brexit, alienating the generally younger supporters who voted against it, there appears to be a vast gaping hole in UK political system at present.
I’m going to be interested in seeing where this goes as we count down to what increasingly looks like a ‘No Deal’ fizzle to the increasingly acrimonious UK political debates of the last decade.