25th June 2018
Until fairly recently there was a natural political home for those in the UK who sincerely believed in certain things.
If you believed in the supremacy of parliament, and traditional constitutional thinking generally, there was a political home.
If you believed in the union with Northern Ireland and with Scotland, there was a political home.
And if you believed in UK membership of the European Union, or even just of the Single Market, there was a political home.
That home was the political party which had its origins in the opposition to constitutional changes of 1828 to 1832, and had since then had promoted the importance of Parliament and a balanced constitution; the political party which had united with the Northern Irish unionists and defended the union with Scotland in the twentieth century; and the political party which had taken the UK into the (old) EEC in 1973 and had shaped the Single Market in the 1980s.
That party was, of course, the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Then Brexit happened.
And now there are those, who call themselves Conservatives, who want to believe parliament less important than prime ministerial discretion and the “will of the people”; who would rather have Brexit than the union with Northern Ireland and Scotland; and who want to reverse the European policy of both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher.
There is nothing wrong in any of this – parties and polices change over time, and that is a healthy quality in a democracy.
But one would be hard-pressed to find many lines of continuity, at least in terms of high principle – between the pre-Brexit Conservatives and the current government.
If it were not for the entrenched party formation caused by the UK electoral and party system, there would now perhaps be a realignment of British parties such as what happened after the Corn law Repeal of 1846, the Irish Home Rule crisis of 1885-86, and the electoral rise of the Labour Party after 1906.
If we were starting a party system from scratch, few would propose the current party divides.
More sensible would be a “Hard Leave” (or Leave) party and a “Soft Leave” (or Remain) party, just as the “Tories” and “Whigs” emerged as political groupings in the 1680s.
And then party politics would perhaps be become meaningful again.
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