The air is as thick with third party prospects as with Trump’s tweets. There’s a fifty million start-up fund reportedly on offer, the great love affair of our time between Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry and intense media speculation of the type which boosted the last two flashes in the political pan – the SDP and Cleggmania. It’s all as mysterious and exciting as Prospero’s island in The Tempest. And just as pointless.
It all springs from Brexit. Remainers can’t accept that the people’s verdict should be implemented. Hence this last ditch resistance campaign pulling out every stop to stop Brexit; hence the plethora of petitions for another referendum by people who didn’t want the first; hence the increasingly hysterical predictions of disaster if Brexit happens; and hence, too, the demand that all good men and true must unite against it. A third party is their last resort.
The aim is to combine dissidents from a Government struggling to do its duty with the larger number of disgruntled europhiles from an Opposition which has lost touch with the people – and all to form a new party on the ‘centre ground’ which they assume runs through, and to, Europe. But if Brexit is the question, a new third party is the wrong answer. It provides no base for a party because there is no agreement on what comes after. Continue austerity or relax it? Socially liberal or authoritarian? Join the euro or stay on the EU’s periphery? A party has to have policies.
If its central one is to tell the people they’re wrong, its prospects will be slight. If that doesn’t kill it, First Past The Post will. Just as it did for the SDP. Its votes were nowhere concentrated enough to win seats. Remain is the same and here it faces a paradox: their best hope of killing Brexit lies in the fact that Parliament and the political elite are out of line with the country.
A majority of MPs wanted to stay in the EU. The country doesn’t. Labour is particularly out of line with its people and its regions. So its tensions are greatest. This creates an unworkable political situation.
It makes governing difficult and weakens the ability of the May Government to negotiate with the intransigent opponents we face in the EU. Yet the only answer to that is proportional representation to make Parliament genuinely representative and require coalitions to govern. Which is exactly what Remainers don’t want.
A more representative Parliament would be a more Brexit Parliament, reflecting the aspirations of the people – not the elite – thus destroying Remain’s last hope. Result: deadlock. Which is where the third party fever will stay – the kind of wishful thinking which comes up from time to time when the political situation is particularly difficult and messy. It’s escapism on the part of politicians and parties who’ve lost touch with the people and can’t abide not getting their way. It would only lead to chaos.