Polarised politics?

The political pundits tell us that European politics is polarising the country.

They did not say so when the Conservative and Labour Party shared government between them over the past 100 years. Was this not polarisation? So, is polarisation good or bad? Would these pundits rather have polarising debate or a one-party state? Besides, what is more polarised than left and right in politics?

However, it is true that European politics has reshaped British politics, but more specifically it is proportional representation that has reshaped it.

Proportional representation (PR) gave the SNP its leg-up in the Scottish Parliament through the 2000s. PR gave UKIP and the Greens their leg-up in the 2014 European Parliament. Again, in 2019 it gave Brexit dominance in UK politics, the Lib-Dems their recovery and a further leg-up to the Greens.

Without proportional representation, the Conservatives would have had no representation in the Scottish Parliament in the 2000s, and after the Tories disastrous result in this weekend’s European Parliamentary election there are noises from some Tories that we should move towards PR in UK General Elections.

The Tories came fifth, behind the Greens, and for the first time in 100 years the Lib Dems beat both the Tories and the Labour in the same election.

Instead of the bigger parties squeezing the smaller parties, the smaller parties squeezed the larger parties. This points to a protest vote, such as happens in a by-elections, but it is not enough to say that the European Election result is a protest vote. Counter-intuitively the anti-democratic European Union has, because of its PR voting system, promoted democracy in the UK. 4 million UKIP votes failing to win one UKIP seat in the UK Parliament has contributed to the public discontent with the democratic deficit.

Slowly, the electorate and the political pundits are discovering that the real polarisation in UK politics has been the dominance of the Conservative and Labour parties through the first-past-the-post system of voting in the UK. This is not surprising. The USA also has, in effect, two parties. So why is polarisation depicted as a bad thing? Is it because the Remainers are losing the vote and the argument, as well as losing public trust? Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave us the Brexit referendum, made it clear in his Chattam House speech: “There will not be another renegotiation and another Referendum … this is our only chance to get this right … this choice cannot be undone.”

The final result in the European Election was delayed till today because neither the Outer Isles in the Scotland constituency nor Northern Ireland counted their votes on the Lord’s Day.

The Brexit Party had no website nor manifesto for the election, but simply a slogan – a Clean Break Brexit. Nigel Farage wants to leave on WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms and not to pay the £39bn ‘divorce bill’. The Tory leadership election will need to interact with these views and it will strengthen Boris Johnson’s or any other future leader’s resolve to leave the EU on 31 Oct 2019 with or without a ‘Deal’. The reality is that the average FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the EU takes about a decade to implement. TTIP between the USA and the EU fell apart, the Canadian FTA took a long time, as did the recently completed EU-Japan FTA. Once the UK has left the EU, the deal should be a bit quicker because 1. of our current alignment and 2. our advantageous trade deficit with the EU.

Links:

4 May 2019: Picasso politics.

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