This article is about the Conservative and Labour parties in Great Britain, but the parallels with Republicans and Democrats in America are obvious. Particularly at the grassroots level, why are parties even necessary?
Why the sickly ugly sisters of our politics deserve to suffer the splits, by Andrew Rawnsley (The Guardian)
Once broad churches, both the Tory and Labour parties have become increasingly sectarian. Breakaways will be the result
If they did not exist, would we invent them? Given the chance to start from scratch, would Britain regard the Conservative and Labour parties, the two old and ugly sisters of our politics, as the best we can do? Are they fit for the purpose of representing and reconciling the diversity of opinions in a modern and complex country? And for offering it a choice of decent governments? A growing number of us have been saying not and for a long time.
Even before Brexit split both parties and scrambled voter allegiances, much of the electorate was expressing its dissatisfaction with the big two. The Tories have not won a solid parliamentary majority since 1987. The last Labour leader who was not called Tony Blair to secure a healthy Commons majority was Harold Wilson in 1966.
The number of voters who enthusiastically identify as red or blue has been in long-term decline. Party membership has also been shrivelling. The Tories, who once boasted that they were a million strong, bump along at around 100,000. Labour enjoyed a trend-defying surge in its membership during the Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn phase of his leadership, but that is going downhill as the magical uncle turns out not to be so wondrous after all.
It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election. But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible. It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither. More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties.
Many politicians can’t stand the parties they represent. Some actively and publicly rage about what has become of them. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when so many MPs have expressed so much disgust and despair with the state of their own parties. For every Tory who expresses agony about what Brexit has done to the party they used to love, there is a Labour MP voicing anguish about what Corbynism has done to the party that they have spent a lifetime serving …