In Brexit Britain, when everyone disagrees with everyone else but all wish for change, can we assume they are united to achieve the goal of change?
Earlier this summer, The Guardian reported on a possible consequence of the continuing fragmentation of the political landscape in the UK following Brexit. Hopelessly divided by a number of issues and internal rivalries, the two traditional ruling parties are on the point of imploding. The existing centrist third party, the Liberal Democrats, traditionally seen as a potential alternative, have never managed to establish their credibility.
Into the breach comes — what else? — a multimillionaire entrepreneur, Simon Franks, to prepare for a unified post-Brexit Britain. He hopes to form an “anti-politics party,” which sounds a little bit like organizing an anti-eating banquet. But however absurd it sounds, Franks has been inspired by the success of a politician across the English Channel. According to someone apparently in the know, “Franks wants to be the new Emmanuel Macron.”
The party Franks hopes to launch will be called “United for Change,” which already has a budget of £50 million ($64 million), but is “not believed to have any big name politicians on board yet.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Together for a brief period of time, either for opportunistic reasons or in momentary opposition to another person or party
The strategy is purportedly bottom up rather than top down. “United for Change want to create a movement first, hoping that its existence will lure MPs and others to it, giving them the safety net to jump from their current political homes,” says Mark Pack. This differentiates them from Emmanuel Macron’s “La République En Marche,” which was created around Macron at a propitious moment, once it became apparent that he could be an attractive candidate, or at least a less unattractive candidate than his principal opponents, each of whom represented one of the traditional parties at a time when the parties themselves were unsure of which way they wanted to go or what kind of candidate they wanted to back.
But how bottom-up is Franks willing to go? Recently, he hired an Anglo-Canadian former Goldman Sachs banker, Adam Knight, to run the new party. Political power, at least in the West, has been increasingly swayed if not dominated by various forms of populism, stronger on the nationalistic right than on the militant left. The one thing both sides share is a general discomfort, if not rejection of the “global elite” who once comfortably ran the world’s largest economies, until it became clear with the Great Recession that they controlled nothing at all — least of all their exaggerated appetite for profit, which continues unabated. We may, therefore, agree with this observation in The Red Roar that “hiring a former Goldman Sachs banker to run a new party is a counter-intuitive move (to put it politely).” As Business Insider reports, “Insiders say that Franks is more interested in sentiment than policy. ‘He’s more [Donald] Trump than [Emmanuel] Macron,’ one told BI.”
Ironically, a not very British website United for Change (www.unitedforchange.com) already exists. Visitors to the site, intrigued by Franks’ initiative, will be surprised when they will read that it is “dedicated to highlighting the broadest and most consuming topics in the national Muslim community to the forefront.” The new party simply decided to create a website with the same name but with the co.uk extension. They desperately need to upgrade their marketing savvy.
The British parliamentary system is amenable to the creation of vibrant third parties, unlike the US, where an unassailable duopoly reigns undisturbed. Recent history has allowed the Liberal Democrats to attain a high level of respectability and a certain degree of influence, but they have proved unable to challenge the exclusive tug-of-war between Labour and the Conservatives. The UK Independence Party came to prominence with Brexit, but like the French parties headed by a father or daughter named Le Pen, it can only hope against hope to wrench power away from the two traditional parties, whose role in history has been to maintain the idea of a democratic aristocracy assembled around a monarch. England needs its tradition of classes. Labour represents the people, the voice of democracy. The Tories perpetuate the idea of aristocratic stability.
European and North American politics reflect a trend built on shaky premises around the current generation of maverick leaders that includes Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and possibly Boris Johnson. It has enabled people like Simon Franks to fantasize about creating parties that emerge from the rubble of decaying traditional parties, replacing them not with a party, but with an improvised political marketing campaign that draws its energy from the populist rejection of the political power structures of the past.
Most commentators agree with the Labour backbencher who think Franks is “pissing in the wind.” Given his lack of a glamorous, potentially charismatic face like Macron’s or Trudeau’s to post on the hoardings (and on TV, of course), they’re probably right. But the traditional parties no longer have a leg to stand on. So, as we’ve seen with the (for the moment) successful reality-TV clown Donald Trump, anything could happen. Boris Johnson might even pull off his coup.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.