Alex Phillips: Political partisanship is holding back Britain
When did the Conservatives give up on small c conservative values? When did Labour stop being the voice of the blue collar backbone of Britain?
Red or Blue. I’m not talking City or United, but frankly I may as well be. The crude and puerile tribalism that now dominates our politics, polarising it, pitting one side against the other, erasing all pragmatism and nuance to render the debate into a bloody fight between two irreconcilable factions would frankly be more suitable to football than democracy.
Today, the constant barrage of identity politics and ludicrous name calling that has entered political discourse, concentrated into a series of boorish soundbites and inflammatory clickbait, has seen the centre ground allegedly collapse and pushed all the noise to the fringes.
Whether or not you identify with being left wing or right wing, it’s almost demanded today that you pick a side and subscribe to a drop down list of ideologies, whether you naturally adhere to them or not.
The terms left and right have become insults in themselves, with constantly creeping cancel culture meaning that, rather than talk, the two supposedly combative cabals often determine it's perfectly acceptable to not even countenance interacting with the perceived other side. I should know. The amount of people who want to paint this channel as far right sees lots of potential contributors I invite onto the programme to give their valuable contribution often point blank refuse to even contemplate talking to me, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy of political imbalance.
The term right wing has now become synonymous with hate, selfishness, lack of compassion, greed and xenophobia. Whereas left wing invites a sense of moral superiority, ascribed self-righteousness, snowflake, laziness, jealousy and bitterness. The toxic titration, fed and amplified by the algorithms of social media, betrays our true human condition of being a societal animal, where in reality, more unites us than divides us.
It also continues to feed into an expectation of loyalty that denies the organic venn diagram of opinion that is more reflective of us as critically thinking individuals. It means when people go to vote, they tick the same box every election because that is what has always been done in that region, or family. The visceral loathing of the other side means rather than pick politicians on policy, the old adage that you could stick a rosette on a donkey and get it elected is tragically apt. It also sees politics become a predictable Punch and Judy show built on brand loyalty and gratuitous contrariness, rather a mature and constructive cooperation.
I grew up in a bellwether constituency - that is one that does not have heritage in an allegiance to one particular party but rather changes with the government. My mother was a Liberal Democrat activist, my father a sworn Tory. The word ‘Margaret Thatcher’ at the Sunday dinner table was so controversial it brought a reprieve for brother and I in which we could secretly shovel loathed vegetables back into serving dishes and nick extra Yorkshire Puddings.
Perhaps that is why I am more reluctant to identify with a side, although the whole world seems to believe that I have to be right wing because I campaigned for Brexit and now supposedly work for the UK’s answer to Fox News. The truth is, I haven’t voted in the past couple of elections as I simply feel that I can no longer reconcile with either of the establishment parties, a tragic conclusion to draw for someone so politically engaged.
But Brexit itself was an interesting phenomenon, flipping lazily held viewpoints on their heads and acting like a gateway drug to so-called 'red wall' voters to switch to the Tories. Are left and right still a thing? Were they ever real, or just destructive mirages designed to blind the electorate from critical thinking?
Perhaps our first past the post voting system which concretises the left-right hegemony are dangerously unfit for purpose. Just a glance across the pond to America shows what happens when the gulf between these synthetic constructs can become so heartfelt that running street battles take place between neighbours. Is that what politics should be about?
Long held beliefs that the Labour Party was the refuge for shop floor workers against The Man, who would naturally be a Tory, also seem to be fading away. However, certain people are still trying to perpetuate that myth, despite an unprecedented pole reversal where working class voters are more likely to back Boris, and wealthy metropolitan constituencies tending towards the more niche extrapolations of titular left wingery via so-called luxury ideologies. Perhaps the split has always been between the haves and have nots, but the perception of who represents them has dramatically changed.
The sands of time have shifted the political landscape enormously, not just in Britain, but the West in general, from our old mining towns to America’s rust belt. So how is it for veteran politicians, so-called grandees, to be the denizens of a party whose ideologies they perhaps no longer share? When did the Conservatives give up on small c conservative values? When did Labour stop being the voice of the blue collar backbone of Britain? When did you last do an audit of what you believe, or why you vote the way you do?
It’s all become dangerously murky and wilfully obscure and absurd, ripping the heart out from the very point of a civilised democracy. Today, we really need to talk about left and right.