Is there space for a new party in British politics?

Image: The Independent Group

Yesterday, seven Labour MPs dramatically resigned from the party forming a new ‘independent group’ in Parliament. It was strongly hinted, by repeated reaching out to members of other parties to join the new movement, that they seek to turn the group into a political party by the end of the year.

There have been several attempts at splits in the past, most notably in the 1980s with the ‘Gang of Four’ forming the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This, along with previous attempts have not been as successful as was thought when they first emerged. But with both major parties deeply divided over Brexit and a rise in the number of the ‘politically homeless’, could this be the time that a new party can soar to greatness?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. Only a few days ago, an Opinium poll said that almost 60 percent of voters would consider voting for a new centre-ground party, with two-fifths believing a new political party would be the best way to represent them. And with 41% of voters believing the two main parties are too extreme, it looks like there could be potential for a new party to claim these voters by planting a flag in the centre-ground of British politics.

Even a poll yesterday conducted by Survation suggested a new centrist party opposed to Brexit could attract 8% in a general election; the Conservatives placed on 39% and 34% respectively. Such a result could result in a slim Tory majority in Parliament, with the Conservatives on 332 seats, Labour down to 233, the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 12 and the new party on nine.

And it’s not just a centre-party that voters are on the look out for. A poll last year by ComRes showed that 53% of people in a poll of various Conservative constituencies would consider voting for a single-issue party to conclude Brexit as quickly and fully as possible. So Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party could also possibly have a way into British polticial life, especially with the possibility that a delay in Brexit could see the UK vote in European elections.

So at this admittedly early stage, where neither a party or a manifesto has been announced, it would seem that there is some demand for at least one new political party. However, this should be taken with a big pinch of salt. We have seen this rhetoric all before and it amount to nothing.

Repeatedly, break-away parties have shown in polls the possibility of gaining huge amount of ground, only for it not to materialise when voters go and place their cross on their ballot paper.

In 1999, two Conservative MEPs quit the party over then leader William Hague’s stance on the single currency. At one point, the new ‘Pro-Euro Conservatives’ achieved 14% in a poll for the upcoming European elections, a vote share that could have put them in third place with around a dozen MEPs. However, it wasn’t reflected in the actual result; the party achieved just over one percent in the election.

The same was true for the National Health Action Party, which in a poll in 2012 put their potential support at 18%. Come the election in 2015, the party got 0.1 percent of the vote. And in the last election, polls for an independent stop Brexit candidate in Battersea and a hypothetical ‘Stop Brexit Alliance’ candidate for Kensington put them at 17 percent and even 28 percent respectively. In Kensington, two stop Brexit candidates got 1.3 percent between them and Chris Coghlan, an independent opposed to Brexit, got only 2 percent.

The history of British politics has many parties that have attempted to make a breakthrough and offer something new and fresh, but have all to often fallen by the wayside, either because the electorate don’t like what’s being offered, the leader doesn’t appeal to them, or simply that the voting system prevents them from making progress.

Time will tell whether the same fate will befall the Independent Group

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