There is already a booming cacophany of op-eds, columns and think-pieces surrounding the coming EU elections. I hope I can offer a slightly different approach, drawing on our new Radix publication, A Guide to New Political Movements, written by Nick Silver and myself.
In it, we pick out the key ingredients required for new political parties to achieve success in the modern age. When you compare and contrast the Brexit Party and Change UK with our findings, I’m afraid 23 May does indeed look a little bleak for fervent Remainers.
One factor integral to the Brexit Party’s favourable chances is, in fact, far from modern. No matter the merits of their person, nothing short of going on Love Island could help Heidi Allen reach Nigel Farage’s level of charismatic leadership.
A pint and a cigarette shoots Farage’s brand into the heart of his fanbase like an arrow. Allen has no obvious symbols to draw upon when making her case against Brexit’s potential economic woes.
The huge importance of leadership to the British electorate is clear – the Brexit Party formed in January, but only when Farage publically took charge in March did it become a heavyweight party.
The Brexit Party’s ‘no-nonsense’ image hits another key strand in the battle to be relevant. From my perspective, Change UK’s concern for the economy seems to be a clear and understable position. So how is it that Farage and Annunziata Rees-Mogg have cornered the market in ‘common sense’ politics?
Consistently in our research we saw thatthose parties offering policies as the logical solutions, without ideology, pick up the most votes. The Brexit Party portrays itself as anti-politicians and their highly complex political theories. Change UK does not seem able to compete.
Brexit Party supporters wave placards with the slogan ‘Fighting Back’ – with whom can Change UK fight and not come off as Goliath rather than David?
Ultimately, when the Brexit Party uses the imperative ‘Let’s’, they know who they are talking to. The pinned tweet on their Twitter feed reads ‘We are the 17.4 million and we deserve to be heard’. They have an identity.
Change UK, by contrast, has a (noble) charge that they (the party) ‘will not stand idly by’ as ‘others’ fuel discord and ‘hatred’. This is not guaranteed to win over those who voted Brexit – a second referendum may well end up with the same result, or again too narrow a margin of victory for Remain.
It is also inadequate as a message to draw votes from Remainers. It has not formed an identity for them – they are not part of a community fighting for something. So much political energy nowadays is directed against ‘the elites’.
The Brexit Party has tapped into this enthusiasm; Change UK is ostensibly asking people to support the status quo. This is the issue of the whole Remain camp, if you like: in an age of anti-establishmentarianism, Remain is tainted with the images of Cameron and Blair.
As a glass-three-quarters-empty type of person, I have little hope for the EU elections. If Remainers want to impact the Brexit process, it had better be from the grassroots, with a message that makes clear the EU requires reform and a charismatic leader to top it all off.
And if anyone has any idea what the Remain equivalent is of a pint of real ale, please let me know.
Peter Underwood says
“And if anyone has any idea what the Remain equivalent is of a pint of real ale, please let me know.”
I’m afraid it is a ‘gin & tonic’ and that sums up the image. After 10 years of forced austerity can you blame the 95% for ‘fighting back’? The war against the status quo and financial elites is deeply rooted in our anthems: ‘Britons never, never will be slaves’ to either the crooked elites of the City of London or the bureaucrats of Brussels. Let the war begin and may the best party win!
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
Peter, a more interesting question to me would be to ask – what do a pint of beer and a gin and tonic have in common?
The more we focus on differences, the more we create division. And the natural end of that is not pleasant.
Yes, some people are for beer, others for G&T. So what? That’s what diversity is all about and it should be celebrated.
But how do we find a narrative that means that beer and G&T can co-exist in harmony rather than being thrown in the faces of the other.
As you say, we have turned this into a war. And wars are, first and foremost, destructive of people’s lives – whoever ends up winning.
Vern Hughes says
Radical Centrists in the UK seem so, so hesitant to state the bleeding obvious – choosing to remain part of EU statism, bureaucracy and born-to-rule elitism is to choose the wrong side of the argument.
Why wouldn’t Radical Centrists instinctively side with anti-elite, anti-bureaucracy sentiment?
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
These are all good sentiments. Thank you for responding.
Vern, the issue is that statism, elitism, bureaucracy, etc do not just live in Brussels. They live in Westminster too – maybe more so. And also, maybe, in Canberra.
The question is the extent to which leaving the EU ‘solves’ anything. And in terms of what it does resolve (issues of principle about accountable democracy, etc) whether those resolutions outweigh or are outweighed by the negative practical impacts on people’s lives (about which we can argue endlessly with little hope of resolution until we see what actually happens).
It has been said that the Radical Centre is not ‘middle-of-the-road but a view of the whole road’. So one has to ask the broader question – will being outside the EU drive the sort of system change that will result in making people’s lives better? I have not yet seen any convincing vision that suggests that it will.
So, personally, I am sympathetic (and very annoyed) by the EU as it has developed – with its centralizing instincts, etc. But I am yet unsure whether leaving will result in anything being resolved. Hence why I am a reluctant remainer (and, on some particularly irritable days a reluctant leaver). I believe it’s very finely balanced and by no means obvious.
Several months ago I was chatting to one of the leaders of the Catalan independence movement and I asked him the same question: “once you have independence, what are you going to do with it to make people’s lives better”. Silence. Except for the obvious that they will not have to pay money over to other parts of Spain.
So this is the problem. Independentist movements rapidly become mere instruments of division thriving on resentment of others rather than having a positive, collaborative, open vision. In my view that is not what the radical centre should be about.
It’s exactly the same with how the Brexit debate has unfolded, sadly. There is very little vision of a better future (except for a few undeliverable unicorns) and a lot of hate and pointing fingers at others as the cause of all our ills. It’s untrue. The cause of most of our ills lies in Westminster not in Brussels. Leaving will, I fear, resolve none of it.