At one of my family gatherings over Christmas, I found myself arguing a somewhat radical position about what is likely to happen to the shape of politics in the UK over the course of this new year.
I was a little surprised at myself, having not previously been aware that this is what I thought. Yet there is a kind of logic to it. On the other hand, most people I talked to regard it as contradictory rather than neatly paradoxical.
My contention is that, once the Brexit question has been resolved in parliament one way or the other – such a possibility seems unlikely now but it must happen sooner or later – the Labour Patty will divide. I accept that this depends partly on what Jeremy Corbyn does over the next few weeks, but we have to assume that he will continue to sit on the fence.
So far, so good. I also accept that this is hardly an original thought. My next contention is that, without the threat of a Corbyn government, there will be nothing together the various sides of the Conservative Party together either. If you listen to the barely concealed contempt behind what Michael Heseltine says in his broadcast appearances, I don’t believe any political organisation can survive divisions like that.
Again, this is not exactly a new idea. Where I think I am sticking my neck out is that the arrival in Westminster of one or possibly to new centre parties can help the Lib Dems.
Conventional thinking suggest that this can only undermine, but the opposite may be true. There is nothing like the arrival of two rival operations, both dedicated to dull conformity, preserving the existing order and mediation in all things, may exactly what the Lib Dem doctor ordered. As long as they understand that they are not – and certainly should not have to be – a moderate centre party.
Especially, perhaps, when voters across Europe appear to be in flight for any such thing. This may in fact be exactly what Lib Dems need to force them to do a bit of thinking, once they have picked themselves up from the shock – realising (I hope) that the two issues which have dominated the narrative in the UK for the last century or so (international trade, state versus private control) have mainly been resolved by most of the world and it is time to move on. Why, after all, would anyone serious about change want to listen to parliament to continue their endless, pointless conversation about them.
No, mark my words, by the middle of this year, there will be six national political parties represented in Westminster (including the Greens). But only one of them will be working towards what the UK urgently needs: the radical devolution of power. This will be the Lib Dems.
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