Monday, December 3, 2012

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Henry V had it easy - he didn't have UKIP to deal with and, anyway, he would have known what to do with them. We, however, need to discuss them and their performance in politics, such as it is.

I am delighted to say that the Boss on EU Referendum has commented at length and very knowledgeably (here and here) on my previous posting. I shall, in due course, respond to some of the points made and to comments on this blog.

In the meantime, I should like to pick out just one aspect of the discussion because it has shown up on the EURef blog as well and has become a mantra among UKIPers and their supporters (of whom the Boss is definitely not one).

Whenever I pointed out that UKIP has now been in existence for twenty years, that it gets a great deal of media attention and that the political situation in this country and over the water ought to be immensely helpful I was reminded by people who are too lazy to check their facts that new parties need time. How long did it take the Labour Party to achieve anything?

Here is the answer to that question and I have produced it on other threads for the benefit of UKIP.

The Labour Party was formed in February 1900 and was first called the Labour Representation Committee. As such it sponsored fifteen candidates and won two seats in the election of October 1900. In 1903 there was a secret electoral pact between the LRC, represented by its Secretary, Ramsay Macdonald and the Liberal Party, represented by its Chief Whip, Herbert Gladstone. (The idea of an electoral pact has been discarded by the UKIP leadership but is, in any case, unlikely to be proposed by either of the big parties seriously.)

One outcome of the Lib-Lab Pact was that the LRC won 29 seats in the 1906 election, that is six years after it had been founded. The new MPs then formally adopted the name of the Labour Party. Despite the odd set-back the Labour Party managed to win 42 seats in the 1910 election, ten years after it had been founded.

The First World War produced a split in the party as it had produced one in most socialist parties across Europe between those who supported the war and those who opposed it. There were further splits and splinterings after the war and the revolutions in Russia. However, the Liberal Party emerged from the war rather battered as well, so the Labour Party managed to win 142 seats in 1922 and 191 in 1923, forming the first Labour government in 1924 with, admittedly, support from the Liberals. There is a more detailed history here.

Curiously enough, as soon as I produced some of these facts I was told by the same people who had been challenging me on the subject that it was irrelevant because the situation is completely different. Of course, it is different. It always is. For one thing, there is no major war being fought. Nevertheless, some similarities do exist.

We have an electorate, large parts of which feels disenfranchised and disenchanted; we have serious crises in this country and across the Channel, which affect this country; we have a new(ish) party that is supposedly producing new ideas and new directions and that is getting more publicity than the early Labour Party did. Yet, not only does this party not perform as well as the other one did, it does not come anywhere close to performing well.

Or as the Boss puts it:
Looking to our history here does not help at all. Going back to the 1920s, and the emergence of the Labour Party as a force in politics, which eventually displaced the Liberals, cementing in its prominence in the 1945 election, we had a situation where a disaffected electorate switched loyalties.
Now, we are seeing the same disaffection but, instead of switching loyalties, the electorate is progressively opting out of the political process altogether.
This could and probably is the sign of a greater malaise in the system. Let us not forget that democracy in its present form, which is, according to some people a holy of all holies, is, in fact, a very recent experiment in political systems and may have already proved itself to be a failure. There is nothing sacred or, for that matter, necessarily intelligent in crowd sourcing (to use a very modern expression) policy and we may well  have to face up to the fact that the constitutional liberals who opposed it were right.

Or, alternatively, it is a good enough system and could be fixed but, at present, we do not have a clear idea how to do it. One thing is certain: as long as UKIP and its supporters refuse to acknowledge that the fault is in themselves and not in the stars (to paraphrase the Bard) they and we are going to get nowhere.


  1. The nub is surely that when voters give up on a favoured party now, they appear to give up on voting...and the young are barely engaged at all. Organised politics with its central control and saying yes when you mean no (Chris Grayling "having to do what I am told by the EU" in a vote "so I have to vote for something I don't believe in") just seems out of time and deeply unattractive. Also too many other distractions, it all appears irrelevant (even when it may not be), too many different elections and a feeling that voting makes no difference. UKIP has obviously had some lift in this, it would be churlish not to give the party some credit, but it is not enough to change things. Otherwise it would be achieving the SNP Hamilton style victories of the late 60s. But these, as you have said, are different times...

  2. The question is how different and how far they can be changed not back but forward to a different situation. If we knew more precisely why people prefer not voting to voting for UKIP we might be able to move.