Will Brexit bring the end to the two-party system?

By Cameron Macindoe

Monday 08th April

The last few weeks in Westminster have seen a series of indicative votes tabled, then rejected, then tabled again, resulting in the first tie in 26 years with Speaker John Bercow left to cast the deciding ballot.

What has been clearer than ever in this grave period of political uncertainty is that Members of Parliament on all sides of the House have been unwilling to compromise.

Last week, Conservative remainer Nick Boles cited his party’s intransigence as his decision to resign, following the failure of his proposed Brexit option. “I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise,” he announced to the floor with a hint of sadness.

Theresa May offered a withered olive branch to the 1922 Committee in that she would step down from her role if the Party backed her Withdrawal Agreement. However it wasn’t enough to pass the third vote. Corbyn then accepted May’s offer to hold cross-party talks on negotiations, much to the dismay of the European Research Group (ERG) who said it could likely result in a softer Brexit.

Then yesterday, in an attempt to defend the talks, the PM released a home video appearing to rule out a fourth vote on her deal whilst reiterating that compromise will be needed on “both sides” – a move perhaps intended to soften the ground before she offers Labour a concession.

But it is not merely the right which has its problems. On the other side of the aisle, Labour has also struggled to form a clear consensus on Brexit, with a mixed-bag of support for a second referendum, leaving with a customs union, and not leaving at all. These differences have resulted in further turbulence, with the recent formation of The Independent Group (TIG) or ‘Change UK’ – the biggest separation in British party politics since Labour’s SDP in the early 1980s.

This bold move from Chukka Ummuna and his cross-party assortment of backbenchers demonstrates that there is a growing appetite for splintering off, rather than attempting to fix a broken party.

Speaking at the Leave Means Leave Brexit Rally in Westminster (on the original departure date from the EU), Claire Fox, Director and Founder of the think tank the Institute of Ideas, proclaimed that “Brexit has changed British politics forever,” as she cited a recent poll which found that only 8% of the UK identify with a political party, while 40% identify with either leave or remain.

Former Editor of Prospect magazine David Goodhart’s somewhat controversial theory of ‘Anywhere’s vs. Somewhere’s’ discusses how identity politics has come to the fore and created a hidden divide in the UK, between those who value liberalism and change, and those who value conservatism and familiarity respectively. Change UK appears to have gathered support from a portion of ‘Anywhere’s’, but what’s left for the ‘Somewhere’s’?

This poses the question: if there has been ever a time for a Tory split, would it be now? In a recent interview with the Evening Standard, Sam Gyimah MP said that “the ERG is a party within a party” and the growing disunity has been caused by a faction of “ringleaders” who have “Tory heads and UKIP hearts”. Dominic Grieve has also suffered at the expense of these divisions, as he faced deselection by his party after losing a confidence vote.

With rising speculation of Boris Johnson’s sights for the Prime Minister’s job, a number of Tory MPs admitted they would quit if he succeeded. Anna Soubry, now also of TIG, declared “people will leave” if Johnson is elected. The fault lines are becoming clearer.

The headlines are reaffirming that the fate of the Conservative Party rests on a knife edge. The Tories must unite their party before they can unite the nation, and they will struggle to attract a new breed of voters before resolving their internal conflicts first.

There may be political obstacles under first-past-the-post but, with the Tories as close to destruction as they have ever been, we may see a re-alignment of the party system, of which Change UK is just the start.

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