Prospect of new UK political party
In the dog days of summer, the FT's editor Lionel Barber and columnist Janan Ganesh discuss the likelihood of a new UK political movement.
Studio produced by Petros Gioumpasis and Andy Mitchell. Produced by Jill Wrenn. Edited by Xhulio Ismalaj.
So we're in the dog days of summer. The weather's terrible in Britain, but our political commentator, Janan Ganesh, has been having some thoughts about the prospects for a new political party. Janan, are you serious? Is there an opening? And what would be necessary to create such a party?
People do talk about the prospect of a new party, frustrated, sent to ground voters, people who are members of the Labour Party, Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats, either uncomfortable in their own movements and the direction they're heading in or just spooked by the prospect of Brexit, always ask me and ask each other whether there is a prospect for some kind of new political movement.
And I think it's unlikely. But if there is any chance of it happening at all, it cannot be a broad-based thing called the Centre Ground Party or the Liberal Party or the Progressive Party, to have definition, and to have a bit of momentum, which is what it doesn't have at the moment. It needs a single issue to focus on.
So before we talk about those issues, we need to talk about people. Put some names together who could be behind such a movement.
Well there's a few that everyone will have heard of. And so, Tony Blair, prime minister, 10 years ago now-- would you believe-- is a sort of curating force behind the scenes. He doesn't want to be the front man for a new movement. He knows that he's, rightly or wrongly, a tainted figure in this country, but he's corralling individuals, resources--
Within the labour party? What's left of--
External to the Labour Party. I mean some of the people he's talking to are members of the Labour Party, but also Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, business people who have no political affiliation, potential donors who would like to give money, but none of the existing political parties suit their views. So he's a kind of eminence grise behind the project.
But also if you look at the London Evening Standard, the daily newspaper in this city, now edited by George Osborne, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, used to be a conservative sitting MP, now he's a free agent. And you can see from the--
Arguably the second most important person in the country when David Cameron was prime minister and now, a mere newspaper editor.
And clearly the second most important editorial page far behind the FT.
But if you look at that editorial page day after day, there's a philosophy espoused there, which is more like the philosophy of a new party than it is a conservative editorial page or a Labour Party editorial page. And there are lots of MPs behind the scenes in discreet settings trying to get something going.
And what about Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Lib Dems? Where's he gone?
I don't know whether he's-- I can't speak to whether he's actually involved, but he would be the classic example of someone who is politically homeless at the moment, so a common social liberal, pro-European, fairly pro-market guy, was absolutely in the swim of the political centre for 30 years. And everything went his way and then post Brexit and the Labour Party's move to the left, he's sort of homeless. And these are the people who they're trying to attract. I just think they have very little chance until they give it a very sharp point and make it an anti-Brexit party.
Right. To accentuate the negative, why is it so difficult to have a realignment in British politics.
The ultimate reason that everyone cites is the voting system. So we have to first pass the post voting system and historically, that privileges incumbent parties and makes it hard for newcomers. And that's because a newcomer has to field candidates in 650 constituencies and win a significant number of them to have a decent representation in Parliament. In a PR system, like Germany, it would be a bit easier. Or in France, where you have a presidential system, all you need is one outstanding individual, a Macron figure to do it. So we have a tough voting system.
But I think if you look at this putative project, it fails long before that point. It hasn't got to an election yet. And it fails because as soon as these people come together with disparate views and they try to form a manifesto or a platform, they fall out because yes, they agree on Brexit, that it's a bad thing, they disagree on fiscal policy, they disagree on public service reform, they disagree on foreign policy beyond Europe. And I think the only way you form something with a bit of momentum here is to focus monomaniacally on Europe and leave all the rest to later down the line.
And very briefly, stopping Brexit in its tracks, what chances would you say? 50-50?
I think less than that, but it's a non-trivial chance. And it might take the form of another referendum or a Parliamentary vote in which the Parliament decides to reject the deal, but there's an absolutely non-trivial chance--
And I'm going to put you on the spot here because the Premier League is opening this season. Would you say that Arsenal have a greater chance of winning the league than actually stopping Brexit.
I would put much more money on Brexit stopping than Arsenal winning the league in the foreseeable future.
Janan Nash, thank you so much.