The center can’t take it: the failure of Change UK and the atrophy of political thought Story-level
The latest disasters at Change UK – Chuka Umunna’s decision to join the Liberal Democrats and the party’s decision to change its name for a third time – provide a good excuse to reflect on the sad fate of one of the world’s most disadvantaged parties. United Kingdom. political history
It hasn’t been that long since Change UK was about to revolutionize British politics. There are many reasons why that never happened: Heidi Allen proved to be an incompetent acting head; the party failed to brand itself as a “permanence party” but faltered in trying to reinvent the center; it was called Change but it demanded that, as far as Europe was concerned, things stayed the same. But the biggest reason of all was the results of the council elections in early May, in which Change did not participate. There was only room for an anti-Leave party in the middle ground of British politics, and the strong performance of the Liberal Democrats in the municipal elections ensured that it would be such a party. From then on, people who were as determined to stay in the European Union as Nigel Farage’s supporters were drawn to the Liberal Democrats.
Although extremely brief, the Change UK episode is significant in that it resolves a longstanding debate in the Labor Party. Since Corbyn’s coup in 2015, members of the parliamentary party have been debating whether they should stay and fight or leave en masse. For a time it looked as if Tom Watson might follow Chukka Umunna and others out of the party. Change’s implosion has settled the argument in favor of staying and fighting, even if, unfortunately, those who stay and fight don’t seem to have much of a chance of winning. Mr Corbyn’s decision to humiliate Emily Thornberry, for example by leaving her as her stand-in for the Prime Minister’s Questions, is designed to show that he has the support of 80% of party members, while she she’s basically alone.
It is also significant because it provides an important lesson on the nature of modern parties. Change UK was an attempt to create a top-down party. Both Labor and Conservative MPs abandoned their ancestral parties and focused on attracting more MPs to their cause. But the days when politics were mainly contested between professional politicians in Westminster are gone along with Francis Fukuyama’s essay on “The End of History.” The Labor Party is now a movement as well as a party, thanks to the arrival of several hundred thousand committed Corbynists. The same is happening on the right: the Brexit Party can draw on dozens of pro-exit movements that have grown from the bottom up and are fueled by genuine anger at the status quo. Centrists not only need to build a traditional party infrastructure, with parliamentarians, local offices and obedient but docile members. They need to create all the trappings of a mass movement: think tanks to provide a constant source of ideas, foot soldiers to campaign on the ground, keyboard warriors to fight the Twitter war.
The obvious core of such a movement is the Popular Vote campaign, but it is intertwined with the Labor Party. Many of the leading figures in the People’s Vote campaign are Blairists who continue to fight a Labor civil war, including Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s main manipulator. He was expelled from the Labor Party for acknowledging that he had voted Lib Dem but nonetheless remains a member of the Labor fight tribe.
Another group trying to shake things up are the so-called new progressives, the broad collection of people who embrace identity and social justice politics. I can understand why young people are drawn to the social justice movement. They are victims of one of the greatest acts of intergenerational justice in decades: the fact that the baby-boomer generation has gobbled up the fruits of postwar prosperity (free college education, second homes, generous pensions) and then discovered righteousness. fiscal when it comes to designing policies for their successors (student loans, defined contributions, green taxes). But the social justice movement certainly has not produced a compelling text comparable to the liberal classics produced out of the same sense of injustice in the mid-Victorian era, such as John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” or Matthew’s “Culture and Anarchy.” Arnold.
One reason for this is that the new progressives seem determined to drive down the intellectual dead end of identity politics. Identity politics seems to be confused about what its essence is: identity. Sometimes identity seems to be socially constructed: hence the concern about gender fluidity, for example. We are told that gender is a social construction and that people can jump from one gender to another based on their choice. Sometimes identity seems to be taken as an inflexible fact: a person’s identity as a woman or a member of an ethnic minority seems to take precedence over all other considerations. Thus, Catharine MacKinnon, one of the leading feminist theorists at the University of Michigan, has argued that members of each ethnic, gender, or cultural group have their own distinct moral and intellectual norms. “The white man’s standard of equality is: are you equal to him?” she argues. “That is not a neutral standard. It’s a racist and sexist standard… But if you present yourself as a self-respecting and affirmative member of your own culture or sex… if you insist that your cultural diversity be affirmatively accommodated and recognized in the same way than theirs has been, that doesn’t look like an equality challenge at all.” This sounds a bit like the social biologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who argued that the world is divided into various racial and cultural groups. that they are locked in an inevitable struggle for dominance and that each group uses epiphenomena such as truth and morality as instruments of group power.
But I suspect the problem is more general than this: we suffer from a general atrophy of political thought not just in political parties and movements, but across the board. Academics have been captured by identity politics or have chosen to withdraw into small specialties. In the United States, in particular, the noble science of politics has been captured by political scientists who are deploying ever more powerful quantitative techniques for ever more trivial ends. The most interesting political theorists writing for the general public today remain the (somewhat older) students of Isaiah Berlin, such as Sir Larry Siedentop and John Gray. The chair once held by Mr. Berlin at Oxford was empty. Public authorities in general, spurred on by lobbyists but also, I suspect, spurred on by their natural sympathies, have closed debates on topics deemed too controversial, such as diversity (which has been incorporated into social policy without a serious debate about its advantages versus its disadvantages) and, increasingly, various aspects of sexual mores.
How long will this great stalemate in political debate last? In fact, I suspect that we may actually be on the verge of a golden period of political thought. The collapse of neoliberal hegemony, the rise of a crude but sometimes exciting populism, the growing rebellion against progressive totalitarianism on campus and, increasingly, in corporations… All this will lead to a recrudescence of political theory. interesting. The human mind is too fertile to be tamed by high priests of various stripes—in the parties, the media, and the corporations—trying to enforce yesterday’s tired orthodoxies.
I suspect that this upsurge will come from the peripheries of today’s established political and intellectual empires (it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything thought provoking or original from publications with “New York” in their titles or from professors holding chairs at the old universities of the world). It will come from repentant liberals and conservatives who want to understand why the great intellectual traditions they once espoused degenerated so quickly in the past two decades. I am particularly struck by the mea culpas about the overreach of (neo)conservatives that appear regularly in the american conservativehey he Claremont Book Review.
It will come from the clash between different intellectual traditions. Conservatism has always been most exciting when it tries to tame the individualistic excesses of liberalism (Walter Bagehot liked to say that it was as liberal as it was possible to be while remaining conservative, and as conservative as it was possible to be without ceasing to be conservative). still being liberal). I also hope that the collision between progressivism and the oldest traditions will also be fruitful. Gay marriage, one of the most sensitive social reforms of the past two decades, was produced by conservatives like the British-born American journalist Andrew Sullivan, who wanted to provide a conservative solution (marriage) to a progressive question (why not should I be allowed to express my sexuality in the public sphere?)