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Where do the UK and its political parties stand now?

The Liberal Democrats, Labour Party and Conservative Party all face fundamental questions about their positioning. Irish reunification looks inevitable, and Scottish independence likely.

Summary

Posted 9 March 2020

"Reform" is the magazine of the United Reformed Church but has readers from all Christian denominations, as well as readers from other faiths and from no faith tradition.

I have written for it once before; see my page "Is Britain unwelcoming? Not in my view."

I was recently asked by the editor Steve Tomkins to write 500 words in response to the specification below:

This month we are looking at the political situation in the UK, after the December election and Brexit. The precise question is: ‘Where are we now?’

The format involves asking four people the same question. The others apart from me were:

The article became "A good question: Where are we now? One question, four answers." The link only provides the initial part of each response as the full article is only available to subscribers.

However you can read the full text of my contribution below, with the permission of the magazine. I have added sub-headings for ease of reading.

Where are we now?

After an unforgettable 2019, all our major parties, and the country itself, face difficult choices.

The Liberal Democrats

After the calamity of 2015, the Liberal Democrats appear to be back in business. However, they need to agree what went wrong in the coalition. Was it policy, or was it that many Lib Dem voters cannot tolerate the compromises real political power entails? The party is clearly socially liberal, but where does it want to be, and where should it be, on the economic left / right spectrum?

The Labour Party

Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has put ideological purity and “anti-imperialism” ahead of any serious attempt to win power. In the process, it has been captured by the far Left. Have things got bad enough for them to be dislodged? At present we see the front-runner Sir Keir Starmer genuflecting to the Left. If he wins, I expect a slow process of trying to chisel out the far Left, and for the Labour Party to stop talking to itself.

The Conservative Party

With an 80-seat majority guaranteeing five years of power, Mr Johnson is hegemonic, but only within our borders. As a classicist, he will understand the dangers of hubris!

Recent changes in its political positioning create great dangers for the long-term future of the Conservative Party. Frankly, it has ceased to appeal to the young, to the highly educated, to liberal internationalists, to multinational industry leaders, and has reduced rather than increased its already lamentable appeal to ethnic minorities. That is not a sustainable position, given the changing demographics of the UK. Britain is not Poland, and the Conservative Party has no future in seeking to emulate the Law & Justice Party.

Ireland

2022 will see the centenary of the establishment of the Irish Free State. From being Britain’s first colony, and then its poor relation, the Republic of Ireland has leapfrogged the UK. The World Bank reports 2016 Gross National Income figures in purchasing power parity dollars of United Kingdom $45,350 and Ireland $67,050. British politicians looking down on Ireland forget this at their peril.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement makes Northern Ireland semi-detached from the UK. The reunification of Ireland is inevitable, and the economic costs will be considered irrelevant by the Irish people.

Scotland

Scotland is harder to predict. There is no economic case for independence, but the experience of Brexit has shown that when economics clashes with sentimental nationalism, sentiment triumphs. Unless the London Government starts to treat Scotland with some genuine warmth and respect, Scottish independence also appears inevitable, although probably after Irish reunification.

Mohammed Amin is a retired tax adviser, writer and finance consultant. He is also on the boards of interfaith and charity organisations

Supplemental comments

500 words is a very tight limit, and forces you to concentrate on the key messages. Accordingly there was no scope for supporting data, although I was able to squeeze in the per capita income figures for the UK and Ireland, as they are not well known.

I said in the article that sentimental nationalism will normally override economics. This has been seen around the world many times. A very strong recent example is German reunification; it imposed massive financial costs on West Germany, but the idea of saying to East Germans "You cannot become part of us" was simply inconceivable.

If you want to learn more about the realignment of British voting patterns, I recommend the British Election Study website, and in particular the article "The Re-shaping Of Class Voting By Geoffrey Evans and Jonathan Mellon" published on 6 March 2020.

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