Britain has been a two party state since political parties first appeared. Unfortunately, the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives still cynically exploit social divisions that have long since disappeared to suit their own purposes. Until the 1850s politics in the United Kingdom was dominated by the Whigs and the Tories. These were not political parties in the modern sense but loose alliances of individual interests. The Whigs included many of the leading aristocratic dynasties committed to Protestant succession and later drew support from the new industrialists and wealthy merchants. The Tories were associated with the landed gentry, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. The Tories evolved into the Conservative Party, and the Whigs into the Liberal Party. In the late 19th century the Liberal Party began to pursue more left wing policies causing many traditional Whigs to move to the Conservatives. The Liberal and Conservative parties dominated the political scene until the 1920s, when the Liberal Party declined in popularity. It was replaced as the main party of opposition by the newly formed Labour Party which represented an alliance of workers, trade unions and socialist societies.
The campaign for all to have a vote finally succeeded in 1918 when the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to all men over 21 and to all women over the age of 30. In 1928 women were also given the vote at 21. The Chartists fought and died for this right but in the end their triumph became a Pyrrhic victory. Rather than using their newfound power to seek out the best people to represent them, the fledgling electorate were persuaded to vote for parties instead. By derogating their power to parties the electorate inadvertently put their trust in organisations that would not always act in their best interests. However, the people now had someone to blame if anything went wrong. Since then, a great deal has indeed gone wrong but this flawed arrangement has proved so debilitating and addictive that it has become set in stone. It may have seemed a good idea at the time, but the abrogation of responsibility along with power has returned to haunt us big time.
In their constant quest for power, political parties break every rule in the book. They operate cartels, they abuse the rights of their staff, they bribe and routinely misinform the electorate and they are incurring levels of debt that can never be repaid without massively devaluing sterling.
The clearest example of political parties operating cartels is provided by the NHS, i.e. the Nationalised Health Service, closely followed by state education. Following their landslide victory in 1945, the Labour Party nationalised a wide range of assets and industries. Steel, coal, docks along with air, sea, road and rail travel were all commandeered to expand their support base. All rapidly developed similar problems however and had to be re-privatised. Unfortunately, the NHS became a political touchstone that no party dare even contemplate returning to the private sector. Labour actually threatened to ‘weaponise’ the NHS in the run up to the 2015 election. State education is also in trouble, especially in Scotland, displaying all the classic symptoms of a failed nationalisation. However, it also remains locked in a destructive time warp by those using it to further their own careers and political ideology. Despite the usual weasel words, political parties have always put their own interests ahead of those of pupils and patients. The government seeks to outlaw cartels and monopolies in the private sector, and for good reason, yet it is happy to operate its own in healthcare and education. Members of the government do however use private hospitals and send their children to fee-paying schools.
Not only have parties routinely bribed the electorate with their own money, they are now bribing them with their children’s money as well. We are piling an enormous burden on future generations. Every baby born in the UK today is already £24,000 in debt. By the time they are sixteen, this debt will have more than doubled. Those who find work will face a punitive level of life-long taxation; those who cannot or will not work will suffer an ever-decreasing level of public support. It has been known for parents to cut up an offspring’s credit card, one day our children may well wish that they had been able to cut up ours.
Political parties also treat their MPs badly. Most MPs enter parliament with enthusiasm to implement positive reforms. However, the more talented and enthusiastic they are, the more frustrated they end up becoming. Some give up, to return to sanity, some persevere or simply have nowhere else to go, but few are happy in their work. Although their primary duty is to their constituents, few dare defy the Whip. Not only would their chances of promotion evaporate but they would also face demotion and even withdrawal of their party affiliation. Draconian sanctions such as this cannot be used in the private sector without due process. Although they could continue to sit as independents, very few ever do and there are currently no independent MPs in the House of Commons. Even if we had 650 top notch MPs, under the party system they would still end up being pitched against each other in a vicious battle to preserve their careers. The House of Commons is now more akin to a gladiatorial arena than a secure base for democracy. As a result few dare enter and the majority of MPs, including our Prime Minister, have never held a position outside the political bubble.
In routinely bribing voters to gain power, political parties have created a high expectation client state living well beyond its means. However, with austerity continuing to bite, voters are getting restless. Many would appear to believe that the old parties can still come good if they show them who is boss by voting for Trump, Saunders, Corbyn, Le Pen, Sturgeon or any of the other populist extremists now riding their own particular wave of grievance. Political parties may be hoist by their own petard but we are all going to get caught in the aftermath. The prospects of a happy ending are fading fast as fiat currencies, government bonds (IOUs) and quantitative easing lose their charm in lockstep with stocks and commodities which are also now crumpling under the strain.
There is no way that political parties can ever reverse the situation they have created as any party that admitted to the true extent of our problems would be committing electoral suicide. The only possible way out is for the electorate to force reform by voting only for independent candidates. Staffed by MPs chosen for their ability rather than their tribe, the House of Commons would have the views, needs and aspirations of ordinary people woven into its fabric rather than being cynically exploited for votes. Parliamentary Privilege exists so that MPs may perform their duties without interference from outside the House. However, in light of the above, it must now be modified to prevent interference from inside the House as well. The passage of time combined with a growing number of independent MPs will do the rest. Until political tribalism is replaced by a system of government that is fit for purpose, the United Kingdom will not prosper and, given the Scottish situation, it may not even remain united for very much longer.