The old political division between Left and Right which has long prevailed in the Western world is basically obsolete, and nowhere is this more evident than in Britain in the chaotic age of Brexit, argues Carnegie Europe visiting scholar Peter Kellner. The data cited by Kellner makes for interesting reading, showing how effectively emotive issues like Brexit, which combine sentiment with nationalist and regional feeling, have displaced the old left-right dichotomy based entirely on economics and social stratification. The result, he predicts, will be a much more chaotic political scene in future… ironically putting UK politics closer to those of Europe, just as the country tries to extract itself from membership in the continental club.
- In 1970, Kellner notes, a total of 79% of British voters said they identified “strongly” (42%) or “somewhat strongly” (37%) with one of the two main political parties, Conservatives or Labour.
- Today however those proportions have dropped to just 9% and 28% respectively, for grand total of 37%. In other words the proportion identifying with either of the mainstream parties has dropped by over half.
- At the same time, the proportion who register similar commitment to either side of the Brexit debate is a total 77% (44% strongly, 33% fairly strongly) — suggesting that British politics has been recentered along a totally new political axis.
- The implications for the Conservative Party are especially troubling, with Kellner pointing to the party’s long history of internal tensions pitting one faction, tending towards liberal internationalism and free trade, against another based on traditional nationalism.
- With the nationalists now in ascendance, the liberal internationalists are being shown the door or leaving voluntarily, ending the party’s majority and very possibly its ability to govern.
- Looking ahead, Kellner predicts that “the next election, whenever it takes place, could well lead to another hung parliament, in which no party enjoys an outright majority.” What follows would be a long period of fragmented government with numerous parties based around more narrowly defined interests and visions — Brexit, unreconstructed Marxism, environmentalism, and so on — making Britain pretty much just like the rest of Europe. Irony, to paraphrase the Bard, is a dish best served with warm beer and kippers.