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James Hanson
Upper Sixth
Moberly's House

The Lib Dems may be split, but all our parties could change forever

The Lib Dems may be split, but all our parties could change forever

Much has been made in recent weeks of Nick Clegg’s struggle to keep together a divided party, with the free-market right of his party (who largely take up the ministerial positions) split worryingly from the social democrat left. It is a split that has existed ever since the Liberal/SDP merger of 1987, and one that for years has simply been papered over whilst in opposition. However, now that the Lib Dems are in government, and are asked to accept some very right-wing economic policies with a very Tory hallmark, chasms are appearing in their ranks. With a crucial by-election approaching in Oldham East next month, and potentially damning results in May’s local elections, not to mention a crucial public vote on AV — the Liberal Democrats could become fatally divided if results do not go their way.

Yet the headaches are not simply present for the Deputy Prime Minister. The man in the top job, David Cameron, is increasingly coming under fire from the right wing of his own party for supposedly feeling more at ease in the presence of Lib Dems than among his own backbenchers. The coalition government’s stance on crime, Europe and constitutional reform has angered many Thatcherite hard-liners, and Cameron is fast becoming in danger of splitting his own party too, particularly if he follows John Major’s advice and seeks to merge the coalition parties to stand as one in 2015.

Even the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, is facing internal divisions — and more worryingly, they seem to lie within his own shadow cabinet. Alan Johnson, his shadow Chancellor, is publicly known to disagree with Ed’s headline economic policies, namely making the 50% top band of income tax permanent and university funding. Meanwhile, the likes of Andy Burnham and Ed Balls, who lost out to Miliband in the Labour leadership contest, may well seek to move the party to a more authoritarian stance on law and order, in order to outflank the coalition, something their leader is likely to be set against. Aside from the Labour front bench, the rank and file membership is still divided between those who believe the party should return to its socialist roots and those who see a continuation of the New Labour ideals as the only way to return to government.

The old left/right divide in our political spectrum is gone. In many areas, the parties overlap to such an extent that the ideological boundaries seem extremely blurred. The Conservatives appear to be an odd mix of one-nationers, moderates, liberal Tories and Thatcherite Eurosceptics, whilst their coalition partners are divided between the ‘Orange Book’ economically liberal, small state wing and the socially liberal, big government wing.

Although it may take some time, and in the words of Harold Macmillan many an ‘event’ to force it to occur, but a seismic shift in our political parties is on the cards. Coalition has not highlighted the differences between the three parties, but the differences within them. If Cameron and Clegg decide the best way to fight the next election is together, a more clear three-way split may take place. The left wing of the Liberal Democrats will desert their centrist leadership and join a reformed, European style socially democratic party of the mainstream left with Labour, whilst the Cameron-led liberal wing of the Tories would join up with the free-market clique of Lib Dems to form a new Liberal Party, leaving the Thatcherite right to create a fully eurosceptic and traditionalist Conservative Party.

Perhaps this is just prophesising, but if divisions deepen between our parties — the political landscape of Britain could change forever.

23 December 2010

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