In two-party democracies such as ours in the UK, true representation can become a tricky thing to achieve. Voters are often left to choose whomever they perceive to be the lesser of two evils, and third-parties can seldom achieve any real power in Westminster (the exception of course being the Liberal Democrat’s short-lived stint between 2010 and 2015). Indeed, democracy in Britain has long been criticised for its inability to provide real representation to its citizens.
In the past, this criticism has mainly revolved around the lack of power for the individual voter. A common complaint has been that the first-past-the-post electoral system employed by the country, whereby MP’s are elected based on a simple majority in their respective constituency, denies voters in Conservative or Labour strongholds the chance to be heard (simple majoritarianism means that 51% of the vote in a constituency is equal to 100%, disregarding the other 49% entirely).
Despite this obvious flaw, voters were at least presented with two relatively distinct options to choose from. Previous elections essentially allowed the British people to decide between the big-state social-democratism of the Labour party, or the more laissez faire, small-government ideology of the conservatives. Of course, this system was far from perfect, but people retained the ability to vote for limited government, if nothing else.
Today, however, voters are denied even this right. No longer is the individual voter the sole victim of Britain’s broken system, but a portion of the political centre. Those yearning for individual freedom, free trade, and a small state no longer have any shot at representation in Parliament. British centrists have, effectively, become the new political homeless.
On the one hand, this has come as the Conservative party, previously the tentative refuge for the pro-liberty wing of British politics, has become increasingly paternalistic. The ‘one-nation’ brand of conservatism, a relic of Disraeli’s Britain in the 19th century, has been resurrected by the current Prime Minister and head of the Conservative party Theresa May.
Indeed, the party’s 2017 manifesto makes no bones about their rejection of free-market principles: “If we are going to keep our economy strong as the world changes, we will need government to play an active role” and “We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism” being two particularly telling quotes here.
Meanwhile the Labour party, which until recently had adopted a relatively liberal, centrist platform, has returned the old socialist ways of the past. Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour now calls for the nationalisation of many major industries, including railways, water, and the postal service, as well as promises of increased spending with such policies as ‘free’ bus travel for the under 25s (‘free’ meaning £1.4 billion, apparently).
Thus, any pro-freedom centrists looking for a small-government party in modern Britain can forget about either of the two major parties; on both sides, Westminster now belongs to the paternalists and to the statists. This naturally begs the question: who can fill the gap left in the middle?
Unfortunately, no major third party seems interested or available to pick up the small-state cause. UKIP, which describes itself as a ‘democratic, libertarian party’ on its website, is unable to provide any opposition due to its problems of unstable leadership and lack of funding. The Liberal Democrats, previously a governing coalition party, are also unable to provide meaningful opposition since losing much of their public support in 2015, and having been unable to regain this ever since.
Although a ‘new centrist party’, headed by LoveFilm founder Simon Franks, has made headlines this month, free-market, small-state centrists may not be so enticed. This is because the new party echoes some of the big-state policies espoused by so many other in the British system. These include high taxes for the very wealthy and more funding for Britain’s crumbling National Health Service.
Of course, it remains far too early to tell how the new party will behave; given time it may evolve into the home British centrists so desperately need. Currently, however, there’s little reason to get excited. Unless either this new party or one of the existing third parties are able to organise themselves well enough to take on the establishment Conservatives and Labour, then British centrists may remain homeless for a good time yet.