Brexit chaos has revealed that two-party politics has failed Britain – Christine Jardine

If the UK is to prosper as a nation we need to realise the importance of being able to build consensus, writes Christine Jardine.

The two-party system has not served Britain well during the three-year Brexit debate (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
The two-party system has not served Britain well during the three-year Brexit debate (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

Just when Britain is crying out for political change, it seems that those with most to lose are holding on tighter than ever to the old ways.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would have you believe that there are only two parties to vote for in this election.

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And just in case we were in any doubt, they opted not to insist on Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson being included on the ITV and BBC leadership debates.

Could they be scared it would show up the shortcomings in the old system?

Is it that they are afraid that if the new movement is allowed oxygen it will develop the strength to brush one, or both of them aside?

Regardless of the reason, what we saw in that first televised debate, and in so much of our daily coverage, is an afront then not to politics or politicians but to the people they are elected to serve.

Choice and a variety of voices are cornerstones of our democracy.

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Brexit is the most important issue at this election, and yet both debates have and will shut out the voice of Remain.

Both people on that stage last week want Brexit to go ahead, and there was no one there to argue that the best possible deal we can get is the one we already have as a member of the European Union.

And we really would be in a sorry state of affairs if the only choice available to us at the ballot box was Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.

Outlandish promises

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I do not believe that either of these two men are fit to be Prime Minister.

They are both products of an outdated narrow system that their parties have chosen not to allow to develop.

And neither of these two tired, old parties deserves to be trusted with the responsibility of leading this great country out of the mess in which we find ourselves and on to a brighter future.

Both are making outlandish promises which, if Brexit goes ahead, they simply won’t be able to deliver.

Sadly, the tribal two-party system is still deeply engrained into our political system.

Aside from the US – which arguably has worse problems – no other major Western democracy has such a rigid structure that massively excludes smaller parties.

But I am seeing positive signs that the mould is beginning to crack.

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In the last parliament, I had the pleasure of working with some fantastic colleagues from across the House as part of the cross-party More United group.

Set up by Paddy Ashdown, More United brings together progressive MPs from all parties to work on reform in areas such as climate change, immigration and homelessness.

I have been honoured to be endorsed by More United for this election, who say that they have “an ambitious plan to flood Parliament with MPs who care more about the country’s issues than party tribalism”.

Changing face of politics

But the last time a whole new party was successful in breaking through was 31 years ago.

And that party was the Liberal Democrats, which was born out of an electoral alliance and then merger between the Liberals and Social Democrats.

A party to occupy the centre ground. Not too far left, and not too far right.

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The Liberals, of course, had existed in various forms for over 300 years.

During the 19th and early 20th century, they were one of the two dominant UK political parties, along with the Conservatives.

But in the aftermath of the First World War, the Liberals were pushed into third place by the Labour Party and then saw a gradual decline throughout the rest of the 20th century.

The Social Democrat Party was a breakaway group from the Labour party, started by the famous ‘Gang of Four’ MPs who broke away in protest at Labour’s lurch to the extreme left. But has British politics come full circle?

The Labour Party is now coming increasingly under pressure. It has fudged and dithered on Brexit, grasped at the nationalist straw they have been offered and now is throwing outlandish expensive promises at the electorate in the hope of holding onto seats where other parties have declined to simply step aside and let them win.

The Liberal Democrats will not help put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. Why should we or any other party do their job for them?

We are in the business of electing Liberal, Remain MPs who will make sure that voice is heard in the decision ahead.

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Yes, we will work with other parties to find consensus. But we will not simply step aside for a party which refuses to take the same approach. That determination that only Labour and the Tories have a right to centre stage, that only their voices have a right to be heard, is the old way.

If Brexit has taught us nothing else, surely it has shown us that we need to build consensus. The binary approach has failed.

In just over two weeks’ time we have a chance to make those other voices heard, to build that common approach.

Those parties which have dominated for a century need not, indeed should not, leave the stage completely. But if we are to prosper and progress as a democracy it’s time to recognise the duopoly has had its day.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh West