Kenny MacAskill: Brexit-induced contempt for politicians is risk to democracy

Political parties bring the discipline needed to deliver legislation and to avoid near-anarchy in parliament but, as the Brexit impasse continues, old allegiances are breaking down, writes Kenny MacAskill.

The old order’s breaking down as the political tectonic plates shift. It was shown in the English local elections, and it’ll be repeated in the EU ones. No more is it Buggins’ turn with power oscillating between the two big party beasts, sometimes saddened by defeat but always sustained by retaining a large core vote.

Instead, the combined support for Labour and Tory has plummeted and even heartlands aren’t safe, with Tory losses in shire counties and Labour losing ground in its northern citadels. The EU elections are manna from heaven for the Brexit Party which will do well, probably even in Scotland. What else can be expected though when the body politic is dying?

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How can Tories even shore up support when the Deputy PM is hoping those elected won’t have to take their seats and no one knows what their version of Brexit is? Hardly a rallying call for the faithful and, with electoral success driven by motivation, another trouncing beckons.

How many Conservatives would be prepared to follow a leader like Boris Johnson? (Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
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Labour likewise went backwards last week at a time of the most incompetent Government in living memory. It’s likely to be repeated in the EU elections, where their strategy of trying to be all Brexit things to all people is unravelling. Any fix or stitch-up between the Big Two would simply accelerate internal divisions. And the lack of such a deal won’t halt the decline taking place within and below.

And whilst the Greens and Lib Dems can take comfort from considerable progress, they’re still nowhere near replacing the old order. Change UK aren’t making much headway but there’s still a limited market for them and some time to develop it, unless they are superseded by further fragmentations and realignments or they cut their throats by competing with the Lib Dems.

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In Scotland, the SNP is still riding high but dissent’s breaking out. A governing party has to be separate from its grassroots but the differences are being highlighted. The New SNP is drifting from its core support. As with Labour before them, the party faces the challenge of electors saying they support them but not sufficiently motivated to vote.

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So, we’re entering a stage where it will be even harder to predict outcomes, nevermind form an administration. Of course, the winner-takes-all nature of first-past-the-post mitigates it but it cannot stop the rot.

For not only is the old order breaking apart but the old parties. It’s hard to see how the Tory Party can stay united. The gap’s now too wide and it’s a question of how deep the split is. But with the likes of Dominic Grieve unable to work under Boris Johnson or his ilk and that reciprocated by the hatred held by ardent Brexiteers for the supposed faint-hearts, it’s terminal. Scots Tories can shun Boris Johnson from their conference but can’t stop his ascension to the leadership, if that’s what’s wanted by the membership. And if it’s not him, it’ll be someone similar.

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Labour likewise is fracturing. Some have already gone to Change UK but, as with the Tories, uniting the Corbynites and the social democrats, nevermind Brexiteers with Remainers, is proving impossible.

As ever, the political institutions are hanging on, hoping it can be resolved, whilst others within are holding on hoping to inherit the party. The received wisdom is that keeping the name’s easier than launching a new brand. But it may be that they inherit a corpse as the old brands are tarnished, if not dying.

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Old class and tribal loyalties are in the main long gone, except perhaps in Scotland, where the constitution remains a major identifying factor. Even here though it’s being supplanted by what are you offering or even ‘what’s in it for me?’

New parties are here to stay despite the limitations of first-past-the-post. The Greens will add to their strength in future elections in all contests and Brexit/far-right parties will make ground as has ironically happened all over Europe. It’ll be piecemeal and patchy and a Macron-type scenario is still possible, even if the supposed Messiah is hard to spot at the moment.

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The real concern for the established parties is the contempt in which their being held, which is also a worry for democracy. An entire political class is being blamed and alternatives are being sought. Parties bring the discipline needed to deliver legislation and avoid almost anarchy in elected chambers but they also bring engagement with the public. Younger voters have switched off with those involved preferring more radical or environmental politics or parties. The poor too have been left behind and are disengaged, contemptuous of failed promises and open to manipulation by populist parties.

Prepare for the new political world, it’s going to be a volatile and uncertain one. It’s democracy but not as we’ve known it.