Are Party Labels Unimportant in Modern Britain?
In a recently-written article, Theresa May sought to convince supporters of the Labour Party, both old and new, to defect and join the Conservative Party, as part of her “moderate and patriotic programme” that she has set out for the country. A bold statement, Theresa May is echoing back to her opening speech in 2016 as Prime Minister, where she promised a “Better Britain” under her leadership.
What she has said raises an important question. Are ‘party labels’, or rather party allegiances, really unimportant in the modern world? In a world that demands pragmatic solutions to persistent and ever-growing problems, can the traditional party resolve these issues? Or, is this just an example of political posturing?
The most important thing to note in light of what she claims is the context. Britain is less than six months away from officially exiting the European Union, having voted to withdraw over two years ago. The issue has divided the country to unprecedented levels, not even seen in the first referendum on membership of the European Economic Community back in 1975. It has impacted this country in almost every possible way, whether it be economic, social, diplomatic, or political – and the rather frustrating part is that we haven’t even finished the process yet.
The point here, though, is that what she is saying is arguably indicative of a growing need to abandon the traditional party response and come together to finish Brexit on the best possible note. In the Prime Minister’s eyes, this would be done through her Chequers Deal, a set of policies that includes a ‘common rulebook’ and solidifies British sovereignty in areas such as the judiciary. However, it is clear to see that her deal has not received the popular reviews she had hoped for. It was so unpopular among some of her critics, to the point that Boris Johnson likened it to a “suicide vest”, subsequently causing controversy over its insensitive nature. This translates into some glaring internal divisions, which former ex-minister Steve Baker shed light upon recently, by suggesting that as many as 40 Conservative MPs could vote against the Prime Minister’s deal. And because of this, May will need support elsewhere; hence the article she wrote calling for Labour supporters to back her.
In hindsight, then, the driving factor behind her wanting the ‘centrist’, ‘pragmatic’, route, is Brexit. However, her article does touch upon other things, namely the achievements she believes her government has made throughout the years, and more widely what David Cameron’s government achieved from 2010 to 2016. From her “modern industrial strategy”, to abandoning stamp duty, May is using these achievements to appeal to the moderates within the Labour Party to join her and escape the clutches of Jeremy Corbyn.
However, this article is screaming ‘hypocrisy’ to me. The question I have asked in this article, based on what she has said, is ‘are party labels unimportant in modern Britain?’. The answer is no. And Theresa May is an example of that. In calling for Labour supporters to rid themselves of party allegiances essentially, she’s asking for them to swear allegiance to her party. Is that not an indication of party labels continuing to be important?
Party labels are important because it gives people a sense of identity, a sense of belonging to a party or group that offers them a platform that they can relate to and support. Party labels mean political parties, and political parties assist in the running of our democracy and the functioning of the country. While Brexit has undoubtedly ruffled some feathers with regards to some questioning their traditional party loyalties, for example, supporters of Labour, who voted Remain being upset over the party leadership not committing to a second referendum, ultimately there are still agendas on every side of the political spectrum. And as big of an issue as Brexit is, it cannot take away from the broader domestic agenda that needs to be spoken about.
In essence, what I am saying is that Theresa May is incorrect to suggest that party labels have “never counted for less.” I believe they continue to be very important, and it’s important to her because she essentially argues for her party label in her speech. I can understand to some extent the wider point. It can be frustrating when party labels on both the left and the right can’t be forgotten for a few moments actually to come together and iron out issues such as Brexit. But realistically, that will rarely, if ever, happen. What I believe she is doing, is trying to gain support for her Brexit agenda in light of the growing internal frustration over it. She needs votes and support to continue to push her agenda, and this article will not do much good for her. Her calls for a centrist, middle-of-the-road approach will fall on deaf ears, even on the so-called moderates within Labour. They will either continue to sit in the party, or perhaps entertain a rumoured idea from earlier this year and set up a new ‘moderate’ party that is against Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, but also Theresa May and the Conservatives. Either that or they could join the Liberal Democrats. But I cannot see them joining Theresa May on her Conservative crusade.
Party labels will almost always be important, it was in the past, and it still is today. And what Theresa May has said, is no exception to that.
Cover Image Credit to Donkey Hotey