New political parties and alliances are something that we’ve become accustomed to in Sri Lanka, with examples in the last few years ranging from the risible to the far more serious matter of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna which dominated the recent local government elections.
Naturally, this article about an attempt to form a new party in the UK piqued my interest. Of course, given my personal idiosyncrasies, my mind went to a number of other thoughts, including one of my favourite tracks from Outkast’s legendary Stankonia album and more pertinently, previous blog posts.
Amongst the myriad reasons given for starting a new party, the obvious narrative to emphasise is the need for something fresh and clean; to shed the baggage of the past and the detritus of past political campaigns.
There has been persistent speculation about the potential of a new party as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has taken Labour to the left, while a Tory hard Brexit has alienated some on that party’s modernising wing. The Lib Dems have been unable to take advantage of the polarisation.
Of course, the more cynical motivations need to be factored in. In this specific example from the UK, one cannot help wonder what fresh ideas can emit from a party bankrolled by the very wealthy and espousing a Third Way ideology. In the Sri Lankan example I mentioned above, the party is wholly a vehicle for the former President and exists only because he is frozen out of his original party (though he retains his membership there). Nevertheless, as the oft-cited examples of Podemos and Macron’s En Marche! show us, there is room to carve out an ideological space and perform well in elections. Even those of us prone to cynicism must take well-resourced attempts at creating new political forces seriously.
This brings me to the previous blog posts I mentioned. As I pointed out here, the ability to reach out directly to voters means that the role of the media as gatekeepers has diminished and as I discussed in another post, this opens the door for insurgent politicians and political parties.
These disruptions have been in the form of new parties. What is different about the US is that we are seeing long-established mainstream parties being disrupted. Applying the idea of unscaling in this context, media disintermediation does not just apply to the relationship between politicians and the mainstream media. It also applies to the relationship between politicians and their parties. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have not only had to fight issues with media coverage, they have also had to battle against their party’s establishment. Their success is an example of successful unscaling.
This ability to reach out directly to potential constituents should be paired with recent discussions on the belief systems of voters.
Two things in particular:
- They are not committed to the nuances of political ideology.
Political preferences arise less from ideological differences than from the attachments and antagonisms of group life.
Their votes are based on a sense of who they are.
most voters base their political decisions on who they are rather than what they think. Political behaviour reflects our membership of a particular group, an expression of our social identity. Voters choose parties which represent their culture and community and stay with their political tribe long after they have ceased to serve their interests.
This means if there is a genuine change in the political zeitgeist — in how voters perceive themselves and their interests — being able to bypass status quo gatekeepers and reach voters directly means that those with the right platform can capture an audience.
In this context, the progress of Yanis Varoufakis’s new party (with its Pan-European ambitions) is interesting and worth watching. Varoufakis was the former Finance Minister in the Syriza government in Greece, which is a case study on both how a radical new party can capture power and how it quickly this can fall apart. MeRA25’s manifesto is very much in the fresh and clean mould and the messaging emphasises the failures of the existing political order in its entirety.
Nothing threatens a country, a people, more than the sense that there is no alternative to a path leading nowhere.
No hope can take root in a land where those who were elected to break away from a non-viable past are reproducing it daily.
No relief can be had from an opposition issuing promises whose delivery necessitates the rupture with the European Union that they are committed against!