What value parties?

Almost 50 MPs (almost 8% of the house of commons) have changed party since the June 2017 election. (Some have changed several times, so there have been 73 switches of party overall – like divorce, party infidelity rates can seem higher if one forgets that a smallish number of people contribute a lot of the statistics.)

For better and (often) for worse, parties, not personalities, have been how we vote for three centuries. Burke wrote that he

was quite sure he rested wholly on the Whig interest and would not obtain a single Tory vote (in point of fact he did obtain but one)

in Bristol in 1774 – and few MPs have done better. Manifestos, not our local MP’s opinions, are most of what we vote for. Party leaders, not local MPs, are most of whom we vote for. And parties are how MPs are disciplined to pay attention to these things – and therefore to our votes, and therefore to us. It doesn’t work at all well – but the alternative is relying on MPs’ consciences. That works well sometimes – but fails often.

One of Churchill’s reasons for praising the oblong shape of the house of commons was that when you changed party in Britain you “crossed the floor” (something he did twice but, as with other aspects of his career, that was unusual). Everyone saw Churchill cross the floor – and Churchill was very aware of himself doing it. In the continent’s universal semi-circle, representatives could gradually move their sitting positions leftwards (or rightwards) without ever facing such a moment of public admission.

However when “everybody’s doing it” and SW1 approves, the effect is weakened.

That the great realignment sees a breakdown of the old party structures is hardly something to complain about. But until we can get something better – until we can get not just a few who are better but 632 who are better – I fear we need either a new party or a purged one with the same discipline – or both. If the current crop of Tory MPs are purged to the point that we can safely rely on MPs’ consciences to deliver Brexit, not party discipline, then well under half will be in the next parliament.

Updated: 8th September 2019 — 10:22 pm

9 Comments

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  1. Certainly there have been 73 “Changes of Party” in the current parliament, but since some have flipped several times, those only reflect 49 actual MPs.

  2. Thanks for the correction John. So just under 8%, not over 10%. I will correct the post.

  3. That sounds like one of those IQ tests from Hell — 49 MPs have changed party affiliation a total of 73 times. How many MPs have changed affiliation 3 times? Show your work. πŸ™‚

  4. None, they are all affiliated with the EU from the start. No changes.

  5. Gavin, that sounds like a great idea for one of Dominic’s education reforms to increase the value and reduce the PCness of education. πŸ™‚

    1) If 7 MPs leave the Labour party to join a party of ever changing name in protest at its anti-semitism, but only one of them actually left for that reason and three later join the LibDems, while 24 MPs leave the Tory party in protest at prorogation but none of them actually left for that reason and all are determined to prevent parliament obeying a referendum result, and 7 of them later join the LibDems while 2 LibDems MP candidates then leave their party in protest at that, what percentage increase or decrease has occurred in (a) democracy (b) political honesty (c) elitism (d) populism (e) the rationality of the political process?

    2) If they do these things in a green tree, what will they do in a dry?

  6. And The Speaker is standing down by 31st October 2019, he’s just announced. So there may be a by-election if no GE.

  7. Two by elections in fact as a for,er Labour MP John Mann – now independent – has accepted a peerage. Mr Johnson has messed up his options for a general election, so presumably he is planning for a deal with the EU, some watered-down or tarted-up version of Mrs May’s deal to be rushed through in late October.

  8. “But until we can get something better – until we can get not just a few who are better but 632 who are better – I fear we need either a new party or a purged one with the same discipline – or both.”

    Roy Jenkins & Co. thought this too. How well did that work? The Brexit Party a/k/a Nigel Farage is doing splendidly, but if the miracle happens and WTO Brexit happens on 31 October, the Brexit Party is dead the next day.

  9. if the miracle happens and WTO Brexit happens on 31 October, the Brexit Party is dead the next day.

    Not necessarily. Unless the Remoaners in the HoC are purged they will still attempt to fuck up the post-BRExit situation. A General Election is still needed.

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