The collapse of Change UK and political thought stagnation

The collapse of Change UK and political thought stagnation

The Rise and Fall of Change UK: A Political Rollercoaster

Change UK

The recent controversies surrounding Change UK, including Chuka Umunna’s decision to join the Liberal Democrats and the party’s third name change, provide an opportunity to reflect on the turbulent journey of one of the most ill-fated political parties in British history. Not long ago, Change UK seemed poised to revolutionize British politics, but a series of missteps and strategic misjudgments derailed their ambitions.

One of the key reasons for Change UK’s failure was its ineffective leadership. Heidi Allen, the party’s acting head, proved to be incompetent, unable to steer the party towards a clear identity. Instead of branding themselves as a staunchly “Remain” party, they struggled to find a new center ground and even contradicted their own name by not embracing change in relation to Europe. However, the ultimate blow came with the council elections in May, where Change UK decided not to participate. This allowed the Liberal Democrats, who performed strongly in the elections, to solidify their position as the dominant anti-Brexit party in the middle ground of British politics.

While the collapse of Change UK may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of British politics, it has settled a long-standing debate within the Labour Party. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership coup in 2015, there has been an ongoing argument among Labour MPs about whether to stay and fight or leave en masse. Chuka Umunna’s departure from Change UK in favor of the Liberal Democrats, and subsequent events, have settled the argument in favor of the stay-and-fight camp. However, the prospects for success seem uncertain, with Jeremy Corbyn making it clear that he has the support of the majority of the party’s members, leaving dissenters like Emily Thornberry isolated.

Furthermore, the downfall of Change UK highlights a crucial lesson about the nature of modern political parties. Change UK attempted to create a top-down party, with MPs from both Labour and the Conservatives defecting to their cause. However, the days when politics was solely the domain of professional politicians in Westminster are long gone. Both the Labour Party and the right-wing Brexit Party have transformed into movements, with dedicated followers and passionate grassroots activists. For centrists to succeed, they not only need a traditional party infrastructure but also the accoutrements of a mass movement, including think-tanks, enthusiastic campaigners, and active social media presence.

The People’s Vote campaign could serve as a potential foundation for such a centrist movement, but it remains intertwined with the Labour Party. Many prominent figures within the campaign are Blairites who are still fighting internal battles within the Labour Party. Notably, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former chief spin-doctor, was expelled from Labour for admitting he voted Liberal Democrat but continues to be a member of the party.

Moving beyond the confines of Change UK, another group attempting to shake up British politics is the so-called new progressives. These individuals advocate for social justice and identity politics, attracting many young people who feel the sting of intergenerational injustice. However, the new progressives have yet to produce a compelling text that can match the intellectual classics born out of similar social injustice struggles of the past, such as John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” or Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy.”

One criticism leveled at the new progressives is their obsession with identity politics. The concept of identity itself appears to be muddled within this movement. On one hand, identity is seen as socially constructed, leading to discussions around gender fluidity. On the other hand, certain aspects of identity are treated as fixed and immutable, with considerations like gender or ethnicity often outweighing other factors. This conflicting view echoes arguments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where social biologists claimed that different racial-cultural groups were locked in a struggle for dominance, using truth and morality as instruments of power.

Yet, the problem of political stagnation extends beyond specific political groups. Political thinking as a whole seems to be in decline across the board. Academics have either been absorbed by identity politics or have retreated into narrow specializations. Political science in America, in particular, has been overrun by the use of powerful quantitative techniques for trivial ends. Fortunately, there are still a few political theorists, influenced by Isaiah Berlin’s teachings, who continue to generate thought-provoking ideas.

However, hope remains for a resurgence of political thought. The collapse of the neoliberal hegemony and the rise of populism, often raw and occasionally exciting, are challenging the status quo. There is a growing revolt against the oppressive dogmas of progressive ideology, both on campuses and within corporations. This rebellion is likely to lead to a new era of interesting political theory, not from the established centers of power, but from the peripheries. Repentant liberals and conservatives will confront the rapid degeneration of intellectual traditions, sparking a collision between different ideological currents.

Conservatism at its most fascinating is when it balances the excesses of liberalism, finding a middle ground that satisfies the needs of both individual freedom and social order. Similarly, a fruitful collision between progressivism and the wisdom of older traditions is not out of the question. Gay marriage, for instance, was achieved through the efforts of conservatives like Andrew Sullivan, who sought to provide a conservative solution to a progressive question.

We are experiencing a transformative period in political discourse, where fresh voices and alternative perspectives have the potential to reinvigorate the intellectual foundations on which societies are built. The human mind is too creative to be confined by the tired orthodoxies enforced by political parties, media outlets, and corporations. As outdated ideologies collapse and new challenges arise, a golden age of political thinking may be on the horizon. It will emerge from the writings of repentant intellectuals eager to understand the decline of the intellectual traditions they once cherished, while reconciling conflicting ideas and fostering thoughtful debates.