The question of whether it is possible to be both a pluralist and a tribalist in politics dominated the debate at last night’s launch of Labour for Democracy, a new network within the Labour party and beyond, making the case for a better, more open politics.
Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central and founding member of the group set out the case yesterday.
A pluralist approach to politics, building consensus is the way to achieve the radical changes that people want. It is not about coalition deals or electoral pacts, and certainly not about watering down party values or converging on an unhappy compromise, but about embracing a more cooperative and grown up way of doing politics.
Challenging the status quo of Westminster politics is no easy task but it is a necessary one. Whether political parties accept it not, the way people engage with politics is changing and with it the type of politics they want to see.
The two-party Westminster system is, if not already dead, in terminal decline. The days when 90% of voters opted for one of just two parties are firmly consigned to the history books.
Most importantly the way people engage with politics is evolving, engagement is becoming more individual and more issue-specific. The issues that matter are increasingly not about ideology but identity and correspondingly do not fit neatly on a left/right spectrum – nor are they ‘owned’ by any one party. Likewise, people are becoming more flexible with their franchise, supporting a greater range of parties, encouraged and assisted by better electoral systems.
Politics at Westminster needs to respond to this change which means appreciating that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas.
So can pluralism be practised alongside tribalism? The panel last night which included Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Neal Lawson of Compass, Baroness Ruth Lister, Andrew Harrop of the Fabians and our own Vice-Chair Jess Asato, made a convincing case in favour.
Ruth Lister set out both the principled and pragmatic case, arguing that to most people, values and issues matter more than party politics, that politics could not ignore the growing disillusionment and disengagement from formal party politics and distaste at the yah boo politics on display at PMQs. Jess also made the case for appealing to values not to tribe, referencing research earlier this year that demonstrated a clear public desire for a different type of politics. Andrew Harrop compared pluralism in politics to the Olympics where proud and loyal patriotism sat comfortably alongside an open and inclusive approach to opposing teams. And Neal Lawson argued that you have to be a tribalist in order to be pluralist – you need to know where you stand in order to know where you agree with others.
The birth of this initiative is an important step forward for politics at Westminster reflecting an understanding of the need to change the practice of politics in order to meet the needs and expectation of changing electorate. The political tides have turned and a pluralist future is both possible and necessary.