With this third blog in my series on minority parties standing in May we arrive at non-socialist British parties to the left of Labour. Not surprisingly, there’s quite a few, including single-issue parties and those emerging out of or influenced by liberal and anarchist political traditions.
Let’s start with single-issue parties. The largest of these is the National Health Action Party. This is fighting for a ‘healthy NHS’ and is anti-privatisation, wants to renegotiate the disastrous PFI contracts and ensure adequate staffing levels. One of its founders in 2012 was Dr Richard Taylor, MP for Wyre Forest in Worcestershire from 2001 to 2010 on a health concern platform. He’ll be joined in May by at least 12 other candidates. These are mainly in the south, eight are doctors and all but one of the rest has a strong background of involvement in the NHS. This includes one standing in Cornwall – Rik Evans in Truro and Falmouth.
Although focusing on the NHS, the NHAP has a suite of other progressive policies – rejection of austerity, reform of Parliament, opposition to the TTIP, investment in social housing and ending tuition fees. The Labour Party, architect of PFI and facilitator of marketization ‘reforms in the NHS from 1997 to 2010, clearly recognises the danger from a party genuinely committed to the spirit of 1945. In 2012 one of its activists called for the NHAP to be ‘strangled at birth‘. Which I suppose the Liberals could have said about Labour in 1900.
The Peace Party was formed in 2003 and has been contesting elections since 2005. With two candidates in 2005, three in 2010 and four announced with two more possible in 2015, they’re on a roll. At this rate, they’ll be contesting half the seats by 2050. As might be guessed from the name The Peace Party is a pacifist party opposed to military intervention. Its activists are concentrated in the south east, in particular Surrey. Its rather vague, but nice, aims are for a ‘better world’, calling for ‘a compassionate and respectful society that values cooperation over competition’. Dear of ’em.
Then we come to three parties that call for constitutional change. The oldest, formed way back in 2009, is the Pirate Party. Its three candidates (two in Manchester and one in London) stand for the ‘right to share knowledge’ and are worried about the growing sense of powerlessness and level of surveillance in society. Its manifesto in 2010 was crowd-sourced, a first in British politics, and this method is again being used to upgrade it for this year.
While the Pirate Party has achieved some limited electoral success in Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and, in particular, Iceland, in the UK its candidates have yet to break through the 0.5% average vote score. (As does The Peace Party). With just three candidates so far announced for 2015 it may be struggling to attain the total of nine candidates achieved in 2010.
Above and Beyond is a new party which aims to force a debate on how Britain is governed. Its own position is clear. A healthy democracy is ‘pure illusion’ with the parliamentary elite mired in ‘corruption, criminal activities and lies’. Its answer is deceptively simple – a ‘none of the above’ option on ballot papers. In pursuit of this, it has three candidates declared so far, all northern based. Its election video is well worth watching though, if only for its hints of what might have been – a properly populist but progressive party.
Also feeding off the residual anger left from the expenses scandal is 30-50, which has a rather clever strapline – ‘linking the idealism of the young with the experience of the mature‘. It’s against the careerism and party influence that dominates Parliament and calls for 12 extra seats in the Commons, to be reserved for Independents. So far, its only problem has been attracting enough of those idealistic young and mature old, as it has just one candidate – in Bethnal Green.
There’s also a more catch-all new micro-party in the field. Something New has announced two candidates in Surrey and Sussex with the aim of bringing British democracy into the 21st century (thus leaping directly from the 19th presumably). Its values are optimism, civil liberty, public ownership, strong social safety nets and ‘true’ democracy. With policies of a written constitution, PR, devolution, a higher minimum wage, premium public services and a carbon-free energy sector by 2030. Probably dangerously radical for a political system trapped in the 1800s and an electorate that finds Ukip the height of fashion.
Two other parties trace their origins more explicitly back to the Liberals. The Democratic Reform Party has one candidate in Lewisham and calls for cooperation, participation, progressive reform and innovation. It emerged (or re-emerged) in 2011 and is inspired by the Radical Reform Group, a social liberal ginger group inside the old Liberal Party in the 1950s and 60s.
The other new party is, rather more surprisingly, the Whig Party, which offers us a ‘fresh choice’, by returning to the 18th century with the ‘spirit of Whiggery‘, meaning ‘intelligence, decency and progress’. It contrasts this with the spirit of Toryism, which now grips the Coalition parties, Labour and Ukip. If the 18th century Whigs were really more progressive than Clegg’s Liberal Democrats then that proves how much the latter have decayed.
The Whigs have announced three candidates in south east England so far and are nothing if not optimistic. They reckon ‘there are enough Whiggish people out there for Whig candidates to be returned to Parliament’. That’s people who believe in ‘human rights, diversity, social justice, democracy, love of country and confidence’. Have they never visited Newquay?
And what about the (real) Liberal Party? This was formed in the 1990s by former Liberals unwilling to join with the SDP. In the last election the number of Liberal candidates slid from 14 in 2001 and 2005 to just six. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been unable to tap into disillusion with the Lib Dems and capture large numbers of disaffected Lib Dem activists. Their average vote however in 2005 and 2010 remained at 3.1%, stupendously good for a micro-party. But this was boosted by Liverpool West Derby, where the Liberals have repeatedly saved their deposit. It’s all quiet on the Liberal Party website, with no sign of any candidates yet.
Two minority parties go a lot further than these Liberal leftovers. The Reality Party was founded last year by Mark (Bez) Berry, formerly of the Happy Mondays and a ‘media personality’. In his politics he’s a somewhat less well known version of Russell Brand. The Reality Party calls for revolutionary change ‘in as short a time as possible’, which seems an unnecessary clarification. It’s against corruption, privatisation, globalisation and corporate tax avoidance while being in favour of renewable energy, equality and the EU, wanting to replace poverty, war and corruption with equality, health and peace.
Can’t grumble about that although one its three candidates claims Salford is a ‘sacred and beautiful part of mother earth’, which is more debatable. Meanwhile, in Thanet South they’re adding to the circus caravan opposing Farage, standing a real pub landlord against him rather than a comedy one though.
The largest non-socialist, non-Celtic leftist intervention promises to come from Class War. This was an anarchist group founded by Ian Bone back in 1982. Formerly content with publishing a newspaper, Ian Bone is now redefining anarchist activity to include electoral intervention. Class War believes ‘there is a class war raging and we are losing it‘ and calls for a ‘furious and coordinated political offensive against the ruling class … by the brick and the ballot’. With a strong dose of irreverent and robust language that would not be welcomed by the BBC, Class War brings a new dimension to far left electoral politics, often drab, dour and over-serious. They’re claiming that 26 candidates will stand under their tasteful banner, although this remains to be seen when nominations close in April. Meanwhile, the ‘ruling class have us by the throat – they need a sharp kick in the bollocks.’
Which begs a wider question. Why are virtually all the people associated with the parties in this blog, or micro-parties in general come to that, men?