Do we still need political parties?

Wednesday 30 September, 19.30 until 21.00, The Friends' Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton UK Satellites

Political people who want change seem to have run out places to go. The excitement around the ‘Corbyn effect’ on revitalising young people to join the Labour Party has been undercut by vicious internal squabbling and fears the party may split. Conservative triumphalism over a surprise election majority disguises a greying, dwindling party base still threatened by UKIP. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats committed ritual suicide by joining the previous coalition government and the Greens still have only one MP (as does UKIP).

Perhaps these institutions can be made fit for purpose? The Green Party form a Brighton council coalition with the Conservatives, retaining the deputy leader seat despite losing half their members last time and some senior party figures have mooted supporting Tory Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. Labour has lost Scotland and big bits of the North, while gaining Hove, making a General Election victory unlikely for the foreseeable. Since their surprise majority win in the General Election, recent Conservative pronouncements on curbing trade unionism, further privatisation and authoritarian responses on vaguely defined ‘extremism’ seem to suggest it is more interested in re-running the battles of the 1980s than the present.

Does party politics matter when the parties are so similar? Are there other ways to engage people who want to do something about the world, especially the youth, that don’t involve committing to creaking institutions with even creakier ideologies? The Scottish National Party, for all its astonishing success in recent elections, is probably limited to Scotland and there has been a growing acknowledgement that it is not quite the left-wing alternative. Despite waging its election campaign primarily around social issues, the Green Party’s natural ally on environmental and rural issues seems to be the Tories. Labour has lost the working class and has an increasingly fractious relationship with its traditional trade union base. The promised mass international movement that was Occupy is now nowhere, while occasional big demonstrations against austerity or student fees struggle for wider purchase.

There were once no political parties, they all had to be built, idea on idea, person by person. Is it time to build a new political vehicle, one more suited the way ahead? Do traditional political parties have any relevance for contemporary political life? Has the emergence of new radical groupings elsewhere – such as Greece’s Syriza or Spain’s Podemos – provided any lessons for the UK? Will the forthcoming referendum on Europe have a similar galvanising effect on politics as the Scottish independence vote?

Lyndsay Burtonshaw
activities officer, Sussex University Student Union

Joel Cohen
communications manager, BeyondMe

Jakub Makowski
regional chair, Liberal Youth in the East of England

Thomas Soud
chair, Brighton Left

Sean Bell
secretary and founder member, The Brighton Salon; copy-editor, writer and journalist

Produced by
Sean Bell secretary and founder member, The Brighton Salon; copy-editor, writer and journalist
Thomas Soud chair, Brighton Left
Recommended readings
Snuggling up to the party is electoral death

The more attention political leaders pay to their members, the more they neglect the voters they really need

Matthew Parris, The Times, 26 September 2015

If young people don’t vote; Why should politicians represent them?

Young people have been engaged with politics all along, they have just been waiting for a politician to engage with them and Jeremy Corbyn is seen by many of them to be this person.

Peter Hall, The Orator, 17 August 2015

What does the Lib Dem membership surge mean for the struggling party?

The Liberal Democrats have increased their membership by 30 per cent since the election, even though they now only have eight MPs. But can they turn members into votes?

Barbara Speed, New Statesman, 17 June 2015

If Russell Brand is pushing 40, who represents the actual youth?

My generation has cannibalised youth culture, but we can never represent it politically. No wonder the young are alienated from the ballot box

Suzanne Moore, Guardian, 29 April 2015

Why Is The Green Party So Successful Among British Youths? Lucy Sherriff, Huffington Post, 9 February 2015

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