Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Dark Consequences of Permanent Realignment?

In pro-Coalition circles, there has been some excited talk in recent weeks about the prospect of a permanent realignment of British politics. Fraser Nelson is one of those examining the possibility of an outright Liberal-Conservative merger of some kind or other (the fourth in British political history, if I recall correctly).

As a liberal conservative, I’ve been delighted by this news. A party that absorbed the liberals from the Liberal Democrats whilst ditching the nutty far-righters in the Conservative Party would be a potentially fantastic one - all very exciting.

But are the cheerleaders of realignment (myself amongst them) overlooking a potential ramification of the Conservatives shifting liberalwards – the consolidation of the far right? Peter Kellner, head of the YouGov polling company, argued thus to me the other day. His argument ran that an exodus of Tory right wingers (of the sort that proposed the alternative Queen’s Speech) from the party could combine with UKIP (and have “elements of the BNP fold into it as well”) and form a new party. Such a realignment could allow a "critical mass" to build up on the hard right of British politics – and there’s only so far that a ‘far-right fringe’ can grow before it isn't a fringe any more.

Is this scenario likely? I can’t be sure. As long as the merged 'Liberal Conservative Party' was a direct continuation of the Conservative Party, I think that a new right-wing party might struggle to gain traction in true blue heartlands. Similarly, I can’t see a party led by ex-Conservative ministers and the likes of Farage and Pearson winning in the urban areas targeted by the BNP and other such (British) nationalist groupings. Also, could old Thatcherite ex-ministers and pseudo-socialist BNP populists comfortably cohabit within one organisation?

However, nationalism is an odd beast and if there’s one thing these various groups would have in common, it would be British nationalism. It could work, and if it did it would be a party with reach in the shires and the cities. Could the new era of coalition politics herald a consolidation of the right into a 'national party'?

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