George Bernard Shaw once said something along the lines that it is possible for a small and determined group of people to change the world. And that in fact, this was the only thing that ever did change the world. He was right, but that doesn’t take away from the courage and energy it requires to start a political party from scratch in a system that punishes third parties let alone non-existent ones.
The Liberal Democrats have a heritage that comes from the nineteenth century Liberal Party, with its great legacy of reform and from the Labour Party, via the Social Democrat party. They probably don’t get a lot of credit from current voters for the 1831 Great Reform Act, but its is not a bad thing to have a link to historical achievements of such a great magnitude.
I won’t be voting SNP for the very good reason that I am not Scottish and don’t live in Scotland. For the same reason, I was tempted to leave the SNP out of this series. But if the SNP win a lot of seats in Scotland and no other party gets a majority in the Commons, it is not inconceivable that the SNP would be the kingmakers. So how do I feel about that?
No party in Britain has a more romantic history than the Labour Party. It is a thread in British society that goes back to the Diggers and the Levellers of the Civil War, continues through the struggles of the Trade Unionists and the Chartists and in which the founding of a socialist party to represent working people is the culmination of centuries of idealism. It is a story that no PR man could invent and which only the hardest of hearts could not find some sympathy with.
The ice cap at the North Pole melted, and you were worrying about the budget deficit? Sea levels rose around the world and you were bothered about bankers’ bonuses? The world’s food supply failed to keep up with population growth and you were focused on immigration controls? How are future generations going to look back on our obsessions. Will our current pre-occupations seem as irrelevant to them as the medieval disputes over simony or transubstantiation?
The Conservative Party’s origins go back ultimately to the royalists of the English Civil War – though the descent is not a linear one. They have also acquired DNA from the Liberals with and without capital Ls and from intellectual influences like Edmund Burke. They have always been about supporting the establishment, but have often done it in some highly creative and unexpected ways. In particular they managed to play a large part in the creation of a mass democracy at the end of the nineteenth century and went on to become a mass party with a huge membership during the twentieth. One might have thought that they were deliberately doing it to prove Marxist notions of class interest wrong. But the strongest vein in the Conservative Party has always been pragmatism, and that is usually the best explanation for whatever it is the Tories happen to be up to.