The Shifting Sands of British Politics

Caroline Lucas MP

Caroline Lucas MP

For decades we’ve been used to debate about whether Britain is a two party or a three party political system: perhaps now we need to think of it as a 6 or 7 party system. Party membership for the three main parties is falling steeply: their combined membership was 3.8% of the UK electorate in 1983, now it is less than 1%.

The Scottish Referendum was very good for politics. It was peaceful yet passionate, and it really engaged the population in political debate. On the back of it in just a few days the Scottish National Party membership went up by 70% and the Scottish Green Party by 300%. The Guardian predicts that the SNP may have the third largest number of Westminster MP’s after the General Election in May.

Membership of the Green Party of England and Wales has risen 77% over the last nine months and is now at 24,435 and still surging upward. I certainly hope that the wonderful Caroline Lucas will be joined by more Green MP’s in the House of Commons in six months time!

The popular mood is of anger and contempt for politicians, especially members of the three main parties. Across Europe the establishment centre is collapsing, which is both dangerous and an opportunity. Dangerous in that the populist and simplistic right wing parties are on the rise and as ever looking for scapegoats, and fear and insecurity are driving many into their camp. A time of opportunity in that Green and new-left of centre parties are capitalising by offering a positive, creative and constructive vision of a more socially egalitarian and ecologically sustainable future.

Currently the UK Labour party has 190,000 members, the Conservatives 134,000, the SNP 80,000 (as of 10th Oct, and still surging upwards) Lib Dems 44,000, UKIP 35,000 and the Greens 32,000 (adding approx 24.500 Eng & Wales party with approx 7.500 Scottish Green Party) and Plaid Cymru about 8,000.

The BBC still wants to screen a TV debate between the leaders of the old three parties, plus UKIP. However thirteen parliamentarians have written an open letter and a quarter of a million people have signed a petition calling on the BBC to invite the leaders of the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru. Including them would better reflect contemporary, ‘devo-max’, British politics! A real seven party contest!

Membership of main parties

Guardian on SNP

Mark Mardell on political mood

Inclusive leaders debate campaign

Caroline Lucas, MP of the year