A Reply to Dominic Cummings
Is there space for a New Party in British Politics?
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Dominic Cummings has just joined the ongoing debate in Britain about whether there needs to be an entirely new party in British politics. His diagnosis of what is wrong with the country is as follows -and is basically one I agree with.
SW1 simply no longer works. Government is broken because the people running government are no longer up to it. The prime minister spends far too much time listening to “the most insider of Insider advice”. The Number 10 operation cannot control the levels of power. There is collective paralysis in Whitehall.
The two big parties have failed for decades. They are no longer able to satisfy the very large majority of voters out there who are crying out for the kind of radical change the two Dinosaur Parties are unable and unwilling to deliver —largely because of path dependency (they were built for a different era) and also inertia (the dominant factions of Left and Right, as well as the media, are filled with the same kinds of people, who have the same backgrounds, who go to the same parties, and share the same reluctance to rock the boat because they all have an interest in keeping this sinking Titanic afloat (my words, not his).
The intellectual calibre of MPs has also collapsed while the “thinking class” now thinks it is thinking by tuning into a growing number of mind-numbingly dull podcasts that are produced by, and created for, the liberal left and which reinforce this increasingly insular and narrow echo chamber (zzzzz).
The academy, meanwhile, has also swung even more sharply to the left, with the ratio of left-wing academics to right-wing academics now nine to one, meaning few people in the Ivory Towers are saying anything remotely interesting, compounding this dire state of affairs, while the Charity Industrial Complex is also fully invested in maintaining the broken status-quo (all of which, by the way, is why Substack is so important right now -as David Goodhart once pointed out to me , it is the first time we have a thinking and writing class independent of the institutions).
The Treasury, civil service —and, I would add, the surrounding epistemic class of academics, think-tankers, talking heads— will also block any serious reforms which challenge the prevailing orthodoxy in SW1. Insular politicians and their Special Advisors (SPADs) will remain utterly obsessed with the short-term news cycle and a media class which does not understand and is not interested in life outside the M25.
The Tory brand, meanwhile, is completely toast. The Tories have spent more than a decade promising one thing only to do the very opposite. Taxes up. Immigration up. Control of Britain’s borders lost. A serious levelling-up strategy nowhere to be seen. Doubling down on a broken political economy. Still ridiculously soft on crime. And, I’d add, unable or simply uninterested in stopping the relentless advance of a radical woke progressivism —which simply loathes British identity, culture, and history.
In response, Cummings joins the growing ranks of people calling for an entirely new political party, a new movement, which could emerge from the rubble left by the inevitable looming Tory defeat. A new set of people with new ideas who can give voters, the British people, the sort of government they want and deserve.
It’s no secret Dominic Cummings and I do not see eye to eye. I briefed him and his team during the Brexit referendum and sent a copy of my book to both the Leave and Remain campaigns —which included the most detailed breakdown of the most pro-Brexit council areas in Britain (and was co-authored with Caitlin Milazzo).
It was and remains the most detailed analysis of the areas likely to back Brexit and is why I spent 2015-2016 telling lots of banks and investors at the time the vote for Brexit was likely to happen and the market was off (culminating in one bank in Paris literally laughing me out of the room …. lol!)
What annoyed Cummings was I then published a paper during the referendum campaign showing Leave campaigners were not as active on the ground as their Remain counterparts, which I believe a few Conservative MPs then cited when calling for Cummings to be sacked from the referendum campaign.
In fairness to Cummings, his argument at the time was Vote Leave was throwing more energy into online rather than offline campaigning (which our paper did not measure). And it was a fair point. But he then continued to slander both myself and, more importantly, a (then junior) colleague, which I thought was out of line.
Anyway, putting all that to one side, is his argument Britain is ripe for a new party accurate? Yes. I’ve argued the same here and here. There is ample public demand for a new politics the two Dinosaur Parties are unwilling and unable to offer.
Where I depart from Cummings is I don’t think this is just about the inefficiencies of the British state —about what’s happening in Whitehall and Westminster. It’s far more global than that. As I’ve written in detail here, I simply think the foundations of political systems in the West have shifted in profound ways over the last 20 years.
One reason why new party insurgents outside of Britain, from Georgia Meloni to Donald Trump, have been breaking through with relative ease is because many of the West’s political systems are now grappling with three things simultaneously.
—‘De-alignment’, the way in which the old bonds between the Dinosaur Parties and voters are now rapidly breaking down, which is exacerbated by the rise of the Gen-Z Zoomers who have only ever known much higher rates of political volatility
—‘Distrust’ in the old legacy institutions and the expert class which dominate them (not just politicians but media, cultural institutions, the academy, etc.) which have all had a dismal twenty years, from failing to see the financial crisis coming to mishandling Iraq, Syria, Brexit, Covid, inflation, Russia, China, etc.)
—And, third, the rising salience of new cultural issues which are cutting across the old Left-Right grid and further carving out space for new political entrepreneurs —such as immigration, border security, national identity, Woke, gender madness, critical race theory, the indoctrination of our kids, and so on. This has essentially broken the old Left-Right axis and made it far easier for insurgents, especially those who lean to the Economic Left and the Cultural Right, to break through.
This is also why I think rather differently about the market opportunity for a new party in Britain. Cummings talks in rather vague and technocratic terms about The New Party reforming the institutions, stripping out regulations, supporting small businesses, prioritising science and technology, reforming expenses in Westminster, and reasserting popular sovereignty over parliamentary sovereignty (i.e. putting voters, citizens, ahead of party politics and the institutions, including by sending power down, not up, to the people below and away from who I’d call the New Elite).
This is all well and good and I do agree with much of it. But for the sake of debate it’s worth pointing out that none of this stuff on its own is really all that salient and will certainly not galvanise the weary masses who will turn off in two minutes if you start talking to them about the need to reform the civil service or change the way we administer parliamentary expenses. Much of it sounds like the end goal is to build a sort-of super-efficient technocracy run in the interests of scientists, big-tech types, entrepreneurs, and intellectual mavericks rather than delivering on several core demands the British people have right now and want to see delivered … right now.
The question for any New Party is this: ‘What’s your version of the 1997 New Labour pledge card?’ What are the five policies you are going to take into battle which convey your core message in a clear and compelling way, which are capable of galvanising voters and remove all the endless fluff that voters don’t care about?
As regular readers know, I’ve long pointed to a cluster of issues which many voters both (a) care a great deal about and (b) feel they are no longer represented on.
These are the issues which, in 2024-2028, should form the basis of a new party. Clearly, it’s not either/or. Many of the ideas put forward by Cummings could easily be folded into this but I do think a New Party which prioritises the below would ultimately have far more cut through than a party which talked about reforming Whitehall or reshaping the state around a new counter-cultural intellectual class.
First. Crime. Get serious about tackling it and adopt a much tougher approach which a large majority of voters want to see. Most people think crime is out of control, most people no longer have confidence in the police (who they often think have turned into a hyper-political woke joke). This is a very dangerous place for any society to be and directly violates the core British trait of “fair play”. Whoever clamps down on it sharply will be rewarded. Massively. It is one issue on which voters consistently lean much further to the right than all of the SW1 class and which they feel they are no longer represented on.
Second. Immigration. Get serious about lowering it and do WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to regain control over Britain’s borders. Cummings is right to say The New Party should call to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and repeal the Human Rights Act. But it should go much further. Voters aren’t just bothered about illegal migration and Stopping the Boats. They also REALLY care about legal immigration, too, something the Tories still don’t understand (as I discovered while having dinner with two cabinet ministers recently —they genuinely think legal immigration is fine!) Call for a national referendum on returning net migration to pre-1997, pre-New Labour levels. Draw a line in the sand and if the usual business/academe/SW1 lobby kick off about it stand up to them. This is not divisive. Don’t listen to newspapers or academics who are themselves invested in promoting mass immigration, either because they want it or because they live their lives subscribing to social norms while being too scared to challenge taboos. This is a ‘valence issue’, meaning if you call for a sharp reduction of immigration 70%+ of voters OUT THERE IN THE COUNTRY will back you. 100%. Just demand it. Link it to housing. Link it to the broken economy. Link it to crime and lawlessness. Whatever. Just do it and use it as a route into making the case for a very different political economy, one which prioritises British workers.
Third. Woke Political Correctness. Oppose it. It’s divisive. It’s unBritish. It’s stifling. It’s leaving much the country with palpable sense they cannot say what they want to say (60% feel this way). Just don’t call it Woke. Call it Woke Political Correctness. Why? Only half of Brits know what Woke means (definition? The sacralization of racial, sexual, and ethnic minorities at the expense of the wider majority). But 90% of Brits know what Political Correctness is. And they hate it. And when people tell you “nobody cares about this” point to Scotland or America. Turning up the volume on the sexualisation, racialisation, and politicisation of our children will easily mobilise the 80% against the radical woke 20%. The moment voters tune into this madness -ARE FORCED TO TUNE IN- they say “no thanks”. Ditto with wasting billions on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion activities and putting radical ideologues into the schools and the public institutions. Strip it all out and link it to arguments about the need to drive productivity and growth. As I said on Twitter this week, the so-called culture war is never 50-50. It is more like 70-30, or 80-20, against liberal progressives who dominate the institutions. Build a party that is serious about, and willing to, tap into that divide. Ignore idiots who say this is “culture wars”. Defending women. Defending children. Defending our history. Defending our culture. Defending our way of life. These are not culture wars. They are the bedrock of any civilisation. The fact they are now called culture wars reflects how terrible a job the Tories have done. Removing a lot of this guff from the pubic institutions and political economy will in itself make a difference and again becomes a route into the more esoteric arguments about reforming the state Cummings and others want to make (which I basically think are right).
Fourth. Identity. Pledge to preserve and promote Britain’s distinctive identity, culture, and history which many voters —white or otherwise— now worry are being swept away by a relentless tide of bland, hyper-global, liberal universalism. They want leaders who will stand up to the concerted cultural revolution that is now underway to sweep away Britain’s proud history, identity, and culture and repackage it as a bland celebration of “diversity” and other elite values. Voters are not idiots. They can both see and sense this unfolding project and they really don’t like it. This is not misguided nationalism. It’s about giving the country a much stronger and more unified STORY about who we are and what holds our increasingly diverse and now unravelling society together. And that story, about our HOME, is the only one capable of uniting an increasingly fragmented and divided population. The Left’s identity politics and the Right’s status-conscious aversion to anything with the word “national” in it will both lead us into a total nightmare —an atomised society where nobody feels they belong to anything and everybody is pitted against everybody else. Britain was and is an incredibly special, unique, and positive place. Whoever says that, whoever demonstrates that, unlike much of SW1, they actually believe in Britain, will also be rewarded at the ballot box. End of story.
Fifth. Economic populism (read: not redistribution). Masses of voters, put simply, are sick and tired of big global corporates, the 1%, and High Net Worths taking the p*ss when it comes to tax avoidance, evasion, dominating and corrupting the property market, and viewing Britain as a private playground rather than a national community to which they have a sense of responsibility and obligation. One big reason why somebody like Jeremy Corbyn cut through, as I pointed out at the time, was not so much because of his call for radical economic redistribution but his sense that “the many”, economically, are utterly sick and tired of having to pick up the bill for “the few”. The Panama Papers. Bankrupt councils. Carillion. Obscene executive pay. The cost of rail tickets. The BHS pension scandal. Widespread and systematic tax avoidance. The way in which hyper-globalisation has battered Western workers and non-graduates. And the more general rise of what Charles Murray once called “unseemliness” in modern society —perhaps best symbolised by the behaviour of many of our recent leaders as soon as they left public office. The British voter will not side with a “bash the rich” campaign, largely because they are aspirational and would one day like to be well off themselves. But when the economic system is deemed to be rigged against them, when it is deemed to be violating their core sense of “fair play”, then there emerges enormous space for a party that is both free of the donor class and willing to speak both loudly and directly to this.
These are the five issues which consistently emerge in polling as the ones people care most strongly about yet feel nobody in Westminster is representing them on. What runs through all them is a general appeal to popular sovereignty, i.e. putting people first, against an elite class and institutions which are simply no longer fit for purpose (The People’s Movement?) This means pointing to them all as examples of the need to send political, economic, and cultural power down, not up to the elites, but down to the masses below and pushing back strongly against the continued rise of unelected and insufficiently transparent ‘governance’ bodies and institutions which simply do not have the best interests of the British people at heart. Too many elites continue to derive their sense of authority and legitimacy from other elites rather than from the very people who elected them, from below.
It means installing this core principle at the very heart of a new social contract with the British People --that they will always be prioritised, and reshaping our economy, politics, and culture around that principle. It means sending power, institutions, resources, responsibility, and decision-making capabilities down to ordinary citizens, villages, towns, and regions, and away from the power-hoarding centre that has consistently shown itself unable and unwilling to respond to the public mood over much of the last twenty years, if not longer, and even worse appears to actively dislike much of the rest of the country that surrounds it.
What does all this mean in practice? Well …