Written by Halimah Begum
What Is Political Factionalism exactly?
The ‘internal tensions’ in a political party are officially known as Political factionalism. The official definition of this being the grouping of individuals within a political party. Essentially, it is a sub-group, that tends to have aims and values that would cause controversy with the party’s current leadership.
Recently, British politics has been ‘spicy’ to say the least, with rising tensions due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit looming over the country, and with this, factionalism is increasing within political parties. This so-called political factionalism in both the Conservative and Labour Party could potentially lead to a permanent threat to the current two-party system thus changing the face of British democracy.
Conservatives VS Consensus
In November 2020, the Conservative party faced issues with disputes over national lockdowns which have been put in place to try and curb the effects of Coronavirus. With the ‘COVID Recovery Group’ opposing such decisions. Mark Harper, who is chairing the new group, said in a recent Sky news interview, that the group will work to create strategies to allow us to live with the virus, and tackle the inconvenient restrictions we have had to deal with. Whilst a life without the tiers system or even a pandemic seems like an absolute dream, it is not realistic. Abolishing lockdown or even ‘trying to live with the virus’, is not safe, and despite uproar from Harper and fellow Recovery Group members, it is important to remember that measures are put in place to ensure our safety.
Divisions such as these were also seen when many members of the Conservative party voted to remain in the Brexit election back in 2016. Such members have shown a lack of interest in the Brexit trade talks.
Clash of the Labour party
Recently, the Labour party has been airing its dirty laundry for the country to see. Firstly, there is the issue of allegations regarding Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism, alongside his recent suspension from the Labour party because of his reaction to the recent ECHR report. This, of course, caused a lot of distress for the Jewish community.
Due to these turbulent times, other disagreements within the party have been raised. Labour’s many pressure groups are all heading in different directions, with some embracing ‘New Labour’ values whilst others head towards a more ‘Blue Labour’ approach, or even a combination of the two. Blue labour has adopted more of a community-based approach to handling politics, claiming that the Labour party have lost focus on the concerns of their community.
It is apparent that Labour may have the most agreed values and ideas, but it is these very factions that are dividing the party. The main concerns springing from this being; are Labour’s lack of unity and consensus, making them a weaker party altogether? Is it this very weakness that has led them to be unsuccessful in elections? I certainly think it is. This division within the party is the root cause of their lack of political success. Labour does not seem to have a united front, leaving voters to wonder if they are voting for a fraction within the Labour party or the party itself.
The Two-Party (System) Pooper
Britain has adopted a two-party system for many years, headed by the Conservative and Labour party. However, we all remember the coalition that arose due to the 2010 election in which no party achieved a majority vote, creating a three-party system. The prospect of history repeating itself with another Coalition government has permanently weakened the two-party system. But, will our current situation of party factionalism be enough to break it entirely?
The beginning of the downhill journey of the two-party system was of course the coalition government but it seems Brexit gave it the extra push needed to hit rock bottom. Back in 2016, UKIP demonstrated a strong agreeance towards the British exit of the European Union, in comparison to the other parties who seemed to favour remain. Nigel Farage’s determination to leave the EU, led him to stand down in the 2019 election, making way for Boris Johnson and the Conservative party’s not so glorious victory. The Brexit party’s decision to stand down in the election cleverly undermined the power of Britain’s beloved two-party system, further exposing the system to an inevitable car-crash.
Alongside Brexit causing deep divisions in traditional democracy, former Labour MP, Chuka Umunna is the perfect example of how the current system is vulnerable to factionalism. Umunna has represented three political parties since 2019- such as Labour, ChangeUK and currently the Liberal Democrats and due to this has received an influx of criticism concerning his actions, being labelled as ‘hypocrisy’, which is understandable given his apparent difficulty to remain loyal to one party. It is this indecisiveness, that clearly reflects the issues with a three-party system and why Britain is unlikely to adopt a multi-party system in the future.
So, is there a way to deal with party factionalism? Ultimately, all parties need to consider the future and the best interests of Britain before their own disputes. It is safe to say Britain’s future is uncertain, but what we do know is things are going to change.
Current Labour leader Keir Starmer, in a recent interview with the Guardian, stated that the 2030’s will take a focus towards the economy and the NHS. He is aiming to put ‘leaving of the EU’ behind, however this might not be as easy a task as once thought with current attempts from the Labour party to amend the Brexit bill. Once again, showing signs of potential upcoming party factionalism.
Overall, all parties need to come to some sort of mutual agreement. Having such contrasting views on certain topics such as Brexit, lockdown and the 2024 general election, but representing the same party can be contradicting for their supporters. It is important to embrace the difference of opinion within a group, but conflict should not arise because of this, These differences should not hinder the progress of the group.