Friday 30 August 2019 6:45 am

Time to ditch the mindless tribalism of outdated politics

Our politics is broken. In fact, for decades, the system has been anchored on the same unchanging institutions and cultures. 

Parliament. Whitehall. Political parties. Much of what passes for modern politics would be instantly recognisable to William Gladstone or Benjamin Disraeli.

All around us, things are changing. The disruptive forces of technology are tearing through our economy and society, transforming the ways in which we work, meet, shop, and learn. 

Yet parliament sticks to its old ways, parties behave like nothing has changed, and citizens are left bewildered and frustrated by an outmoded political system. 


This Saturday, the Big Tent Ideas Festival will take place in Mudchute Farm in east London. It’s a day-long forum for people to take part in conversations across a range of topics, and I’m taking part in the festival because events like this can help us to change our political path.

Since becoming an independent MP six months ago, I can see with greater clarity the folly of so much of the daily culture of politics. 

For a start, there’s a toxicity in the political bloodstream which threatens to poison everything. I’m not talking about the rough and tumble of Westminster, but a deeper malaise of mistrust, misinformation, slurs, insults, and rigid political positions. We saw it during the Scottish referendum, then the EU referendum, and it’s been there ever since.

It makes it impossible to engage in debate or put forward new ideas without a welter of abuse. 

That’s one reason the Big Tent Ideas Festival and its open culture is so refreshing.

Then there’s the absence of long-term thinking, because our system is built around the short-term expediencies of elections, budgets, and opinion polls. 

Yet the biggest policy issues we face need long-term solutions, from climate change to social care, trade justice to public health. We should be talking about the challenges of public health, especially mental health, and the deep inequalities in health between rich and poor. 


However, the answers to all these issues require cross-party consensus, public support, and a long-term perspective. Our political system mitigates against this, reducing everything down to sloganising and trading blows. 

This must change.

We need a new political culture in our country if we are to meet the challenges of our age. 

The looming disaster of a no-deal Brexit has forced the parties to work together, putting aside traditional enmities. We may see this translate in electoral terms, with progressive parties coalescing to support candidates instead of standing against each other. 

We need more collaboration on the issues that matter, and a new willingness to compromise and build consensus.

We must learn a new civility in our politics, and not allow the violence and extremism of social media to infect our public conversations. That means we have to challenge every kind of hate speech and fake news, no matter where it emerges.

Finally, there is a place for independent MPs. We have a record number in parliament now, and that’s a positive thing. Independents bring their critical faculties to bear on each issue, and weigh up the pros and cons, free from strong-arming by the party whips. 

The traditional two-party system no longer represents the complexity of modern Britain. We need more independent thought, not mindless tribalism.

We need to change our systems, structures, and cultures. I don’t doubt the enormity of the task, but I am encouraged by the people I meet who are desperate for change. 

The Big Tent Ideas Festival is filled with a new culture, new ideas, a new willingness to listen and learn. It represents the way forward for a new kind of politics which is genuinely inclusive and democratic.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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