Great upheaval: a new political era is born

At the crossroads: Is a fundamental change taking place in western politics?

The Conservative Party has been torn apart by the UK EU referendum campaign. Labour is similarly divided. Is the old fight between left and right now making way for a new political reality?

‘The only number Boris is interested in is Number 10.’

‘The Treasury can’t even forecast the next six months.’

Such exchanges would be normal between political opponents — not allies. But the UK Conservative Party has been sharply divided during the EU referendum campaign. Six cabinet ministers have opposed the government — a decision which would usually see them sacked — with 137 of the party’s MPs. Personal attacks between colleagues have been common.

Rumours suggest many Tories will put their antipathy to the EU above party loyalty after the referendum. Some may challenge David Cameron’s leadership. If the UK votes Leave, the party could sabotage its own chancellor’s emergency budget, paralysing the government. ‘This is, most assuredly, only the beginning,’ says Guardian writer Matthew D’Ancona.

The Labour Party is also fighting over whether to turn to the world or against it. Last year, leader Jeremy Corbyn gained the overwhelming support of his party’s membership on an anti-capitalist, anti-nuclear, anti-American platform. But such views horrify the majority of his MPs.

These parties have traditionally been united by, respectively, conservatism and socialism. But such loyalties are cracking. Polls suggest voters will split along class, identity and regional lines, not ideological ones, in tomorrow’s referendum.

And the nationalist SNP and UKIP have gained remarkably in recent years. Increasingly, politics seems to be a battle between those who defend the interests and identities of certain communities and those who exercise influence globally.

This is true elsewhere too. Donald Trump and populists across Europe have benefited from anti-globalist sentiment. Hostility to multinational businesses, tax avoidance and migration has surged.

There have been upheavals in the political order before. Britain’s Conservative and Liberal Parties emerged when the distinction between Tories and Whigs lost relevance in the 1800s. The 20th century saw the rise of socialism. Could a similar process now be underway?

The new divide

Yes, say some. Old coalitions are not holding: for example, Corbyn has nothing in common with the globalist wing of his party. National governments have surrendered power to international corporations and institutions. The battle over their right to do so is now the fundamental one in politics.

A temporary blip, reply others, in response to recent crises. Left and right disagree on how much to tax and spend; how to tackle social problems; and whether responsibility can overcome structural disadvantage. Battles over equality, liberty and order have been central to Western politics since the 18th century enlightenment, and will remain so.

You Decide

  1. Which do you care about more: using your power internationally, or protecting the interests of your community?
  2. Is the battle between globalists and nationalists now more important than the one between left and right?


  1. Think of five political issues that concern you. Do you think they are best solved by national governments or international organisations? Write a short paragraph about each.
  2. Research the recent success of an anti-globalist political party of your choice. Prepare a one-page memo about it, explaining who it is, why it has been successful and whether you think its success can last.

Some People Say...

“There should be a world government.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I cannot vote in this referendum. Why do these debates concern me?
This debate will affect many things you care about. Nationalists would say there are important issues in your local community which are being decided by remote individuals who do not understand you. On the other hand, globalists would say international problems which may concern you need to be tackled by countries working together.
I’m fed up with politics. Does the death of socialism or conservatism matter to me?
You may well look at the world through one of these prisms, or that of liberalism, already. If you think equality is particularly important, you may sympathise with socialism; if you value order, you are probably a conservative; and if you think freedom is most important, you are likely to be a liberal.

Word Watch

Quotes from Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, about Boris Johnson; and Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, about his own party’s government.
Fifty-seven Tory MPs said they would reject this if Osborne proposed it — supported by Michael Gove, a minister in the government they could bring down.
Working class people are more pro-Leave than middle class.
For example London and Scotland favour Remain, Cornwall and the East Midlands support Leave.
Whose top priority is commitment to their nation (a community of people).
Anti-globalists have gained ground in Spain, Greece, France and Austria. This week the populist Five Star movement won mayoral elections in some Italian cities.
In 2015, 28% of Americans told Gallup they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in banks, compared to 53% in 2004. Only 21% had confidence in big business, 67% in small business.
Tories and Whigs
Groups formed during the 17th century exclusion crisis. Whigs wanted to exclude the Catholic King James II from the throne. Tories supported his right to rule.

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