Change UK — rebranded Thatcherism?

ChUK’s latest ‘manifesto’ reveals a surprisingly right-wing ideology for what claims to be a centrist party.

Image for post
Image for post
The Hamburger Icon

Over the weekend of 11 May the Change UK (ChUK) Party released a pamphlet — which is the closest thing they’ve produced so far to a manifesto. It’s confused and as bland as their menu icon logo, but has some worrying and somewhat questionable core principles. Any Labour remainer — or for that matter any voter — should think twice before voting for them in the upcoming or any election.

Surprisingly, for what claims to be a centrist party not governed by ideology, it has a repeated emphasis on militarism, the pre-eminent importance of free enterprise, and a view on individual vs. social responsibility that is Thatcherism in its purest form.

From the start the document name-checks Jeremy Corbyn but not ‘the leader of the Conservative Party’ or the Prime Minister. In common with much of the right-wing press, it seeks to identify the Labour Party as one man, who curiously simultaneously dictates his personal view on policy to the whole party whilst failing to lead. It cannot attack the party policy or structure, it wants to paint the picture that the labour leader and the party policy do not command the overwhelming support of ordinary members.

On the very first page the party sets out its primary policy — defence and militarist intervention. This seems very odd and here, mixing defence with patriotism and nationalism, it might be trying to appeal to the right wing. But this as a priority in a centrist party is jarring.

Several times throughout the document it repeats the mantra ‘politics is broken’ but never talks about how it is to be fixed. It specifies the pre-eminence of the UK parliamentary system and makes no mention whatsoever of reform. It says that we have forgotten how to debate — without seeing the irony in putting such a statement in a pamphlet that is entirely polemical. Debate and agreement requires mutual respect and compromise on both sides, but there is none of that here for the majority that voted Brexit in the referendum. Nowhere is there any suggestion at how the divide in the country will be addressed or healed. They praise the Remain protestors and those who signed the Remain petition as ‘patriots’ — without saying what this makes of the majority of people in the UK who voted to leave the EU. It says that the 2 million children who have now reached maturity since 2016 must be heard — but nothing about the millions of people who did vote. Shouldn’t their democratic wish be respected?

The next subject for the pamphlet is economic growth and personal wealth — not climate change (which would make demands counter to economic growth), standard of living, social care, education, NHS, policing. The priority is money — which fits well with ChUK’s reliance on ideological Thatcherism.

There is an emphasis on the individual responsibility over any responsibility of society to the individual particularly in reference to social mobility. The state provides the ‘opportunities’ for the individual, the ‘skills and means to open new doors’ and in this way removes the ‘barriers of poverty’. Even when talking about the NHS and healthcare, it contextualises this ‘collective provision’ against ‘educational life chances’ and ‘putting the individual at the heart’.

As Doctor King said, “It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man, that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps.” He said this in the context of the so-called American Dream, which lies at the heart of Thatcherism and Libertarianism. Doctor King exposed the myth, recognising that white European settlers were provided with huge tracts of land by the state — something not accorded to the African citizens even after emancipation, who were given the ‘freedom of famine’. The myth of the ‘self-made’ businessman (using that word deliberately) that doesn’t recognise the inheritance of private wealth, the provision of state education and other benefits, infrastructure, tax breaks and subsidies as well as the poorly-paid labour of thousands of workers.

Whilst the core of Thatcherism mixed with the libertarian small government principle could be claimed to be some sort of ‘change’, particularly for a party that claims the centre ground, the repeated emphasis on militarism and interventionism is something smacks of the right wing of politics. In the list of priorities at the end of the pamphlet, this is the first one mentioned — and again in ninth place. One of the core tenets is Remain stronger in the world, but it makes no sense. Something can ‘become stronger’ or ‘remain strong’ — it can only ‘remain stronger’ than something else.

Despite climate change appearing as one of the five themes on the pamphlet’s cover, that is the penultimate priority — in tenth place — and here it’s within the context of ‘sustainable growth’.

There are some other strange bedfellows in the document that might be indicative of the most effective lobby groups, or of the so far mysterious ChUK funding. When talking about the threat that Brexit poses to the NHS, it mentions the European Medicines Agency three times. It talks about the need to develop sustainable energy talking about investment in ‘tidal power and hydrogen’. It makes no mention at all of fracking, but does mention ‘natural carbon capture’.

So, far from being an eclectic mix of populist policies, it seems that ChUK has a very strong, though unexpected, right wing ideological base. As a Remain voter, would you really want to vote for a rebranded Thatcherite tea party?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store