Yesterday, the Women’s Equality Party declared itself open for membership. It collected over 1,000 members in 24 hours, a great achievement for any political conglomeration starting from zero. As a non-partisan political party, welcoming members from other parties non-exclusively, it is also a fascinating study in 21st century politics, watching where it goes from here.
If you’re someone who believes in the equality of genders, you would have thought finding something to bitch about amongst WEP’s victory was a tricky task. Not so. “Why don’t they just call themselves the Equality Party?” was asked on social media many a time. There’s an easy answer to that: the party seeks gender equality specifically, and besides the Equality Party sounds like some Len McCluskey after Labour implodes communist/syndicalist nightmare project. There were a few blogs written on the topic; most of them seemed to revolve around criticism of the idea of the party being non-partisan. Specifically, the notion that WEP might allow Tories into its ranks (God forbid!) was considered haram.
People complain all the time about the state of feminism and why it seems so poisoned, even amongst people who are actually feminists in practice. This is because it has become yet another adjunct of the Left. And if it remains there, it is going nowhere fast.
Two examples to make my point for me: one, the Fawcett Society and their attempt to get a judicial review of the 2010 budget. This was a phenomenally stupid move on their part. It was like putting the words “Tories not welcome here” in bold across the front of their website. While there will always be really old school folks on the Right who think the woman’s place is in the home, they are the minority. Also, for the liberal wing of the Conservative Party there is a lot of obvious positives for a de-lefted feminism. For instance, women make up 50% of the population. They are also more likely to vote. They are also more likely to vote for the Conservatives as it happens. Are all these women self-hating? There are those on the Left who would try and make you buy into that concept, but let’s get real.
My second example is the Greens. If the Greens were actually a non-partisan party, and by that I mean not easily fixable on the left-right axis, one that was completely and utterly dedicated to environmentalism only, they’d really have something. In the last parliament, having finally broken through and got themselves into the House of Commons, they could have really advanced the cause they supposedly exist for. A Tory-Lib coalition, one in which Cameron had played up the whole environmental thing perhaps a little too much pre-election, presented a great opportunity to apply pressure. You had the Zac Goldsmiths there, those who could have been made allies with. They could have leaned on the coalition to be as environmental as possible, with an option to praise the government when it did get something right being available.
But given that the Greens now primarily exist to advance far left politics, that choice was never really there. As a result, the one party that should be there to speak up on actual green issues has often sounded instead like the Socialist Workers Party.
Which brings me to this: lots of people on the left of British politics don’t really care about the environment in particular. Thus the overall Labour support for airport expansion to take one very obvious example. It isn’t a contradiction in their ethos – it makes perfect sense. “Cheap flights mean that more people, further down the socio-economic chain, can go to places they wouldn’t be able to go to otherwise,” a union rep said to me at Labour conference one year. And he had a point, in many ways. So thus, by eliminating all conservatives, and having views on the Left such as what I heard at Labour conference regarding aviation, you’ve shrunk your cause to a niche one unnecessarily.
The parallel between environmentalism and feminism is actually an easy one to make on this – both issues that have been ghettoed into a left wing hole that lots of the traditional Left don’t even actually have a lot of time for. Which is why I welcome the Women’s Equality Party’s acceptance of members from across the political spectrum. So long as women’s equality can be placed alongside something like electoral reform as a left only issue, the ability to change society for the better in this respect will be greatly diminished.
Maybe in a proportional system (especially perhaps STV?) single issue parties could succeed. Unfortunately, though, with what we have right now, single issue parties are often criticised just because they don’t have firm policies on matters outside their declared area of interest.
Personally I don’t want to waste my single vote on a party that reflects only one of my many views about how politics and society should be run.