The Great Divide

Mencius Moldbug is one of my favourite writers, but he’s much stronger when writing about America than the rest of the world. For example, he is fond of saying that all non-American political divides date from post-WW2. Britain is an obvious counter-example. The political divide in Britain dates from 1922-3, with the Conservative expulsion of Lloyd George and subsequent general election. That set up the divide which has persisted ever since, between Labour on the socialistic left and the Conservatives on the bourgeois right. The centre ground has shifted back and forth, but the relative positions of the parties on every major issue have remained just where they were. If you heard a debate on any topic from 1924, you could immediately tell which party the politicians belonged to.

And where does that leave the Lib Dems? 1922-3 set them up as a kind of muddled middle, where they have remained ever since. But who does their presence benefit? I had a university friend, an ardent Labour supporter, who thought that their existence benefited the Conservatives. If only Labour and the Lib Dems would merge, he loved to tell me, they would win every election. If Labour and the Lib Dems merged, I used to reply, they would win the next election, then lose every election for a generation.

My friend’s theory was based on the idea that the Lib Dems are the right wing of the Labour Party, and that if they were to merge then all the Lib Dem voters would simply vote Labour. Yet: if there is so little difference between Labour and the Lib Dems, why don’t the Lib Dem voters just vote Labour? They would get a lot more benefit from their vote if they did so, yet instead they prefer to campaign quixotically for a change in the voting system. If Lib Dem voters would rather “waste” their votes than vote Labour, what does that tell you? Why don’t Lib Dem activists and donors give their time and money to the Labour Party? If they would rather run separate overdrafts than a joint surplus, what does that tell you?

In other words, the reason Labour and the Lib Dems don’t pair up is that they really aren’t a good match. Note that it was a Labour fantasy that they would merge in the early 00s (much as there are some Conservatives now fantasising about an eventual merger). You never hear any Lib Dems saying things like that. My friend was quite right that Lib Dems and Labour share a dislike of the Conservatives, but he was wrong to see the entire party in that prism. There are as many Lib Dems who dislike Labour even more – hence, in part, the current Coalition. This gives the Lib Dems a serious problem – they stand Janus-headed, betwixt and between – but it also gives a serious problem to anyone trying to snaffle their vote. In other words, if Labour merged with the Lib Dems, Labour voters wouldn’t merge with Lib Dem voters.

In fact, in the medium/long term, it wouldn’t matter which merged with the Lib Dems – going to a pure two-party system, the voting distributions would end up the same either way. I think the Conservatives would be the main beneficiaries of this change, because of the dynamic effects. By forcing people to choose between not-Labour and not-Conservative, it would create much greater accountability on the effects of Labour policies, not just their intentions, and it would destroy the BBC’s attempts to marginalise the Conservative Party.

I could of course be wrong. If the current Coalition does indeed cause the Lib Dems to disintegrate, we may find out. Once the AV referendum is over, they will have some tough choices to make.

One response to this post.

  1. I think you’ve mis-interpreted MM’s position on Britain. I think he believes that US has effectively taken over Britain. Its politics are American politics.

    Peter Hitchens basically agrees:


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