The current rate of party churn is like nothing we’ve seen since the warby Tom Clark / October 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
The whip cracks as loudly as ever at Westminster, but it ain’t working like it used to. For decades, MPs have grown steadily more rebellious on individual votes, but the Brexit years are driving them to the ultimate mutiny—deserting their tribe entirely, or defying party chiefs to boot them out.
While the old structures crumble, the new cannot hold. The Independent Group of breakaways formed at the start of this year, and was renamed to Change UK (perhaps a Macronian nod at founder member Chuka Umunna) with comical haste, before half its members split into another already forgotten gang called “The Independents.” Some, including Umunna, have now—to borrow Churchill’s phrase—“re-ratted” to the Lib Dems.
The second chart shows that the current rate of party churn is like nothing we’ve seen since the war. The third looks back even further—to all the great party bust-ups over 200 years, and reveals that only once before have we seen defections on the current scale: the 1886 Home Rule row that saw Joseph Chamberlain take a Unionist bloc out of the Liberals.
1 – Spaghetti politics
“Vote Blue, Go Green” was one David Cameron slogan. For increasing numbers of voters, though, “Vote Blue or Red, Go Chameleon” has been the recent experience. As of -September 2019, 49 MPs have swapped (or been forced to swap) allegiance since the election, and quite a chunk have done so repeatedly—in a couple of cases as many as four times. All told, a total of 74 “switches” have occurred.
2 -The long view There is always some churn in MPs taking a party whip: rogues and rebels have it withdrawn and reinstated; more rarely a member has a change of heart and swaps sides. But the current rate defies post-war precedent and exceeds it in all historic crises bar one.
A bigger bang: the Brexit years have produced more “switches” than most historic crises