A centrist party backed by the people who created this mess is pointless | Sophie Walker

We in the Women’s Equality party can see that the UK’s politics needs a radical shake-up. Simon Franks’ scheme isn’t it

Dear Simon Franks,

As the leader of Britain’s newest political party, the Women’s Equality party, I thought I’d offer some reflections on the job ahead as you prepare to take the plunge with a new, centrist party.

First of all – congratulations. You’ve fundraised 50 million quid already. No matter that according to one person close to your project you “don’t have a viable plan”.

Money talks. Politics is built on it. Election campaigns are won with it. Trust me: I represent women, who make up most of Britain’s poorest people and generally don’t have millions of pounds to invest in a political system that has barely seen them. The fact that our party isn’t heard as much as I predict yours will be is directly related to the difference in our bank accounts.

Second of all – you’ve got the perfect political profile for these anti-establishment times. You’re white, male and a businessman. Hey presto! You are perfectly placed to follow Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in persuading voters that really, you are just like them. This will be a particular advantage when the alternative centre-ground party that is also mobilising right now launches under the aegis of Tony Blair and disgruntled MPs.

Third – you will have the grateful thanks of all of the other new political parties for taking the blame for “splitting the vote”. This criticism will be levelled at you mainly by the Labour party, but probably also by some Conservatives, given that you look like you’re planning to park some tanks on their lawn too. Don’t go thinking the vote belongs to the electorate. In fact it belongs to the two main parties who have taken it as their due for centuries and won’t hear otherwise. Good luck convincing them that they have to earn their votes.

You have some very distinct advantages. But I think one of your disadvantages is perhaps a lack of strategy. So let’s examine at this point exactly what public need you are responding to.

The country is split and divided as never before. Brexit seems inevitable, without us ever having the national conversation about fair immigration and investment that was promised. The Liberal Democrats staked their 2017 election hopes on being the party for remainers who wanted to stop Brexit. But remainers didn’t vote for them in big enough numbers and the experiment failed. Meanwhile right and left are polarised as never before. And after last year’s snap election, our first past the post voting system was condemned by the Electoral Reform Society as failing a diverse electorate forced to choose between two camps and largely reduced to voting tactically. More than two-thirds of the total votes were wasted.

Given all of the above, I have to say that a party backed by the same people who have formed and funded the current state of dysfunction isn’t really going to cut it. You’re not going to break the Westminster mould by scraping the mould from policies that aren’t working. It’s not a new party people want – it’s a whole new way of doing politics.

And guess what, Simon – that whole new way of doing politics is right out there. Another movement for change has been swelling over the last year and a half. And this one is truly thrilling. A global Women’s March in January 2017 gave way to a huge uprising; a #MeToo collective consciousness-raising that has breathed new life into politics. Radical political ideas, on the scale required to rescue us – investment in social infrastructure on a par with physical infrastructure, universal childcare and truly shared parenting, and a socially just immigration system – are beginning to find traction.

New ways of doing politics are emerging too – the first thing the Women’s Equality party did after registering with the Electoral Commission was to throw our doors open to members of all other political parties and start mobilising activists who had never before been involved in politics. Because at this point, it’s only those at the very margins of our political system who have the understanding of how to entirely rebuild our toxic institutions and tired democracy.

You’ve got £50m burning a hole in your pocket. Such is the casual power of men who have been wielding it for so long they have no clue how hard the rest of us must fight for our voices to be heard, to shine a light on perspectives that aren’t white and male and establishment, to focus on the experiences of those who have been left behind.

You don’t need to rebrand the current turbulence as the lack of a centrist party. Join those of us who are already out here dealing with that turbulence to build something really new.

• Sophie Walker is the leader of the Women’s Equality party and a former Reuters journalist


Sophie Walker

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How Britain’s elections became impossible to predict | Paula Surridge
Brexit’s challenge to the old left/right divide is the final ingredient in a cocktail that has given us unusually volatile voters, says politics lecturer Paula Surridge

Paula Surridge

06, Nov, 2019 @6:37 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on a progressive alliance: divided they fall | Editorial
Editorial: Labour should show it could work with like-minded parties by committing to proportional representation


13, Dec, 2020 @6:30 PM

Article image
The Lib Dems should stand down completely in Canterbury | Sandi Toksvig
Rosie Duffield needs a clear run against the Tories. The party leadership must recognise this after Tim Walker’s principled stance, says Women’s Equality party co-founder Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig

13, Nov, 2019 @2:43 PM

Article image
The progressive alliance should be just that – not ‘Labour and the rest’ | Hannah Peaker
The local elections showed the Tories are there for the taking if progressive parties cooperate, but Labour seems to unwilling to do that, says Hannah Peaker, chief of staff for the Women’s Equality party

Hannah Peaker

09, May, 2018 @1:06 PM

Article image
A new ‘centrist’ party is doomed – but it could keep Corbyn out of No 10 | Owen Jones
It’s been mooted since he became leader that Labour right-wingers could unite with Conservative remainers and Lib Dems. But only the Tory right would benefit, says the Guardian columnist Owen Jones

Owen Jones

01, Mar, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new centrist party is the far-right’s dream | Owen Jones
There is no taste for centre politics at the moment. Only the Mogg-Johnson faction will benefit a splinter party, says Guardian columnist Owen Jones

Owen Jones

23, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Independent Group will only succeed if PR is their central policy | Catherine Mayer
If they are serious about fixing ‘broken politics’, they should join us in backing a fairer voting system, writes Women’s Equality party co-founder Catherine Mayer

Catherine Mayer

20, Feb, 2019 @12:34 PM

Article image
Once Brexit is over, what’s left? A two-party system that kills optimism | Polly Toynbee
More power to revolting MPs. But the Independent Group will likely end up broken, says Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee

21, Feb, 2019 @11:39 AM

Article image
No more playing nice: Labour must lead the charge against Tory dirty tricks | Theo Bertram
It’s not enough to have a positive manifesto. The party should take a leaf from the Tory playbook and go on the attack, says Theo Bertram, a former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

Theo Bertram

20, Nov, 2019 @4:40 PM

Article image
The UK needs tougher powers to stop foreign interference in our elections | Damian Tambini
The Electoral Commission wants electoral law to be updated. Its proposals don’t go far enough, says LSE associate professor Damian Tambini

Damian Tambini

27, Jun, 2018 @9:55 AM