Figuratively speaking, the UK government system is a system of binary politics. Whilst having 351 registered political parties (The Electoral Commission, 2020), the UK has not had a winning party that was not labour or conservative in the national elections since the National Labour Government in 1931. So, whilst the UK government can be regarded as a multiparty government, this is rarely represented in election results.
Now lies the question as to whether binary politics are even appropriate or still relevant?
It is now commonly accepted that the majority of the aspects of human existence occur within a spectrum. Spectral descriptions allow for the persistence of movement and evolution, rather than binary systems which enforce a sort of stationary existence. Whether in terms of political opinion, sexuality, or even electromagnetic waves, it is almost always more appropriate for things to be described as a linear spread. The prominence of binary electoral politics removes this aspect of mutability and ignores the wide scope of political opinion within party affiliation. Furthermore, this can be seen to limit some people’s voting choices. Due to the overwhelming consistency of either labour or conservative being the winning party, voting for a non-majority party for some can be seen as a ‘waste of a vote’, even if that party is closer aligned with an individual’s political views. As the diversity of political opinion cannot be accurately replicated within government, there lies a motivation to vote for one of the major parties that have views more similar to one’s own relative to the other major party. Whilst, on a large scale this may not really pose a problem as those are the regular considerations undertaken when voting for any political party, this can be seen as more of an issue in how it affects our personal relationships.
Intolerance is defined as “unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviours that differ from one’s own” (UNA-UK, 2020), and the largely binary divisions of political parties actively encourages this. Due to the competitive aspect of democratic politics, political views, along with their representative politicians and supporters, become divisive within and against each other. Whilst it is inevitable that disagreements will occur, the structure of a binary political system exacerbates these issues, creating a political and social … of “us” vs “them”. Having a political affiliation with a particular party does not only reflect a person’s political views, but also has an obvious association with a person’s beliefs, values and morals. Considering that it is unlikely that the average voter will have extremely rightist or leftist political preferences, the structures of binary politics gives people reason to associate anyone’s party affiliation with the extremist views of their respective parties. With beliefs, values and morals being key to any forms of relationship, it is understandable that political opinions can lead to social division. This is where intolerance makes its claim on the division between social power and political power.
Due to the growing power of social media, and it’s presupposed liberal bias, the idea that some political ideologies are wrong (particularly more conservative beliefs) and that those who subscribe to them are not to be treated with due respect has become widespread. For example, in an interview with Martin Daubney of the Brexit Party, Emily Hewertson who is the face of the Young Conservatives, retells her experience of “people commenting on her looks” and being “scared of the online abuse”, from publicly associating herself with the Conservative party (Leading Edge Channel, 2019). So, although those with liberal views are more closely aligned with acceptance and inclusion, it can be argued that “liberals’ unique traits and worldviews on prejudice are swamped by a simple fact of humanity: We like people similar to us” (Hudson, 2017). Whilst, it can be argued that political opinions do reflect certain personal dispositions, and it is not wrong to call these out when one disagrees, the imposition of the strict labels: liberals vs conservatives, has shifted the motive from constructive criticism and debate to the discourteous defeat of a ‘political enemy’.
Whilst liberal views may have more standing on social media and in younger people, with only 13% of ‘young people’ being willing to vote conservative (Channel 4 News, 2019), it seems as though democratic results are pointing further towards conservatism. Particularly surprising in the recent 2019 UK election was the shifting of traditionally labour constituencies, with histories aligned to working-class mining communities, to conservative. An example being Bolsover in Derbyshire which had voted labour since it was created as a constituency in 1950 (BBC, 2019). Behind the scenes of these countries ‘leaning more conservatively’, there also seems to be an emerging divide between the political left and right, with some voting as an act of opposition towards particular political values. Steven Greenburg even claims that “one of the biggest predictors of voting for Trump after party affiliation was the rejection of political correctness” (political correctness being understood as a relatively liberal ideal) (Hudson, 2017). Furthermore, the popular Netflix documentary ‘the Social Dilemma’ clearly illustrates how social media can further divide political preferences within the public, by providing different sets of information to those with different political ideologies. Rashida Richardson summarises this as “We all simply are operating on a different set of facts. When that happens at scale, you’re no longer able to reckon with or even consume information that contradicts with that worldview you’ve created” (The Social Dilemma, 2020). The imposition of competition between political orientations can also influence more extremist dispositions, as politics is no longer seen as a representation of beliefs but a battle of beliefs. This is exacerbated by social media which, in an attempt to keep the user on the app, may advertise or present the user with extremist content, if data on customers of a similar background has shown that this extremist content will keep the user engaged.
At this point, it is easy to feel hopeless at any idea of social cohesion. The key, in my humble opinion, is to look past the structures we were reared in. The structures of opposition, competition and hatred. It is not only easy, but rational, to continue to allow our lives to be ruled by the structures that we are indoctrinated in, but I implore you to take on the personal cost of letting your thoughts and beliefs exist outside of them. See the humanity in spectral politics rather than the security of its binary form.
Channel 4 News (2019). Meet the Young Tories helping to decide the UK’s next leader. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSDOl1lDGNg (Accessed: 27 October 2020)
Hewertson, E. (2019). Interviewed by Martin Daubney for Leading Edge Channel, 30 September 2019. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmCmFFylXao (Accessed: 27 October 2020)
Hutson, M. (2017). ‘Why Liberals Aren’t as Tolerant as They Think’, Politico Magazine, 9 May. Available at: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/09/why-liberals-arent-as-tolerant-as-they-think-215114 (Accessed: 27 October 2020)
The Electoral Commission (2020) Registrations. Available at: http://search.electoralcommission.org.uk/Search/Registrations (Accessed: 27 October 2020)
The Social Dilemma. (2020). [Online]. Directed by Jeff Orlowski. United States: Exposure Labs, Argent Pictures, The Space Program (Viewed: 13 October 2020). Available from Netflix.
UNA-UK (2020) International Day for Tolerance Factsheet. Available at: https://www.una.org.uk/tolerance-factsheet (Accessed: 13 November 2020)
Wainwright, D. (2019). ‘General Election 2019: How Labour’s ‘red wall’ turned blue’, BBC, 13 December. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50771014 (Accessed: 27 October 2020)