By Patrick Harrington
Two of the establishment parties have a clear social base; Labour and Tory know where their best results can be expected. The Liberal Democrats in contrast have suffered at General Elections due to an absence of such a clearly defined base (with the exception of some rural areas where an essentially “independent” tradition prevails — for example the Scottish Borders and the West Country).
It is my contention that for Third Way to grow it must identify and build a particularly strong relationship with a specific social sector. Do we have a social sector which would find our policies particularly appealing? I believe we do….
Our natural economic base are small businessmen and the self-employed. We recognise that they are effectively unrepresented under the current system. The Conservatives favour big business interests wherever there is a conflict between them and small businesses; while Labour still tend toward excessive bureaucracy and institutionalised ‘labour’ interests.
In addition, as the sociologist Martin Trow pointed out, the very nature of our economic system is likely to alienate small businessmen who are conscious of their interests :
The tendencies which small businessmen fear — of concentration and centralisation — proceed without interuption in depression, war and prosperity, and irrespective of what party is in power : thus they are always disaffected.
The economic doctrine of Third Way includes an evolved and highly-modified form of distributism. We favour small concerns and as a state would take action to limit unnecessary concentration and centralisation. At present small businessmen are not fully conscious of the fact that their economic interests conflict with the political and economic interests of all the establishment parties. They are generally unaware that there is any credible alternative to these parties.
Third Way has run campaigns aimed at supporting the small shopkeeper in his or her struggle against the big supermarkets. At Christmas time we run “shop local” campaigns which encourage consumers to value their local high street shops and the part they play in building a sense of community. In areas where we have influence, we have opposed the inappropriate development of out-of-town shopping centres. In recent months we have highlighted the unfair competition which shopkeepers have faced from charity shops selling new goods. This is all positive work, and has an immediate effect. We have not asked anyone to wait until we form a government before we offer practical help!
So far, however, our small-business efforts have been largely confined to shopkeepers. We must broaden our campaigns to include other sections of the small-business community. One area in which I am particularly interested is the disadvantages the self-employed face in adequate pension provision.
In many areas small businessmen will be of Asian or Chinese origin. It would therefore be a natural process for Third Way to attract support from amongst these communities. We will need to discuss with new supporters the development and promotion of all our policies, including opposition to further mass-immigration.
In the past, some have argued that the natural constituency of a radical grouping is amongst the most disaffected including many who do not presently vote. My view is that new and small movements require a relatively complex, long-term view of the political process which is unlikely to appeal to this social sector. The disillusioned will not support the movement in large numbers untill after we become a major political force.
The rise of the Poujadists in the 1956 French elections shows what a Party based on the small business sector can acheive. The Poujadists drew support from the same social strata as the movements of the liberal centre. In England this is mainly an area containing what were traditionally regarded as Tory and Liberal Democrat voters. The Poujadists were, however, radical…. and most of their opposition came from the ‘conservative’ social strata. As we gain influence I predict that our opposition will come increasingly not from the ‘left’ but from those on the ‘right’….