Features

Tall odds for a new party

A new group of centrists could struggle to survive. Matthew Partridge reports.

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Simon Franks: The driving force behind a new party

Despair with Jeremy Corbyn among many Labour MPs has fuelled "a constant background conversation about the creation of a new party, and that talk has become louder in recent weeks", says Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. At the same time, some "anguished" liberal Tories "express a yearning for a new party". Both groups may be about to get their wish, with "entrepreneurs and philanthropists" rumoured to have "as much as £50m ready to spend" on a new movement.

It's a "massive gamble", but polls show that many Britons aren't keen on "the red-blue duopoly". The project, headed by former Labour benefactor and founder of LoveFilm, Simon Franks, has allegedly had full-time staff members for as long as a year, reports Michael Savage in the same paper.

The precedents aren't encouraging

Successful new parties "are rare beasts in Britain", says The Daily Telegraph. Since 1900, only one new party Labour has reached government. Hopeful centrists look to France's Emmanuel Macron, who created "something from nothing", but Macron was prepared to quit his party and "jump into the unknown".

In the case of the SDP in 1981, "dozens of Labour MPs defected and luminaries like RoyJenkins and Shirley Williams fought and won by-elections to raise the party's profile". Unless "today's disenchanted politicians are prepared to dothe same, all the talk about a new centre party will remain just that: talk".

Unlikely bedfellows

Then there's the fact that most of the likely defectors are "people you would struggle to imagine sharing a party", says Stephen Daisley in The Spectator. It's hard, for instance, to imagine an alliance between a social democrat like Liz Kendall, "who believes in redistribution, the welfare state and trade unions", and someone like George Osborne, who favours "low taxes, light-touch regulation and who put the country through six years of punishing austerity".

Overall, a Centre Party would lack "the spirit that brings disparate people together in a common purpose, sustains them through sharp disagreements, and gives them the strength to get back up again after a stinging defeat".

Indeed, the SDP should serve as a warning, since its only achievement was "to split the centre-left vote and entrench Margaret Thatcher in office", says Matthew Norman in The Independent. Besides, if there really were "a ravenous appetite for an alternative, would the Liberal Democrats, led by the popular Vince Cable, be doing so badly"? The other issue is that most Labour voters who dislike Corbyn are, on the whole, Leavers not Remainers, says Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. It is hard to see "how this new, anti-Brexit party becomes the defaultsecond home for these votes".

Pay gap disclosure spurs debate

With the passing of the 4 April disclosure deadline, a clearer picture of the gender pay gap is emerging, says The Guardian. About 78% of companies report a median-wage disparity in favour of men, with an overall pay gap of 18.4%. Seeing the scale of the problem should "make it impossible to ignore". Theresa May has called it a "burning injustice" and promised further action, but effective change will necessitate "sustained public and political pressure".

This misses the point, says Zoe Strimpel in The Daily Telegraph. Paying women less than men for the same job has "been illegal" since 1970. All that the figures reveal is that there are "more men in higher paying roles than women". The reasons for this are "almost too varied and complicated to outline... let alone in an average figure for median hourly pay". The fact remains that "nearly 50 years on from the Equal Pay Act, women are freer than ever to make unconstrained choices".

This means that "the pay gap should melt in accordance with women's choices", not in response to government edict. Forcing employers to disclose average wages "bluntly compares employees' pay without accounting for their differing roles", agrees The Economist. It may even "create perverse incentives", as firms try to look better by outsourcing low-paid jobs done by women. However, the new rules are provoking a useful discussion about pay disparities, and wage transparency is a good thing. It helps the labour market to become more efficient, as workers and employers are able to find the jobs or employees that suit them best.

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