On a grey day in June, the Peckham-born actor John Boyega fought back tears as he addressed a charged crowd in Hyde Park.
Black lives have always mattered,’ he said, his impassioned words amplified through a megaphone to the thousands of demonstrators protesting against the murder of George Floyd. ‘We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain’t waiting.’ Supporters punched the air and clamoured in agreement; many filmed him on their phones. In the sea of placards, he would have seen emotive messages. ‘The UK is not innocent’, read one. ‘White silence = black death’ the stark declaration of another.
To say the least, 2020 has been a turbulent year. As the world has gone to hell in a handcart many people have risen — and called into doubt the very fundamentals of a political system they feel excludes them. From BLM to the anti-mask brigade gathering in Whitehall, it has been a year of people making their voices heard. Meanwhile the ‘culture war’ — over statues, free speech and no-platforming — has ignited existing tensions between left and right, and turned Twitter into even more of a cesspit than usual.
Against this fractured backdrop new political parties are emerging, putting their malaise where their mouth is and registering with the Electoral Commission. In order to become an official political party you’ll have to agree to comply with the rules and restrictions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which include picking an ‘appropriate’ name (no obscenities, please) and providing a constitution, including the new party’s ‘aims and objectives’; its structure and candidate-selection process; and how the members (if you have any) will be governed. You’ll also need to fork out £150 and pick a leader and treasurer.
That’s the procedural bit. But what about the heart and minds stuff: will any of these new kids on the block actually change the electoral map? Strictly, we’d need an election or a by-election, at least, to see that. But what’s undeniable is that there is an emerging political class that wants to stick it to Whitehall. So meet the new names you might be seeing on ballot papers in London in the not-too-distant future.
As sloganeering goes, you don’t get much clearer than ‘bring down the Government’. That’s the Pepto-Bismol banner that appears on Burning Pink’s website — its logo is a heart licked by flames — and it sums up what these radicals, brought together this summer by Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, want. Shocking pink, shock tactics: for its launch, activists shoplifted trolleys full of groceries from a Sainsbury’s in Camden to highlight the instability of global food supplies due to climate change and poor political leadership.
You can probably guess where it stands on mainstream politics. ‘BP’, as it’s known, accuses the four main parties of treason over ‘climate f***ery’, and in August threw pink paint and broke windows at their HQs. ‘The present system is incapable of change so there needs to be mass political disruption,’ reads a post on its website. It registered with the Electoral Commission last month and its constitution, or The Revolution Manual, calls on members to replace government with citizens’ assemblies so we ‘avoid being totally f***ed’.
‘I know we’ll be seen as a culture wars Ukip,’ says dynastic luvvie turned professional provocateur, Laurence Fox, who announced the launch of his new political party, Reclaim, last month to a volley of headlines after making the (unchecked) claim that he had already received £5 million in funding. In the party’s short lifespan, Fox has already been threatened with legal action by a youth charity with the same name. Still, onwards and upwards. The 42-year-old says he set up the party to ‘reclaim’ British values from the politicians who have ‘lost touch with the British people’. There’s no published manifesto yet but Fox is anti-‘woke’ culture, pro-defunding the BBC and reckons face masks are ‘claustrophobic and dehumanising’. He’s no friend of either the PM or his opposite number, calling the Government’s approach to the pandemic ‘fence-sitting’ and criticising Sir Keir Starmer for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement after the Labour leader took the knee in solidarity this summer. Fox sums up Reclaim as a ‘new political movement which promises to make our future a shared endeavour, not a divisive one’.
Take The Initiative Party
‘Stand for something or fall for anything,’ says Britain’s newest political party, formed this summer in the wake of the global BLM protests, designed to be a sanctuary for the ‘politically homeless’.
It reckons the current lot are ‘career politicians who are failing to tackle crucial issues’ because they’re too busy bickering, and want candidates who really represent the communities they’re from, ‘winning seats to create a parliament that actually looks like the society it leads’. It’s community-driven action with a flat hierarchy: instead of a single leader, TTIP will be headed up by a coalition of 25 ‘executive leaders’ who will be named this month. It wants attention paid urgently to housing, education, benefits, taxation and knife crime, and its manifesto rests on the three Es: education, entrepreneurship, empowerment. ‘We want to be a new voice on the political stage to channel local knowledge and expertise, to come up with creative solutions and to make sure that resources go where they are needed most.’
Remember Change UK? Renew might be described as its heir apparent: a pro-Europe centrist party set up following the EU referendum in order to ‘tackle the UK’s poisonous political culture head on’. Unlike Change UK its leader, co-founder James Clarke — an LSE-educated former Silicon Roundabout consultant who stood as an independent candidate in Bermondsey and Old Southwark in 2017 — is aiming for a little longevity. The party’s battle cry? The old charge that modern politics is broken. It’s inspired by En Marche!, the movement that swept Emmanuel Macron to France’s Elysée Palace in 2017 with a similar call (albeit in French). Policy-wise Renew is pretty Centrist Dad: it wants MPs to answer to voters not Whips, reform of the prison system, investment in renewable energy and, of course, a closer relationship with the EU. It fielded candidates in the 2018 and 2019 elections and now has 37 prospective ones in London, waiting to be put into battle. The plan for the next election? ‘To take on the major parties as equals.’
The Alternative UK
Billing itself as a ‘political platform, not a political party’, The Alternative UK, formed in 2017, argues our current political deficiencies are down to a lack of imagination, and calls for collective action to force a ‘friendly revolution’. This is slow politics — ‘Through curation, editorial, public events, commissioning and research, we aim to transform the language and practice of politics on these islands,’ reads the mission statement on its website. It’s a friend of Extinction Rebellion, supports BLM and was inspired by — and is associated with — Alternativet, a Danish green party founded in 2013 that is now the Scandinavian nation’s fastest-growing political party.
While it avoids overt commentary on the Government’s handling of the pandemic, The Alternative UK has praised the mutual-aid networks that arose in lockdown and calls for more community action to take up the causes of injustice and inequality. Its manifesto is a collaboration in progress: members are invited to ‘design democracy’ and ‘share learning’ through members-only forums. Others rep the brand in The Alternative UK’s face masks.