Third time lucky? The political revival of Alan Sked
As a Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, Alan Sked isn’t the typical figure one would imagine founding a political party. However, Sked is now preparing to found his third Eurosceptic political party, the New Deal Party.
In 1991 Sked formed the Anti-Federalist League to oppose the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Whilst admittedly the League was more a cross-party organisation than a political party in its own right, it still fielded a handful of candidates in the 1992 General Election.
After failing to get more than 0.1% of the vote in 1992, Sked went on to form the United Kingdom Independence Party in 1993, with many activists from the Anti-Federalist League joining him. After failing to win any seats and receiving 0.3% of the vote in the 1997 General Election, Sked left UKIP stating that it had been infiltrated by the extreme right and that the Party was, “doomed to remain on the political fringes”. So now that Sked is planning to launch New Deal as a new Eurosceptic party, what do we know about it?
Sked has made clear that the New Deal Party will be on the centre-left of the political spectrum, the opposite of UKIP. Speaking to Andrew Neil on the BBC, Sked has articulated that he envisages a “pincer strategy” where New Deal presses Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the left whilst UKIP press the Conservatives on the right. But how realistic an ambition is this?
The idea of a left wing Eurosceptic party to increase pressure on Labour does have some merit. Whilst in recent years the Labour Party has been staunchly pro-European, we should consider the years before Blair moved the Labour Party into the centre. Pre-New Labour Eurosceptic MPs, such as Tony Benn and Peter Shore, demonstrate that there is as much capacity for Euroscepticism on the left as there is on the right.
Theoretically speaking, New Deal could take advantage of the vacuum on the left of a Eurosceptic party as Sked intends.
Practically speaking however, this is unlikely to work. Whilst Sked is undoubtedly a brilliant academic, this does not necessarily translate into political nous. As we have seen before Sked has only received 0.1% and 0.3% of the votes in 1992 and 1997, being sidelined in 1997 by the more popular Referendum Party. If New Deal were to field candidates in 2015, they would be sidelined by UKIP, which is sure to monopolise both the Eurosceptic vote and the protest vote.
Sked has also said his party will not contest European elections as he believes it to be hypocritical. He argued against participating in European elections whilst leading UKIP, which, as we have seen has used the European Parliament as a means to increase their media profile and break into the electorate’s consciousness. Along with local council seats, European seats give UKIP a base from which to launch campaigns for Westminster seats. The New Deal Party would lose these opportunities by boycotting the European Parliament elections.
Furthermore, political leaders need to be able to convince the electorate they are in touch with popular opinion, and that they are ‘one of them’. Farage cultivates this image with visits to the pub and his candid language, successfully portraying himself as “a bloke you could have a drink with”. Sked’s intellectual nature would, unjustly, portray him as indifferent and aloof thereby alienating the electorate.
Lastly, whilst there is a vacuum of a major political party on the left since New Labour, there are already parties which draw support from the left wing protest vote. The Green Party and Respect are already well established in this area of the political spectrum, both with one MP in Parliament and with household names such as Caroline Lucas and George Galloway. As such, it would be difficult for Sked to compete with these parties.
To conclude, Sked would do better to campaign for his Eurosceptic cause from a politically neutral and academic standpoint rather than launch a new political party. Even if he were successful, New Deal would split the Eurosceptic vote and prevent a potential UKIP breakthrough in a handful of Westminster seats. Whilst we must wait two years to see if UKIP truly is, “doomed to remain on the political fringes”, it is already clear that any new Eurosceptic party, such as New Deal, is.