By David Binder
Alongside the more established parties, General Elections usually bring their fair share of serious and not so serious smaller parties, and 2015 is no exception. One party making something of a comeback is the Whig Party.
Whilst to some the Whig name will illicit visions of politics of a by gone era, the party under leader Waleed Ghani apparently offers a radical new vision for the 21st century whilst remaining true to it’s progressive roots. To find out more, David Binder talked to Bethnal Green and Bow candidate Alisdair Henderson about the motivation behind the party’s resurrection, their ideology, policy positions and their ambitions are for the future.
About the Whigs
So, the Whigs are back! Who were they again?!
The Whigs are the oldest political party in Britain, appearing around 1678. Over the next 200 years the Whigs were the original progressive force in British politics and the great rivals of the Tories, who defended established interests. There were 16 Whig Prime Ministers and the Whigs championed free trade and individual liberty, abolished slavery, defended the rights of religious minorities, introduced wide-ranging social reforms and extended the vote with the Great Reform Act of 1832, before developing into the Liberal Party in the late 19th Century.
What are the key motivations behind the party’s comeback?
Politics should be exciting, engaging and about big ideas. Yet our current politics is bland at best and based on spin, fear and mistrust at worst. As such, a huge number of people are becoming disillusioned with all the main parties. At the 2010 General Election, the 15.9 million people who didn’t vote made up a significantly larger group than those who voted for any one party. Yet there’s no indication that any of the main parties are trying to reach out to this section of the population, or understand why they didn’t vote last time. We think a major reason is that people aren’t being offered any big vision, any grand idea of what a good society or human flourishing looks like. So the Whigs are back to provide that alternative.
Present and Future Aspirations
Intriguing! So in a nutshell, what exactly is it that the Whigs stand for in 2015?
The Whigs champion equality, liberty, representative democracy, sound economics and a love of country that embraces the future as much as the past.
The Greens, SNP, UKIP, DUP, Plaid etc already exist as established ‘smaller’ parties. Do we really need another player in the mix? If so, what do the whigs offer that the other parties don’t?
In essence, no other national party currently stands in the progressive, Whiggish, space at the centre of British politics. UKIP’s anti-EU and anti-immigration message is contrary to everything Whigs stand for. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are confined to their respective home nations, and want to split up the United Kingdom. The Greens have some good ideas and a bigger vision than the main parties, but their vision often becomes so focussed on the environment that it can become anti-human, and much of their economic thinking is discredited old-style socialism. So we need the Whigs!
Moving onto your 2015 election strategy, what, realistically, would constitute a successful 2015 general election for the Whigs?
Simply getting people interested. My own (probably unrealistic) ambition is to get enough votes in Bethnal Green and Bow to retain my deposit, which is five per cent of the total votes cast. But if I can inspire one single person to get out and vote, who otherwise wouldn’t bother, I’ll have succeeded.
What are the aspirations for the party moving forward?
The Whig Party is all about the long game. After all, we were founded in 1678! Who knows, there may be a second General Election in 2015. There are local elections next year, elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, European elections and then another General Election in 2020. We’re keen to get some momentum going for all of those. We also want to engage young people, particularly, in the democratic process. The under-30s are the group least likely to vote, and we want to change that. If we’re successful, we might have a base of support that will last for many years to come…
Aly Henderson – Candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow
Moving onto you personally Ally, why are you standing for the Whigs? What difference do you think you can make?
I first heard about the Whigs in school history lessons, and I remember thinking I would have been a Whig if I’d been alive in the 19th Century. Like many people, I have been feeling increasingly fed up with the current political scene, but I didn’t want to get cynical and apathetic. One morning last October, when I was thinking about the upcoming 2015 election and getting rather disillusioned about having to choose the ‘least bad’ option from the main parties, I heard Waleed Ghani on the ‘Today’ programme saying he had re-established the Whig party. At first it seemed like a joke, but as he kept talking it became clear not only that he was entirely serious, but that this might well be the fresh political movement I was looking for; not something new, but rather the return of something old. I got involved and signed up to be a candidate because I was inspired by the idea, and I felt if I wasn’t happy with the other choices available I should do something about it!
Although the Whigs aren’t an overtly Christian party, I notice you are. To what extent did your faith motivate you to get involved with the Whigs, and politics more generally?
Well, as a Christian I want to love my neighbour and honour the government (which doesn’t always mean agreeing with it!). In a democracy, where we have the privilege of being able to have direct input into who governs us, I think that means I should vote and get involved in politics. Christians have a distinctive Biblically-informed voice to bear on all kinds of issues, not just a few narrow topics, and in a diverse and free society that voice should be heard. The reason I got involved with the Whigs is I believe many Whig values dovetail with Christian principles. So, for instance, Whigs believe that laws and policies should benefit the most disadvantaged in society as much as the most advantaged, and Whigs believe in freedom of speech and conscience, and building a genuinely tolerant society.
You’re standing in Bow, where you live with your family. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the constituency?
Like everywhere in London, the cost and quality of housing is a major problem. In addition, Bethnal Green and Bow has high rates of youth unemployment. The Muslim community, which has contributed a great deal to this area in recent years, is also having to deal with the threat of radicalisation (perhaps not entirely unconnected to the lack of employment for young people). The Whigs have some sensible suggestions on housing and employment. Whilst there are no easy answers on radicalisation, I do think the Whigs’ combination of a firm commitment to religious freedom and diversity, alongside a love of this country and its institutions, is a good basis for trying to work out some solutions.
Let’s move onto some questions regarding your manifesto. I note with interest that despite being left of centre on many issues, the Whigs are very pro free speech. Can you explain the thinking behind this a bit more?
The Whigs have always been committed to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We believe they are cornerstones of a free society and that all three main parties (even, disappointingly, the Lib Dems) have allowed them to be chipped away at, whether under the guise of counter-terrorism or a clumsy application of the Equality Act 2010. Various recent events, from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris to the conviction of a street preacher in Taunton for quoting the ‘wrong’ verse from Leviticus, have brought home once again the fundamental importance of free speech and the need for constant vigilance in protecting it.
You argue that in 2045 our population will be significantly more aged and that more sophisticated (and expensive) treatments will be available. If both prove to be true, are the Whigs committed to keeping the NHS free at the point of use?
In a word, yes. We believe a National Health Service that meets the needs of everyone, is free at the point of delivery, and is based on clinical need, not ability to pay, is one of the greatest achievements of modern Britain. However, we’re also well aware of the major challenges facing the NHS and believe none of the major parties are being honest about how complicated these may be. We don’t pretend to have the answers ourselves, so in our manifesto we have one simple policy for the NHS. We propose setting up an independent Royal Commission, which would hear evidence and ideas from healthcare staff, patients, managers and others, and then come up with a strategy to make the NHS sustainable for the next 50 years. It would begin with a blank sheet of paper and one fixed principle: that the NHS must be a public service, free at the point of use to everyone who needs it. This would actually take the planning of the NHS away from the constant interfering which politicians are (understandably) tempted to engage in, and lead to a genuinely long-term strategy.
It appears the Whigs are comfortable with running a deficit. If so, can you explain the thinking behind this a bit more and what benefits you think such an economic strategy will bring?
The Whig Party does not believe that eliminating the deficit as quickly as possible should be Britain’s primary economic focus.
Although it is of course important to eliminate the deficit at some point, a Government will not eliminate the deficit by concentrating solely on reducing it through cuts. Our primary focus ought to be on increasing productivity and government investment, to increase tax receipts. This will reduce the deficit in due course and in a long-term, sustainable way.
The condescending analogy often given is that the Government needs to pay down the deficit as if it were a household credit card. The analogy only works if the credit card holder were immortal, the world’s sixth richest entity, and the card had a 0.5 per cent APR. A more accurate analogy would be a householder who has arbitrarily decided to pay off his mortgage within five years, and has stopped feeding his children to do so!