But the transformation of both parties is not just about brutal language. Like their U.S. equivalents, the British parties were once broad movements with links to real institutions that mattered to people, institutions such as trade unions and church groups that offered not just political participation but also an identity. As the power of those real institutions faded — as identity became a thing people increasingly found online — the mainstream parties became hollow vehicles for politicians to gain power. In an information landscape increasingly governed by algorithms that favor anger and extremism, it was a short step from there to their capture by angry, extremist minorities.
The question now is whether something as amorphous as an “Independent” group can attract the voters left politically homeless by these changes. In the short term, given the British government’s tiny minority, it might be possible to create a centrist block whose votes have to be secured if the ruling party wants to pass any legislation. In the longer term, as in the United States, Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a centrist party to make any headway at the polls.
The bigger question is whether there is something that can replace the modern, all-purpose political party.