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The Labour party conference vote to make the deselection of MPs easier — not going as far as some of the Momentum hotheads would wish, but still proceeding in that direction — also makes a Labour split more likely. If MPs will be deselected anyway and the party cannot be recaptured, what is the case for more moderate MPs not leaving a party led by someone they believe would be a disastrous Prime Minister? The lessons of 1981 then become irrelevant as there is not the option of staying and fighting. Frank Field and John Woodcock will surely not be the last Labour MPs to leave their party this year or early next year.

In his new book, out this month, Start Again: How We Can Fix Our Broken Politics (4th Estate, £9.99), Times columnist and former Blair speechwriter Philip Collins make the case for a new centre party, the Common Wealth Party. Whether more MPs leave Labour is not the question: some certainly will. The question is whether a new significant centre party — or indeed a new social democratic, rather than Corbynista, Labour Party — will emerge.

One of the problems for new parties in the past has been funding, yet that will not be an issue this time. There are enough very wealthy men — and they are almost always men — who would be willing to fund both a “clean Brexit” party and a new centrist party. It is easy to visualise either such entity raising tens of millions to fight an election campaign.

Where new parties emerging now are at a distinct disadvantage, compared to the 1980s, is that by-elections, which provided the oxygen for the rise of the SDP in the 1980s, have become rarer, especially in Conservative-held seats: no Conservative MP has died in office since 2006 and by-elections in Tory-held seats for other reasons have also been rare.

It is more likely than not that our current party system will survive, with just a few Labour MPs peeling off and some Tories sitting as independents, depending on which way Brexit goes. Yet there is a possibility that this autumn will see the start of a re-alignment of British politics.
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