Why the Republican Party is a spider, but the Tea Party is a starfish

(And why the Tea Party has more in common with Al Qaeda than it thinks.)

The Tea Party has more in common with Al Qaeda than it would like to think. Both are of an extremely religious bent. Both hate Barack Obama. And both are starfish organisations - at least according to Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal..

Rauch uses Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom's model of the spider and the starfish and applies it to the relationship between the Republican Party and its troublesome base movement. Spider organisations, Brafman and Beckstrom argue are:

"centralized and have clear organs and structure. You know who is in charge. You see them coming."

The Republican Party is pretty much a spider organisation, with established means of fundraising and a centralised bureaucracy. Starfish organisations on the other hand:

"tend to organize around a shared ideology or a simple platform for communication - around ideologies, like al Qaeda or Alcoholics Anonymous. They arise rapidly around the simplest ideas or platforms. Ideas or platforms that can be easily duplicated. Once they arrive they can be massively disruptive and are here to stay, for good or bad. And the Internet can help them flourish."

Sound familiar? The Tea Party movement is undoubtedly a starfish organisation. It has a basic, shared ideology (very conservative, very Christian). It has used the internet, particularly social media, to spread its message - and it has caused massive disruption for the Republican Party. Just watch Karl Rove's tetchy interview with Sean Hannity about the Tea Party's latest success, Christine O'Donnell, to see how the Tea Party is affecting the Republican establishment.

Starfish organisations have the upper hand today, argue Brafman and Beckstrom - and the Tea Party's recent successes certainly backs this up. Watch the video below for Rauch's explanation.

 

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.