Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Can parties which contain a mix of views win elections?

It is received wisdom that people do not vote for divided parties.

Indeed, it is also received wisdom that there is a disconnect between what people say they want and how they actually vote on this subject.

People certainly say they want political leaders with minds of their own, not robots who, in the words Gilbert put into the mouth of Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore,

"Always voted at my party's call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all."

And yet there is a perception that if a party's MPs don't act like robots it means that the party is in trouble and more likely to lose an election. Certainly the opposition will shout about it.

Had it not been for the total disarray in the Labour party, it is fairly likely that both they and the press would have made a lot more fuss about the fact that the Conservative party has had to delay several key votes since the election because of disagreements on the Conservative side, one or two on quite important issues such as

* English Votes for English Laws (though that comes back this week)
* A British Bill of rights
* the promised free vote on whether to repeal the ban on hunting foxes with dogs

It also means that the government is having to tread very carefully indeed on whether to ask parliament for the authority to start air strikes against DA'ESH (the self-styled "Islamic State") in Syria, and on tax credits, where some Conservatives are providing a far more effective opposition to George Osborne than Labour is.

But let's pause for a moment.

If it means that the government is having to work hard to build a greater measure of consensus on these important and controversial issues and spend more time on the details of the legislation to get them right - is that really a bad thing for the country?

As a small-government Conservative who does not believe in constantly forcing as much new law as possible through the parliamentary sausage machine, even one who is broadly supportive of the government line on all the issues above, I have no hesitation in answering: absolutely not.

And if it is good for the country to take a second look at these things, why is everyone convinced it must always be bad for the party?

If you will excuse a couple of quotes within a quote, two journalists and an academic challenged this received wisdom yesterday

This is John Rentoul in his daily catch-up:

"Another fine column by Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times today. "Labour could become a play that nobody wants to watch," he says.

Politics is full of truisms that are not actually true. A week is not a long time in politics; much more stays the same than changes. People do not vote for hope and vision, but for the lesser evil. And nobody really minds a divided party. Division, managed properly, can convey vitality while draining opponents of a reason to exist. There is no solace for Labour in the Tories’ coming strife.

Professor Tim Bale ‏agrees with him: "If anyone can show me research which proves division harms parties' electoral chances, there's a prize."

They have a key point. Surely the key thing which puts off voters is not that parties are open to more than one monolithic view, have minds of their own, and have debates about the best thing to do.

It is if they cannot responsibly manage their disagreements, and degenerate into civil war or fighting like ferrets in a sack, in a way which disrupts the process of government (or would if they were in office) which is a problem. 

3 comments:

Jim said...

I don't see it as a problem, the tory party currently has a split over the EU, and well, they were recently elected.

Though I dont think "party unity" works as well as a candidate who will fight the will of their own constituents. To me I don't vote for a party (in general, though last time I did, as I wanted my referendum) but in general, i would vote for the person most likely to represent ME and my views in the HOC.

its one of the reasons we have demand 3, separation of powers

also takes place in the last chapter of Flexcit.

Jim said...

Though I could be in the minority. I remember when I was living on Mirehouse a woman saying to her son (who had not long turned 18) " I really don't care who you vote for, its up to, I don't mind at all, just make sure you vote Labour" He did actually ask who is the candidate, she said "the one with labour beside the name, you will see it when you get there son".

So in a way I guess I am a minority, if that really is how life is.

Chris Whiteside said...

Received wisdom is that you are in the minority, but Janan Ganesh and John Rentoul are challenging it, and Professor Tim Bale has offered a prize for anyone who can produce research which backs the received wisdom up (the inference being that he also has grave doubts about whether it matches reality.)