This might come across as a little hypocritical from someone who is an active member of a political party, but I don’t much like party politics.
It just seems to me that the idea of ganging up isn’t the best way to start intelligent discussion on how best to govern our country and all too often we see representatives, candidates, activists and supporters engaged in little better than playground bun-fights when they should be looking for ways to work together.
The party system engenders tribalism where being a member or supporter of a party becomes part of someone’s identity and they can’t imagine thinking or voting against the party line. In my eyes, this is deeply unhealthy, because political parties are not static and do not stand for the same things over time – not least because the world is not static and issues change, party leaderships steer parties in new directions and so on.
For example, few could argue that the Labour party is a very different beast now to what it was before Tony Blair or that the Conservatives were much changed by Thatcher, to the point that the modern Labour party has more in common with the Conservatives of the 1960s or 70s than it does with it’s own predecessor which surely leaves long term Labour supporters in a difficult spot.
I may be an active member of the Scottish Green Party, but that is because that party lies closest to my political beliefs at this time and I have been impressed with how democracy is exercised within the party, while other parties seem to be intensely hierarchal with parliamentary party and leadership very distant from the grass roots in terms of decision making.
However, my loyalty to the Greens is not unquestioning. Should the party move away from its strict internal democracy and/or embrace policies that I cannot support then I will leave and not look back. I might join another party or become a non-partisan activist. I might even revert to the political apathy which characterised my twenties.
Of course, I don’t expect any of this to come to pass, just like you don’t make any commitment which you feel will be unreciprocated but the fact remains that I am not fixed in my loyalties.
To often, party politics leads to power being the sole aim and an end in itself, rather than a means of enacting positive change as believed in by the party’s supporters and earnest activists.
When the leadership of a party realises that their tribal support will follow them irrespective of their actual actions and that there are tangible benefits to fudging values and promises to appease powerful interests or merely gain and maintain power in itself, then they can quickly deviate from the interests of their supporters, especially when those supporters are drawn from the most vulnerable.
The standout example of this has to be the Soviet Communist regime under Stalin, where the concept of the ‘people’s party’ became a bureaucratic machine which led to millions of deaths, forced deportations and a complete lack of democracy.
A more modern example would be the Liberal Democrats accepting token power in exchange for supporting conservative austerity measures in coalition, rather than forcing them into a minority government and demanding concessions on an issue by issue basis – such as on student tuition fees which had been a core manifesto promise of theirs.
That same decision has reduced the UK to a nation without a functioning legislative government as the coalition partners dig their heels in ahead of the election in May. Arguing for political advantage, not the nation’s best interests.
What’s my point?
Don’t be loyal to your party just because it’s your party. It’s not your football team or your sibling, but an artificial entity that should only exist to further the political aims of its members and supporters. If your party has slid away from those values in the interest of gaining or maintaining power for its own sake then it has forfeited its right to your support.
At the same time, supporters of other parties are not enemies to be defeated like an opposing army but merely folks like yourself who are trying to achieve a better future, even if you disagree with some or all of their views on what that means.
Don’t get hung up on the colour of people’s rosettes because life and politics is best served by trying to work together, not choosing camps and plotting wars…