pol partiesAs I attempt to move into the political sector, I am warned that many applications are rejected on the basis of one simple omission: if an applicant does not make explicit reference to the employer’s particular party loyalties, they will not make it through the door. This at once struck me as profoundly unwise. If there is one sure fire way to ensure that your ideals go unchallenged and unchecked, it is to surround yourself exclusively with like-minded individuals. Homogeny precludes reasonable debate, and it is undeniably the bedrock of fanaticism. So what exactly is it that makes this political party system worthwhile?

It seems like every legislative offering our Conservative prime minister has to give is immediately and comprehensively discredited by the Labour party, whilst being conveniently judged at least partially laudable by the Lib Dems. It’s no secret why this happens. As the out-of-power parties undermine those in power, they push the votes in their favour. One would hope that the motivation to win votes would play only a supporting role to a motivation to promote the right course of action. It does, however, seem quite unlikely that each party should fundamentally disagree on every minute methodological detail presented by the others, particularly as they are all currently united in their goal to bring an end to the recession. It seems as if parties disagree with their rivals indiscriminately; as if winning were the only important goal, and this will inevitably cause the public to lose faith in their credibility.

The problem is twofold, with the second vice being more dangerous than the first. The party system allows the voter to glaze over specific values of particular candidates, and vote thoughtlessly for their party of choice every time. The few who will assess policy solely on its own demonstrable merits are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the many who are swayed by simple party bias. Nevertheless, this is not the central failing of the party system. Ultimately, the hands of the MPs themselves are tied. They have no choice but to sacrifice the integrity of their views for loyalty to their party. If they are ever to secure the public vote, they must maintain a united front against the ‘enemy’, with whom they bicker like children. The onlooker cannot know whether an MP is speaking truthfully or strategically, and thus cannot unreservedly trust anything they say at all.

The polemic against the party system practically writes itself. I am halted in my tracks, however, as a suitable replacement alludes me. Political theorist Harold J. Laski says this:

“They distort the issues that they create… They secure, at best, an incomplete and compromising loyalty… They build about persons allegiance which should go to ideas… They build upon the unconscious and they force the judgment of men into the service of their prejudices. Yet when the last criticism of party has been made, the services they render to a democratic state are inestimable.’

Yes, the system allows the public to cast their vote without thinking, but we must accept that some will do this regardless. Better that Joe Bloggs makes an educated (if oversimplified) vote than avoids his civic duty altogether. Furthermore, whilst I have no doubt that the ideals presented by MPs are heavily influenced by the values of their party, it may be quite fortunate that they are. If Westminster is nothing but sound and fury with only a handful of perspectives, what might it be like with over six hundred? By disbanding the party system, we would effectively create a separate party around the views of every individual MP, each with their nuanced differences. Giving every member a voice means allowing them all to speak. It frustrates me that so much political squabbling is just for show, but would it be so much better for it to be genuine?

Propose to me a functional alternative that does not fall prey to the same faults as the party system and I will certainly be listening. For now, however, it is the best we have. To subvert it would be to exacerbate the very issue that its existence presents.

BY: David Salisbury