We hear much from the media about the fractious nature of the Coalition Government, tensions existing between Cameron and Clegg and so on, but to my mind, it isn’t the Government that is failing, but rather our electoral system and the political parties that it necessitates.
Having been a member of both of our governing parties, I concluded a long time ago that it is the parties themselves – not least the Tories – that are very unhappy coalitions of people with wildly different opinions, held together for purely electoral reasons.
Who honestly believes that Ken Clarke and Sir George Young belong in the same party as Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Patterson? What on earth do they share in common? One could ask much the same question about any number of parliamentarians in the other major parties, although Labour and Liberal policy splits are not always as apparent on the front bench.
So what is it then that holds the parties together? Leaders often speak in broad brush terms about their party’s principles and, in the case of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, there are at least some core beliefs espoused in their constitutions. But what about the Tories? What do they stand for?
If you turn to Part One of the Conservative Party constitution, titled ‘Name, Purpose, Objects and Values’ one would hope to find a statement of belief that holds the party together. What it actually says is:
“Its purpose is to sustain and promote within the Nation the objects and values of the Conservative Party.”
That’s it. Nothing more, certainly no citation of those objects and values. But that is probably just as well given that the Conservative Party leadership in the last forty years has:
- been both solidly pro and rabidly anti Europe
- nationalised and privatised key industries
- passionately supported the NHS and been skeptical of ‘socialised healthcare’
- introduced both Section 28 and equal marriage
- promoted home ownership and increased stamp duty on house sales
- created both the national curriculum and academies and free schools which don’t need to follow it
To support all of those policy swings, one would have to be politically schizophrenic.
The irony of the Conservative Party is that it has no core beliefs which members and parliamentarians sign up to. Instead Tory ‘principles’ are set by (and often change with) the leader of the Party. But that must make it a very unhappy place if you are hold markedly different views to the current leadership – just ask Peter Bone MP and the oft cited Mrs Bone!
So what then does hold the Conservative Party together? I can only conclude that it is a mixture of tribal loyalty and rampant electoral opportunism. But is that really the right way to run British politics? And let’s face it, the other parties work on a similar basis (contrast Labour’s 1983 and 2001 manifestos for proof).
I was in favour of the move to change our electoral system two years ago. I never thought AV was the panacea, but I did feel it could shift us towards a more proportional system of representation. More importantly though it would begin a more fundamental change, where we reexamine the whole nature of our current party system.
I know people in all three major parties who share similar beliefs to me and yet tribal loyalty and the electoral system prevents us from getting together to form a party which reflects those shared principles and offering a real choice to the voters. Hopefully one day we will see a move to fairer voting and a realignment of parties that have genuine cohesion. Until then we will remain in our very unhappy coalitions.