Party Politics And Party Whips
Claim: “Party Politics means people are told what to think from the top, instead of listening to the electorate.”
– Nothing like that happens. A “party” is simply a group of shared individuals who have enough in common to pool their resources and get things done. Members are still individuals and still work for the people who elect them – they are simply empowered by the group to get things done in a way that, as an individual, they never would be. I have never encountered any instance of a “top down command” from party HQ. Sometimes they ask for support, as they did with the Council Tax Freeze, but as you can see – councils can and do completely ignore that if they want to.
Claim: “Party Whips prevent politicians from voting for the best interests of their electorate”
– They don’t. The purpose of a Party Whip is to keep discipline within a political group. This is because people find it unedifying when members of a political group bicker in public and because Council meetings have limited timespans which are best used debating key issues from all sides. Political groups come to the public meetings with their more frivolous arguments and weaker positions already debated – often furiously – and the main groups then present whatever position has been distilled from that. In the unusual event that a member of a group simply cannot agree a group position they have a number of options to abstain or vote against the group – these exceptions are usually; if the matter is an issue of strong personal conscience, if the matter is one directly pertaining to their ward or electorate, if they have asked permission of the leader and group whip due to some other circumstance. This allows a very wide sert of circumstances to support the electorate if the politician doesn’t think the position is right and covers virtually any situation that might arise.
Claim: “Parties are too political, unlike Independents who are not.”
– Ideologically speaking – there is no such thing as a “Independent.” Everybody has policy positions and views. If in doubt, challenge your “Independent” candidate on some of those Big Ticket key items which cause a lot of debate. You’ll quickly see they are every bit as “political” as everybody else. Often, Independents are just people who belonged to a party which struggled to get elected in an area, or who have fallen out with their party. This is why you will see “Independents” often form groups within councils. In Britain you actually vote for the Individual, not the party. So vote for the individual – and use the party as a guide! You know what each of the parties stand for so you have a good idea what you are getting, but by all means ask them Big Questions too. It doesn’t take long to work out who is what.
Claim: Parties always end up bickering with each other.
– First of all, one man’s bickering is another man’s debate. You can’t simultaneously have the clash of ideas, challenge and debate alongside everybody agreeing with one another about everything. Let me tell you – when everybody agrees with each other in politics something has gone badly wrong! But political groups don’t create *more* bickering, they create less. The final debate between groups is between those Big Ideas which have survived the in-group discussions. People get a chance to thrash out and discard weak positions, to debate issues at length, and then come with their group’s position in a (mostly) united way.
Most of what people believe about Party Whips is urban legend – created by a minority of people who benefit from suspicion of such things. I have been subject, nominally, to a party whip for many years and I’ve never been forced to vote for something I thought was morally wrong. Occasionally I’ve voted for something I disagreed with – but always after a long and fair debate in which I was allowed to make my case but in which I ultimately lost the argument. This is not a bad thing – this is sensible and adult democracy.
Quite often issues are more complex than they appear but it suits the agenda of certain folk to over-simplify and then shout that simple message to the public with a megaphone. Then they blame the party whip or political groups for supporting whatever “horror” they are simplifying. It’s a surprisingly effective technique, but be wise to it. It is not political groups which are a problem, but deliberate scaremongering and duplicitous manipulation of the public. Individuals are every bit as capable of this as group members are.