Friday, 30 July 2021

When political parties are too old

When any one asks me what I think of the weather or of the Prime Minister, does my answer report anything that I have previously thought ? Probably not ; my past impressions are lost, or obliterated by the very question put to me; and I make bold to invent, on the spur of the moment, a myth about my sentiments on the subject.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)

The great political myth is that political ideologies provide permanent solutions to social and economic problems. The evidence that this may be so is weak and easily challenge, yet over recent decades the myth has grown even stronger.

In one sense we should be surprised that the myth is so strong. When political ideologies are applied to practical matters there has to be some corresponding assumption that human behaviour is predictable. Plus of course, a related assumption that political ideologies can be used to predict the future trajectory of social and economic trends. Neither is plausible yet the myth grows, in part because these key assumptions are not made explicit.

As Santayana said, there is a fleeting, transient aspect to our responses to many subjects and situations. We have a general ability to respond to political questions in transient ways too. Elections rely on transient interest plus the groove of habitual responses. The combination is destructive, ensuring that we do not generally analyse our own voting habits, which in turn ensures that those same habits remain unchallenged for decades. 

Political parties and their ideologies grow old and decrepit but still we do nothing. Parties cannot even respond rationally to blatant political insanity fermenting away on their own fringes. Cannot deal with it. Cannot even respond to the slow failure of a dynamic, constructive culture which brought us previously unimaginable levels of freedom and prosperity. 

A good example here in the UK is how we vote for the same tired old political parties which have quite obviously been captured by a senile establishment and are quite obviously well past the point when they should be consigned to the past. We need new parties but we won’t get them because voters won’t vote for them.

At the point when the cross goes against the chosen candidate, which in reality is the chosen political party, I make bold to invent, on the spur of the moment, a myth about my sentiments on the subject. That myth keeps old and inadequate political parties going for decades beyond their use-by date. It will not end well.


DiscoveredJoys said...

I'll add my opinions...

Labour is dying (and perhaps dead) because they have achieved big improvements for the working man in the past but don't know what to do and who to support any longer.

The Conservatives generally manage to hang on and bounce back when they pivot on major policy issues. The Corn Laws repeal, attitudes toward the NHS, joining the EC, Brexit.

The Lib Dems are failing because they offer voters what they want locally but impose 'worthy' policies nationally.

Parties like the SNP are losing traction as 'independence' is seen as not such a good thing.

...and as long as one 'big' party is in power (sometimes Labour, sometimes Conservatives) the opposition is formed against that big party rather than giving room for new parties. UKIP came close to breaking though but Brexit ended their path to success.

djc said...

I am sure I have sais it before, if not here, elsewhere:

Parties form around things that are fundamentally divisive —too big to ignore— overriding other attachments or predispositions. They endure after the originating cause has been settled, appealing to loyalty and that past 'noble cause'. Which perhaps doesn't matter much when the dust has settled and ordinary life carries on. The danger comes when the fanatics start creating a new cause while normal people are too somnolent to resist

Scrobs. said...

Best thing to do is to have a party made up of 'don't knows', and a box saying 'none of the above' on the sheet, so we can all get a bit of the action!

As has been shown in the bent US election, the only people who seem to do any work, are the grey suits behind the closed doors!

A K Haart said...

DJ - it's rather like a kind of good cop/bad cop politics where there are only ever two options and they swap round every now and then. Almost as if it was designed that way. The Tories seem to have twigged that it is possible to become okay cop as well. We'll see, but grievance has deep roots and Labour is all about grievance.

djc - yes parties are fundamentally divisive. Like brands which have distinguish themselves from other, virtually identical brands. Yet as you say, the danger comes from the fanatics. As always of course.

Scrobs - if the grey suits came out from behind those closed doors we may be better off. Unless they come out because we can't do anything about it of course.