Is party politics broken beyond repair?

My day job leads me to consider the flaws with our political and electoral systems, and consider how we might address those flaws, encourage participation, improve representation and so forth. I enjoy my job massively, and mostly because having worked in the third sector for a number of years and been an interested observer for many more, I firmly believe that the way politics works at the moment it is not delivering either what the majority of people want or what they need or what is best for the long term sustainability of the planet, society, sanity or humanity. 

But sometimes I just despair at how slowly others are catching up with this conception of how the system is designed to thwart the influence or expression of interest or actually improving the lives of most of us. 

The way our political parties control their representatives means that even if you elect someone you have respect for, they will undoubtedly ‘tow the party line’ when it really matters. The way the party system works means that a few elite members will silence any dissent from the ‘membership’ and ensure the ‘party message’ is religiously adhered to.

And what decides that ‘party message’? A combination of party policy wonks, who often have no experience of work outside the party machine – or certainly outside of the political sphere – and lobbyists. Now you might think that’s okay, lobbyists from across the spectrum and across sectors should be able to speak to party policy wonks with a view to influencing party policy. Absolutely. But that isn’t how it works. 

Public affairs companies have essentially privatised lobbying. It is no longer about interest groups seeking to present their extensively thought through arguments about reform. It’s about mega-national companies paying another mega-company to ‘represent their interests’. By which they mean, the interests of capitalist enterprises. And screw Joe Public.

Then today I was at a very brilliant, very intelligent conference about banking reform. About how the banking sector refuse to acknowledge their role in money creation, about how they seek profit above all else, even if it’s from people who can’t pay back the debt, so when the bubble bursts (which it does because central government make bad policy decisions about economics). 

And suddenly, one of the very very smart contributors says “but to change things we have to engage in politics.” They were basically saying if we wanted to achieve the change we were discussing we should engage with party politics. 

I couldn’t disagree more.

If we are truly going to make the system work, for people and planet (as the saying goes), then we have to recognise that party politics is broken, perhaps beyond repair. I am highly interested in politics, I engage with the system, I have a refined belief system. And no single party will ever fit with my thoughts. And why should I align myself to one party – knowing as I do that I will be ‘whipped’ (gotta love that term) into obedience. 

Which brings me to a suggestion that came up at the excellent Scottish Women’s Convention I attended a week or so ago. Maybe, as women, and as organisers, and organisations, we should support independent candidates to stand for election and stand for what they believe in. We will be a party system behind the scenes, providing shared administrative functions, and providing pastoral care, and making the finances of politics work, but our candidates will be who they are. Strong, independent women (and men if you are interested), who want to make a difference but cannot, with a true conscience align to a political party. 

That might be a revolution that could actually change the antiquated system we somehow accept and don’t question, even as we (rightly) blame it for everything that is wrong with our current system and society.


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