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Is Party Politics Boring and in Decline

From Stephen Curry

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Jenny B found the thread of 'yah boo' politics and macro economic argument boring. Certainly there appears to be evidence that she is not alone. She was right that the elections are not until next May, but party politics is such that it sets a time scale for boring us to death with argument and counter argument, so that by the time the election comes around we are so tired of the talk that the majority don't go to vote as a sort of protest! They love that at local level, because it means a straight fight between political party supporters. The non-committed who could upset their little game, are taken out of the equation! (Note I make a distinction between Politics as 'the art of Governance' and party Politics which has been described as 'the acquisition and application of power').

Today only 1.5 of the population are political party members and this continues to decline. Labour claimed a massive surge in new members after the last general election. But consider this: in 1951 they had 860,000 members and by 1991 that was down to 277,000 and today its around 190,000. It is hardly representative now, is it? In the same period the Conservatives were down from 2.9 million! to a meagre 177,000. According to a BBC survey there are more members in the UK Caravan Club, or the RSPB, than in all Britain's political parties put together. That shows how popular they have made involvement in party politics. And perhaps that shows why we are left with such tight and extreme memberships at local level. These die hards fail to represent their constituents as a whole because they are too busy looking inward to their party dogma to look outwards to all of the people's needs.

We are reminded repeatedly by a regular forum contributor of Janet Battye's slim majority in Calder Ward. If local voting were a true sign of personal popularity rather than a reflection of a national trend and being reliant on the less apathetic going out to vote, then it wouldn't bode well for Janet's main political party challenger, who announced her selection on the forum with such enthusiasm. (Maj. 24 at town council election in case anyone is wondering) Hands up all those who now expect a Labour win with a margin of 600 again?

I'll admit that maybe the LibDems are closer to the middle of the road and are perhaps more attractive to those looking for more comfortable home for their politics. Labour on the other hand seem to spend all their time defending this, and trying to save that, and have nothing left to offer in terms of new ideas and creative concepts to boost the local economy.

That said I've always held that we get the governance we deserve. So I repeat my question from elsewhere on this forum, why do we continue let this minority of political party activists on all sides have a free run at selective representation of the community? Where are the all the independent local thinkers, who in the past led this valley in historic innovation with creativity and vision for the benefit of all? If you are out there your time has come!

The rest of you . . . Have your say before the macro economists hijack this thread too and bore you again!

From Paul D

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

It could be that party affiliations are less relevant now than they once were and certainly personality appears more significant in shaping public opinion (even turnout). Locally we can see that over time people have come and gone with some regularity, some basing their efforts on conviction, some relying a bit more on persuasion and personality, others all three.

But your point about letting the main parties have a free run exposes one of the weaknesses in your argument in that they don't. Others, not aligned to a main party can stand and often do, sometimes defeating the main parties you accuse of having this all sown up. And the independent local thinkers are not absent, many are members of the main political parties, again exposing an assumption in your argument that joining a political party is a sign of conformity, or stifles independent thinking. In fact, my exposure to the local parties over time is that the independence of thought within them is often a bit of a problem; they'd sometimes quite like a bit more conformity!

I think we do really well locally to engage so many active politicians from the main parties and from the margins, of course we could do more and maybe that is the main point, how to increase public engagement and active participation. But where there is a problem with public engagement I think that reflects a national cynicism as opposed to a local deficit of independent thinkers. We might value bird watching, but we also value democracy and I think I know which I could do without. And as for majorities of 24 or 600, are they not all symptomatic of something more significant? That the individual polled more than his or her opponent? You stand, win office you get to serve, whether you're a conservative whose party lost the election but now finds itself in government (I think the Lib Dems were so excited by king making they crowned the horse by mistake), or a BNP councillor who won a seat in Halifax, with it comes responsibility and more importantly redress. So decline possibly, boring no.

From James Baker

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Stephen I can see how party politics is off putting but then it is only improved by more people getting involved. It does take a lot of time and effort though. You can spend hours delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and attending meetings.

There is a whole host of things from the new Town Hall, the skate park, Mytholmroyd memorial garden, the new plans for the Piece Hall that wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for local people getting involved in politics.

I think sometimes we can all be too cynical about politics, whereas instead we should roll up our sleeves and get involved in changing things for the better.

From Mick Coughlan

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Interesting thread. I am not a member of any political party and have spent much of the last 2 years opposing the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley scheme. I regularly attend the Skircoat Ward Forum and also comment on the Halifax Courier Forum.

This has brought me into contact with elected members of CMBC and also officers. Particularly my contact with certain officers has caused me to become more involved with local politics as it appears to me they are out of control and seem to perceive the public and members as a nuisance.

I can see what puts people off getting involved in local politics as I have been lied to and seen elected members mis-led by officers. I have also sadly been misled by a prominent local councillor.

This is what spurs me on though as I think we deserve a better system than the one we have and the party machine seems to be part of that problem. As part of my work opposing the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley scheme I run the campaign website and wrote to the local members and candidates for the last 2 local elections to enquire as to their opinions on the scheme. I received one reply from a candidate who was much in agreement with the campaign group regarding the scheme. But the closing sentence worried me and I think perhaps underlines Stephen's opening post. The candidate said that if elected they would follow the party line.

If someone is elected and then spends the next 4 years looking over their shoulder to the party before making a decision then IMHO the electorate would not be getting what they vote for, that is if we vote for a person and not a party. In truth I think many people still do vote for a party and do not even look at the election material that takes so much of the candidates time. The party has obvious benefits to a candidate in such things as posting these leaflets and maybe (I don't know) paying for the costs. But is this at a cost? If so is it worth it, especially as it could be the case that the candidates credibility is compromised if they actually (shock, horror) disagree with the party?

From Stephen Curry

Thursday, 17 November 2011

James I'm pleased you are honest enough to see how party politics can be off putting. But I'm not sure how it would be improved by more people joining the tribes? When the tribes were bigger in the past there may have been more democracy within the parties, but in reality it just meant more people were coerced into towing the party line. Not being able to influence the Political Party elite from within is one of the most heard complaints from party members today. Conferences have just become rallies and corporate events rather than events were Paul D thinks independent thinkers can shape policy. Many people have joined other external organisations such as the Countryside Alliance, National Trust (and Yes the RSPB) which now have far more clout as a means to influence party political policies than party membership does.

I made the distinction between Politics and Party Politics deliberately to show that I'm not cynical about Politics per se. And as James rightly points out the Town Hall project, for example, was a result of independent minded people getting involved in local politics, taking on the project and taking it forward without same old faces of local party political influences.

The former LibDem Councillor, Lesley Jones was already active in the community before being recruited to stand under the LibDem banner. To her credit she rejected party politics after four years and stood as an Independent. Unfortunately she paid the price, and we lost an excellent councillor as she was narrowly beaten by a candidate riding on a national surge to Labour, leaving us with a slim Labour majority council, and the apparent victor proclaiming on Twitter "A Socialist Republic of Hebden Bridge".

As more and more political party activists reject the restraints of membership on local issues (unlike Mick C's example) more and more will seek greater integrity and stand as independents, perhaps?


From James Baker

Friday, 18 November 2011

Stephen you draw attention to Lesley leaving party politics and then not getting elected. You yourself would probably have been elected if you stood under the banner of a political party. Both of you on an independent banner failed to get elected.

Sadly the electoral reality is that people vote for parties and for brands and ideals. Most people make up their minds based on TV, the the press media... You can try and speak to people face to face but it takes so many hours getting around a ward that if you have a job or family then you won't have time to talk to everyone.

I admire your independence and dislike of tribalism. I don't like blind tribalism in politics myself much either. I see my party as a set of people with whom I broadly share liberal values.

You can't just get rid of tribalism though. It's part of human nature. If you destroyed political parties people would start little clubs and form their own groups.

From David Telford

Friday, 18 November 2011

I can't understand anyone joining / supporting a party. Labour supporters are almost evangelical about supporting a party and will support them whether it's Tony Blair down to Michael Foot. How can that possibly be right? It's surely not like a football team where you blindly support no matter what, supporting a party is just a group of ideas and if those ideas change, surely the supporters must have the intelligence to review their support? I simply cannot believe those Labour activists in the occupy activist group could have supported the Labour Party under Tony Blair but nevertheless they do.

From Stephen Curry

Friday, 18 November 2011

James as I said elsewhere on this forum I'd rather not sell my soul to a party again and remain unelected if that is the result. Much happier keeping my integrity in tact! Lesley polled 232 votes as an Independent, just remind us how many votes you got? Of course that is a cheeky question, as we know you were elected unopposed. It seems to me you didn't need to be part of any tribe to get elected anyway.

We are in interesting times, judging by the level of protests around the country and the world political apathy may be on the wane. (And if Italy and Greece are anything to go by Party Politics too!) I hope this new interest extends to the general electorate, who despite the assertion that they always choose political party candidates, actually supported Lesley Jones and Belinda Jones in such numbers it left them just a handful of votes short of the party candidates. An excellent result from a standing start without the party machinery I'd say. My own effort in Calder Ward (262 equal to many other established party candidates in other wards) was more akin to testing the water in a larger pond. Watch this space.

From Jonathan Timbers

Saturday, 19 November 2011

No, Stephen, you're wrong. It's not party politics that is in decline; its politics which is in decline, and the so called 'independent' stance you take is a symptom of that decline.

I take issue with you as well. You don't seem at all independent to me. You attack the Labour party in this thread, and those who oppose public sector cuts. You never seem to mention any issues which affect vulnerable people in society either. You're not independent because you have views and opinions and loyalties, and bias.

Because I'm a school governor, I got a bulletin this week from Calderdale which concerned it's 'looked after children' and child protection services. Anyone who has ever worked with abused children knows how important that work is, and Calderdale's problems are well-documented. All you seem to talk about is the tourist industry, which is connected to your business interests. I don't think that's because you're dishonest, but you're clearly not independent of those interests. So you're not independent.

I don't think the independent label is a label you can trust. I wouldn't buy a can of baked beans without a list of ingredients and similarly I wouldn't vote for an independent for the same reasons: because I wouldn't know what I was getting!

From David Telford

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Jonathan , believe it or not, someone is allowed to disagree with issues Labour supports and be independent just as someone disagrees with the other socialists, the BNP and be independent. Most economists have supported the need for public sector cuts yet we maintain independence.

Anyone can hold a number of views that may or may not correspond with a political party and personally I don't need my ideals pigeon-holed into fixed myopic groups.

Of course the voter can trust independent candidates. The independent label means the candidate does not conform to a particular party's ideology and any voter just needs to read the manifestos and make an informed judgement. I'm sure you would buy a can of baked beans without a list of ingredients, the clue is knowing the beans baked and in a tomato sauce, you may, however, consider a new brand if the last brand you had was so bad they made you sick or to push your analogy further, the brand had to be recalled due to catastrophic mismanagement and incompetence. Those who vote for an independent candidate are more likely to know what they are getting because they do read up about the candidate and manifesto rather than blindly voting any monkey with a red rosette.

From Stephen Curry

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Ah well Jenny B, I tried to open a thread so others can comment on if/why politics was boring without the long winded economic analyses. But it seems the apathy was deeper than I'd judged! And I've only managed to open another can of worms (or was that beans?) for the same old faces (mine included of course!)

Jonathan that's a pretty naive understanding of the concept of Independent politics. People are not independent of issues. That would be reet daft! And being independent is not synonymous with being neutral. I use the road and pavement therefore I can't be independent of highways policy, I use the health service so I can't be independent of that. I am of course independent of party policy making and the constraints which party dogma puts on their candidates and elected representatives. "Ahh, that kind of independence!" do I hear him say?

Local councils were run by people independent of party politics for donkeys years before the national parties spread their tentacles to the lowest level of power and control over our lives. So the decline of Party politics is merely returning the opportunity for independents to come forward.

The thread about "Tourism and Jobs" is still available to read so I will let others judge if my intentions in that were self-interest or a concern for wider community opportunities to create employment. Unemployment "affects (and creates) vulnerable people in society" doesn't it?

My apparent "Attacks" on Labour? Nice deliberate exaggeration of my right to criticise a failure to act on the opportunities to boost the local economy and jobs. Your comments here are even more surprising you having stated on this forum:

"Stephen has also made positive proposals for more co-ordination around developing tourism in Calderdale which deserve further thought". And "Stephen refers (refreshingly, in my view) to hard evidence in a recent economic impact assessment which identifies this as a potential area for growth."

As for me not talking about children's services, you start a thread and I'll tell you about how "Child protection is everybody's responsibility" even when they are on the premises of a B&B! Fortunately I don't need to read a School Governor's leaflet about it as I sit opposite an expert in child neglect at each mealtime.

I wonder what you were doing when I was working on plans for an unemployed workers centre for my TUC branch, and picketing Robert Maxwell's gaff for the NUJ and marching against Maggie's cuts in services. The difference now is I don't need you or a party whip to tell me what to do or think! Voters can of course continue to choose to buy the can of party politics which says one thing on the outside but contains a let down inside. Or they can open a more refreshing brand.

Apologies to Jenny B for the length!

From Jenny B

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Well thanks for the effort Stephen but, yes sadly this thread too was hijacked . . . yawn . . each to their own and all that. But sadly none of the posters have inspired me to even feel like voting next May. Now wait for the backlash on that comment!

From Jonathan Timbers

Monday, 21 November 2011

Quite right, Stephen, when you first started commenting on this site I thought you had lots to say and supported you. After all, I did once lead a move to rid the town council of party politics, hoping that it would be replaced by detailed and informed policy discussions (sorry that bores some even more than the Punch and Judy of party politics) between representatives of different interests groups in the community.

The quality of your posts demonstrate why I was wrong to lead Labour off the town council, and why Sue Press and Dave Young were right to lead it back. Basically, all your posts and your politics are about you, and little else.

I won't vote for you either because your partner happens to be an expert on 'child neglect'. You don't acquire knowledge or experience or ability through your association with another - obviously wonderful - person. My dad was a policeman, but that doesn't make me an expert in crowd control (or giving someone a good seeing to without leaving any marks - he was old Skool, my Dad)

As to your challenge to me to say what I was doing when you were active in the trade union movement, I shall decline your offer for fear that the long list I could supply would bore the pants off people. I doubt that there's much demand out there for a thread devoted to my life and times! People have better things to do, thank the Lord!

And David, if you don't look at the ingredients list on a can of baked beans, you haven't been living in Hebden Bridge long enough! if you stay, we'll educate you!

Anyway, signing off now. There's more exciting thread to join in with!