12th March 2015
Over the past while I’ve had a look at what it drives people to favour one party over another, what makes a Conservative voter or a Labour voter? Ideology is where it’s at and forms the basis of the economic and policy output of that party.
As a broad brushstroke approach it would be easy to size them up quickly and say that the Conservatives want everything run by businesses and that Labour where you’d think they want to nationalise everything in fact have done nothing of the sort. It’s not that easy though.
Conservative voters tend to favour their party because in their eyes it makes the hard decisions and gets the job done. That is even if we look at the record of the last nearly five years where George Osborne has missed every one of the economic targets he set himself. Those Conservative voters would tend to look at that and say, “But look, we are performing better than all the other nations in the G7 and our unemployment figures are much better than any nation in Europe”. However, the hard decisions that they make favour the banker, the business owner, the high earner and the elite whereas it is the normal ordinary people that make up the bulk of the population that are the ones who are suffering the punitive end of those “hard decisions”. The political ideology of the Tories is therefore to rob from the poor and give to the rich whilst at the same time making it look as if they’re trying to sort things out and are doing us all a big favour.
In 1830, the description “conservative” was first used to label this political movement, although the term “Tory” – from the Irish Gaelic word for “bandit” or “outlaw” – has remained in common use to this day.
Although traditionally associated with landowners and the aristocracy, and more recently the middle classes, the Conservative party has looked for support across social boundaries. After the extension of the franchise in the 20th Century, working class votes became increasingly important to secure victory at the polls. In other words, they had to bite their collective lip and appeal to the little guy, the ordinary man or woman with little or no worth. They’ve conned the masses for many decades, haven’t they?
The traditional Labour voter tends to (still) look at their party and think they’re being looked after especially if they are on the lower peg in society. Many of those voters simply vote that way because their parents voted Labour and perhaps they were told by those parents, “The Labour Party will look out for your interests”. The reality is that Labour has, since Blair, marched to the right of centre and now favour many of the policies brought forth by the Conservative Party even though they might argue that point. The amount of times they’ve voted in favour of the policies of the Conservatives says something else entirely – actions speak louder than words, don’t they? It becomes even more apparent when you consider that Blair could have re-nationalised at least a few of the now privatised industries. A good example of that would have been “British Rail” which is in such a mess and is screaming out to be taken back into public ownership.
Yet again, the traditional Labour voter will try to justify the actions of the party no matter what.
Now in Scotland we see a move away from Labour as people recognise that even though the Labour MP might love Scotland dearly and want to help the people that live there, once they get to Westminster and accept the whip, all thoughts of Scotland are set to one side in an effort to progress within the party. The ideology of the UK Labour Party would therefore be seen as driven more by a need to stay in power rather than do any actual good.
So where does this take us?
During the run up to the referendum, many people became politicised in a way never observed before in recent times. The debate that took place made people scrutinise the main political parties in their own minds and certainly many who had previously voted Labour now changed to support the SNP either as a full member or at least made that their voting intention. The ideology of the SNP is more left of centre and it is this which attracted many previous Labour voters who wished for a return to their core, more socialist values.
The SNP are actually filled with people who previously voted Labour. Even before the present explosion in membership and with the ranks totalling 25,000 at the time, where do you think all those people came from? If we look at the ideology of the SNP, its first and primary purpose was to create conditions which would lead to an independent Scotland. Previously the Labour Party in Scotland had “Home Rule” as one of its main policies so why did so many leave one and go to the other?
It seems that for many Blair was the reason. After the euphoria of 1997 when Labour were voted back into office, we all expected great things of Mr Blair. A reversal of at least some of what Maggie Thatcher did was long overdue. Then the Iraq War happened. One million people marched on Westminster in protest against that war and were ignored. One can imagine that a sizeable chunk of that number were Labour voters. As the months went by after the “dodgy dossier” debacle, the WMD’s weren’t found and we saw Blair described as “Bush’s poodle”. The Labour Party were simply haemorrhaging support.
Then in Scotland, when the referendum was announced, without asking their membership, the Labour Party leadership in Scotland adopted a policy of supporting the union. They tried to carry many of their number with them but that policy directed by London saw many more decide that they no longer supported that party. The phrase that we heard over and over was “I never left the Labour Party, they left me”.
So, who is it that forms the ideology of a political party? It should be the members but by and large it’s the leaders of that particular party and in recent times we’ve seen the rise of the “career politician”. That’s a politician who has left University with a degree and without gaining any real life experience, go straight into politics. That means that for many of them, living within that political bubble leads to decision making on a level with what we saw in Victorian times where the politicians saw the masses as something “remote” to be controlled and used as they saw fit.
However, some political parties have broken the mold and put crucial decisions to their members. We saw the very visible debate that the SNP had on their policy regarding the membership of NATO. The issue divided the party right down the middle and full coverage of the entire debate and vote was televised for all to see. Even “Big Brian” from the BBC was humbled by the experience. The resultant vote favoured membership of NATO but it was very close. A couple of MSP’s left the SNP on a point of principle, so it wasn’t without political cost. However, the SNP showed that it was a party that was prepared to allow the membership to shape political ideology no matter the cost. That is hard fought and won trust in action.
Whether it is correct for the leadership to form the ideology of the party or whether it should be in the hands of the members is a purely practical decision taken on a case by case basis. If every decision was run via the members, certain big decisions would take a very long time to make.
It does however seem a far cry from the days when only the land owners and gentry had the reins of power. In future with better and more secure social media links to central government, the idea of the general public forming the ideology of various political parties isn’t so far off.
The worry here is of course the mob mentality that often makes bad decisions; if a party wants to gain the most votes and thereby take power, if they conform to the mob mentality to do so and gain the most popularity, will we be in danger of getting the government we want instead of the government we actually need?
I’ll leave you to ponder on that one.