At its heart Party Politics is ridiculous. It causes people to disagree about things they wouldn’t have disagreed about without Party Politics.
Many of those on the Blairite wing of the Labour Party are closer ideologically to the left wing of the Conservative party (for example Ruth Davidson) than the current leadership of their own party, the “hard-left” of the Labour Party. Equally, many liberal Tories hold almost entirely opposite views to the “hard brexiteer” backbenchers of their own party, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg.
But in a system of Party Politics and Whips for both Parties, frequently MPs will vote not according to what they believe but what their party believes. This means that socially and politically conservative Tories are aligned with more socially and politically liberal Tories, whilst those moderate Labour MPs are tied in with a more socialist Jeremy Corbyn.
Although it is possible for MPs to rebel against the Whips it remains generally unlikely that they would do so, especially for key votes, because they could have the whip withdrawn and lose the support of the party. To have the support of a party in the current political system is essential because it provides funding and a voter base for its MPs, so they are more likely to get elected. Currently, the only minor party MP is Caroline Lucas and even then she is associated to the Green Party which is a national party with a decent amount of influence and funding.
If a large group of MPs get together and rebel this is obviously more effective than single MPs rebelling against their party. One such important example of this is the rebellion of Dominic Grieve and group of other conservative MPs rebelling against the government on the EU withdrawal bill. Some MPs reacted furiously against this rebellion, with Nadine Dorries calling it “treacherous” and saying that the MPs “should be deselected and never allowed to stand as a Tory MP, ever again.”
So this begins to explain why Party Politics exists despite, in concept, it being a fundamentally flawed idea. If an MP holds an opinion on an issue and their opinion is against that of their current party they face a choice: Do they vote with their conscience or their party?
As a democracy each constituency votes in an MP and hands over their individual power to an elected representative. Therefore, if true democracy is to be enacted, these are the people who have trusted their MP to vote for their interests. This is surely where an MPs conscience comes in. If the people have elected this MP it is most likely they selected that MP because they believe they represent that constituencies views. Sometimes to properly represent those views an MP must rebel, but if doing so will result in that MP having to stand as an independent or not have Party Support then surely it is overwhelming likely that the MP will vote with the party. Only if the matter is something that is extremely important to the MP will they rebel.
This seems like a flawed and somewhat imperfect system, however to understand it the alternative must be considered. Party Politics is almost inevitable because without it, governance would be practically impossible for a country. Certain things could be done such as voting on bills and most of the work done in the House of Commons as this is a representative system of individuals. But who, from these individuals, would take on the responsibility of Prime Minister or leader of a country.
Many decisions that are made by a Prime Minister need to be made quickly and effectively. For example, in war a leader is needed so that strategic decisions can be made. If all MPs were involved in this decision making it would take weeks of compromise to make a decision by which point the country may already have been attacked or the thing to respond to has long since happened.
The only effective way to select a leader for a country is by looking at which group of similar MPs is liked by the country as a whole. Although there are outliers for each party the average MP of either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party is left or right wing. And it is up to the country as a whole to decide which they prefer and, as a result, give the leadership of the country to that party. Once this is established, parties begin to promote themselves and they gain power, voter bases, and money. Once this is achieved they are an attractive proposition for aspiring MPs because they give a framework and support for their candidacy – making it more likely that MP will be elected.
Thus in the end, as with all things in politics, Party Politics is something which is illogical and flawed but probably the best option available.
Written by Edmund Milwain.