Lords Labour whip Lord Liddle lays down the law, May
2011 - FRIENDS OF EUROPE
Prime Ministers, their cabinets and more recently the ‘Downing Street machine’ seek to quell any opposition that intends to adapt the policy initiatives they advocate.
This is achieved via the formulation of a party line, which is, in reality a rather uninspiring and unrepresentative depiction of the wider political party.
Indeed, David Cameron, like New Labour before him, can be seen to utilise only his closest allies (a tiny proportion of the political party) to articulate and assert policy.
True, compromises are made - but Cameron’s promise to take the Conservatives out of the centre-right EPP group in Europe, for instance, was simply a plea for allegiance from some of the more right wing MPs in his party.
The elite governing few argue that party discourse must be cohesive and convey unity to the public in order to ensure their trust and thus gain office. However, disillusionment with politics and politicians is rife.
Many of the electorate question the moral ambiguity of MPs, claim that their views aren’t appropriately represented in debate, and generally approach politics with immense trepidation. This disillusionment can only be effectively addressed by tackling the cause and not by accusing the public of undue scepticism and and an unfairly pessimistic outlook.
The idea that British politics can be defined by a few ‘major players’ and unelected representatives or advisors is proving both absurd and bemusing for the electorate.
They believe that the individual MPs they elect should directly represent the social and political landscape of their constituencies. However, the harsh reality sees individual MPs left out in the dark, exploited as dormant vehicles to push through policy.
This renders them unable to represent either their own views or the opinions of their constituents, and deepens the sentiment that politicians remain ‘out of touch’.
This system is defended under the pretence that ‘it works’. I concede it is easier for a relatively small group of people to formulate policy direction, and ensure the formal backing of the vast majority of the party through the gesture of a three line whip.
It also makes it easier to convey decisive action and a united front in the face of the media, other political parties and other state actors. Certainly, defying the party line attracts negative coverage from the media, who depict it as a blunder and often call for resignation.
However, the public perception of this is rushed policy, suppressed MPs, and underrepresented minorities. Labour must embrace and utilise the breadth of its ideological thought: only then can it re-establish itself as a progressive and forward thinking party who put the people first.
The adoption of multilateral rhetoric within a party does not inhibit unity and strength, but is rather evidence of a realistic party, proud of its range in ideological thought, and underpinned by notions of innovation and progression.
This allows a party to realise its true potential in constructing stronger and well thought out policy initiatives that have been subjected to increased internal scrutiny. This scrutiny also acts as a safeguard, protecting the party from ending up endorsing underwhelming policies.
In a self-proclaimed democratic and pluralist country, it is deeply ironic that political parties fail to convey a pluralist outlook with internal dealings.
A move to embrace a less rigid and more pluralist agenda will increase transparency and could lead to decreased public disenchantment, as parties are seen to debate issues internally and portrayed as more than a mechanic campaign machine.
This freedom could help to prevent confrontation and coups within the party as disagreements on policy become realised as a positive and respect-building phenomenon.