Thursday, August 30, 2007
…. or why mavericks – even odious ones – make good MPs and bad mayors.
If one thing illustrates the potential benefits as well as the hazards of having strong political parties, it’s this whole Ken v Boris thing. It certainly illustrates the wrong-headedness of the concept of strong political mayors.
I’ve said before that I find Ken too problematic to vote for these days. If you’re interested, I’ve explained why here. And I’m really highly unlikely to vote for Boris either. I don’t need to elaborate on this any further do I?
So, does this make me one of those pathetic negativist dweebs who are always whinging about being ‘disenfranchised’? No. I’ve decided to clear myself of that particular charge. Here’s how.
Firstly, we all have a moral duty to ignore referendums, and throw eggs at anyone who goes into a polling booth to vote in one. With me so far?
Well, Mayoral elections are the same. The idea that one vote endorses one individual’s approach to almost everything in a particular sphere is little better than a plebiscite on a policy issue that most people don’t understand.
For this reason, I will probably not vote in the London mayoral election at all. And this doesn’t make me a whinging negativist dweeb. Result!
You see, even though I regard Ken as a the UK’s most obvious symptom of an illness that has afflicted the left since the heady days of Woodstock and Grosvenor Square, I think that he’s an adornment to the Labour Party and he was a net contributor to the quality of parliamentary life when he was there. I’d say the same for Boris in the context of his own party.
I’d go even further than that. Though they were /are all largely odious, George Galloway, Ian Paisley, or even Enoch Powell – in the context of 600+ other MPs – improve(d) the quality of the House of Commons. Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also one of the magic ingredients of parliamentary democracy. And I’d be prepared to extend this argument almost to the shores (but not beyond) of fascism.
My argument is that this kind of distributed wisdom is the least unlikely way of getting humane and half-decent policymaking.
But distributed wisdom – whether it’s the type that was promoted by advocates of some versions of public choice theory, by Hayek, or the more swishy up-to-date ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ - only works if groupthink isn’t in evidence. And party groupthink is one thing you can’t – by definition - accuse these mavericks of.
So, could I vote for a Labour Party with Livingstone or Galloway in it? Absolutely. I’d probably want Galloway expelled, but it wouldn’t even have been a deal-breaker if he’d stayed. In fact, the presence of most mavericks – whether it’s the type that I often agree with (Denis MacShane, Steve Pound) or the ones I don’t (Tony Benn, Livingstone, Frank Field, Tony Blair) makes the Labour Party more attractive to me than if it were stuffed with Paulie-clones.
Now, I may struggle to vote for the worst of the mavericks if they were my local Labour Party candidate in an election. But I know for certain that I couldn’t vote for one of them in a contest that would hand them fairly untrammelled power as an individual. And the one thing that nearly drove me away from the Labour Party in the 1990s were the number of vile Blairite clones of the Margaret Hodge variety.
But if Labour started doing what Cameron did in Ealing Southall, and start describing themselves as Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, I’d even struggle to vote for the party I’ve been a member of for a quarter of a century. This is not, by the way, a particular whinge about Gordon Brown specifically. If the ballot paper said Shuggy’s Labour Party, Tom’s Labour Party or even Chris’ Labour Party, I’d even struggle then. It’s the paradox of political parties. On the one hand, if they are highly centralised, they are a damaging competitor to any decent model of democracy.
But if they aren’t, they could make the whole shooting match work the way that it should.