Monday, August 04, 2008

Political parties - on the way out?

Stephen Tall - here - provides a summary of how UK political parties have declined, and asks if British voters would embrace the kind of almost spontaneous organisation that has characterised Barack Obama's party building.

Obama's model is that of a charismatic campaigner who is able to capture the imagination of a sizable percentage of the population in order to attract small-scale finance. Lots of donations that run between tens and hundreds of dollars rather than a smaller number of big donations from aggregates - single issue pressure groups or 'castes' of different kinds.

Personally, I doubt if Obama's organisational model is a desirable one from a democratic point of view. Sure - it helps him escape from pressure groups, though I'd still wonder if the still-tiny % of the population that are prepared to donate will expect one kind of politics, and the electorate will expect another? And how will our precious disillusioned-with-politics diddumses cope with yet another disappointment? How can the world be this cruel??!??

In Labour's case here, the Unions donate a substantial slice. But they also corporately want to win the election, and may be prepared to stay in for the long haul in a way that Obama's donors won't as soon as he has to make his first inelegant decision.

And Stephen Tall appends a further question: Are the British public too cynical for this kind of thing anyway?

In this, I think he has his diagnosis wrong. The public aren't cynical. They may appear so because there is a noisy fraction of the public that engage in the mass debate of radio phone-ins, political panel shows, letters to newspapers, blogging and blog-comments, etc.

As I was trying to say a while back on the subject of bloggertarians, it is a mistake to regard the noisy fraction of the public as either a sensible or worth-listening-to section of the population from a democratic point of view.

They won't give politicians a useful conversation to eavesdrop upon, and they won't provide anything like the kind of rationalising processes that could be plugged in to any policy-making system without making it very much worse than it is at the moment.

The most interesting aspect of David Davis' recent exercise is that it really didn't chime with the public in any way. Davis left Westminster - all lathered up, with Magna Carta in his knuckles and the furious rants of his favourite columnists ringing in his ear only to meet blank looks on the doorsteps of a Yorkshire Tory enclave.

The noticeable 'public debate' is only as relevant as the visible tip of the iceberg - and I think that Stephen Tall's conclusion is only based upon only what he can see. And while this perceptible tip is cynical, the iceberg is, I would suggest, simply just sceptical. They are, I believe, fairly detached and ironic in their decision-making. As the Nudge thesis explains quite well, I think, they make voting decisions based upon 'Automatic Systems' as opposed to the reflective ones.

I'm going to post something more in a bit about this 'automatic' decision-making that 'Nudge' identifies, and what it means for political parties. In summary, though, I think that political parties have been declared dead prematurely - and that no-one has come up with anything that we would prefer to them anyway. And - more importantly - they don't need to do very much to fight back - though it's hard to find anyone that is even prepared to do the fighting at the moment.


Tom P said...

The DD thing was great because it proved almost the exact opposite thing that he and his blogging supporters said it would. It ought to have brought right-wing bloggers back to earth with a bump but that doesn't actually seem to have happened.

I'll be interested to see what you think of Nudge. as I've been bleating on for a while now I think the behavioural stuff could be a really big deal so it matters who gets hold of it.

btw I've also just read back through your slanging match with Devil's Kitchen. epic!

Paulie said...


"It ought to have brought right-wing bloggers back to earth with a bump but that doesn't actually seem to have happened."

I think that the burden of proof needed for that to happen can best be described as 'titanic'.

Do you know Nico MacDonald? He's getting a few people together to talk about Nudge in September if you're interested - mail me for more details.

I'm only a bit-way into Nudge yet (saving it for the holiday) but I've just been reading Noah Goldstein et al's 'Yes!' - it's very good on behaviour.