Friday, 8 November 2013
Is the party over?
Political party membership is on the decline and has been for some time but I wanted to look at the possible reasons why this could be. Is it simply people don’t feel engaged by politics anymore or is it simply the political parties on offer simply are too similar and do not represent people. One of the central facts of recent British politics has been the decline of the political party. Fewer people are voting for them, memberships have collapsed, and strength of attachment has fallen away. The only party currently prospering, UKIP, is doing so because it has successfully exploited the prevailing ‘none of the above’ sentiment. Why has this decline happened? Does it matter? And what, if anything, might be done about it? It is easier to see why it has happened than it is to frame a coherent response. The great motors of the modern party system—class and ideology—has ceased to function in the way they once did. For much of the twentieth century, politics in Britain was organised on the basis of a struggle between socialism and anti-socialism (however defined) and this structured the two-party dominance of the post-1945 world. That era has now ended, and with it the leading role of the main protagonists. If politics is conducted on broadly similar terrain then it is inevitable that much of the old motive power that fuelled party adherence is diminished. For some, new passions fill the gap (getting Britain out of the EU, getting Scotland out of Britain), but for most there is a turning away from party politics of the traditional kind. It was once a source of cultural identity and pride for millions of British people. But at just over 1% of the population - low by European standards - party membership is fast becoming a minority pursuit. There are more members of the Caravan Club, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, than of all Britain's political parties put together. There are many theories as to why this has happened. The public have grown cynical and disillusioned with politicians. We live in a more individualistic age (Why rely on political leaders to speak for you when you can do it yourself on Twitter or Facebook?). Politics itself has become too boring and managerial - the ideological red meat loved by the "party faithful" is in short supply. There have also been profound changes in the way Britons spend their spare time, since the days when the local Labour, Conservative or Liberal club was at the heart of the community. "Most people don't use politics for socialising in the way they might have done in the fifties and sixties, when you had a realistic chance of meeting your future husband or wife at a party dinner or or dance. PARTY MEMBERSHIP • 1951 Conservative 2.9m - Labour 876,000 • 1971 Conservative 1.3m - Labour 700,000 • 1981 Conservative 1.2m - Labour 277,000 • 1991 Conservative 1m to 0.5m - Labour 261,000 - Lib Dem 91,000 • 2001 Conservative 311,000 - Labour 272,000 - Lib Dem 73,000 • 2011 Conservative 177,000 - Labour 190,000 - Lib Dem - 66,000 (Source: Estimates based on party reports and House of Commons L Many people hold an anti politics and an anti party feeling out there including more and more myself. I'm not anti political but increasingly anti party. The main 3 parties Tories, lib dems and labour do largely stand for the same thing and all look to defend and promote capitalism. Most of the voters out there are far to the left of all major political parties which means many would be happy to see public ownership of our railways and energy sector for example which currently no political party would dare to put forward in fear of the reaction of the "market" In years gone by you would grow up with a tribal instinct to supporting a certain political party so for example if your parents had always voted labour you war more likely to carry on the tradition of voting for the labour party. Today there is a real drop off of people voting in their 20's it picks up a bit when people reach their 30's but I don’t think this is any coincidence as those in the bracket of the 20's who are the most hit in terms of austerity being the younger ages which over 1 million young people are out of work and struggling to pay tuition fees and have huge debt around their necks. It is clear that that many in this age group do not feel politics is for them and that also they blame politics for the plight they find themselves in and with good reason too I would suggest. SO why don’t this younger generation join a political party? Well just the thought alone can give you an answer. They don’t feel it is for them quite simply. For many who grew up under a labour government who took us to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite huge opposition on the streets people feel disenchanted with the so called democratic process in this country The cost involved in joining a political party is a turn off to I think with recent findings showing • Labour - £41 standard, £20.50 unwaged and pensioners, £1 youth, £20.50 (union or affiliate group member) • Conservatives - £25 standard, £5 (under 23) • Lib Dem - £12 standard, £6 students and unwaged I would conclude by saying that the days of the mass political party may indeed be over but this does not mean politics itself is in decline in fact more people are interested in political ideas than ever before but do not associate themselves with a party. For me it is absolutely fine to be political without being in a party and with many benefits for example like myself I can think and act for myself without having to uphold a party line all the time. I am not tied to supporting a party dogmatically so I don’t have to defend everything it says and does. I am perfectly happy to admit when others out there have good ideas that we shouldn’t ignore just as we are in a different party this is the start of a sectarian agenda of putting your own party above the interests of those you are looking to represent. Only time will tell if political parties have had their day for good but what is sure we will not be going back to 80% turnouts in elections and mass membership parties again anytime soon I’d suggest.