August 24, 2010 | Graham

The inevitability of parties

Independents can be independents, until they have to exercise power. Then they seem to remarkably quickly coalesce into what looks like a political party of sorts. Or at least that appears to be the case of the three men in a tub – Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor.

Just as well, because three absolutely independent members would lead to anarchy. Which is why we have parties in the first place.

The term party more or less gives it away. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a loose grouping, like a party of people going off for a bike ride in the morning. The non-Labor side of politics tends to be more volatile because it takes this definition of party seriously – it’s just a temporary grouping to achieve particular ends. Something which is obscured in much academic literature because it comes from a position of assuming a Marxist analysis embodying permanent class interests that are expressed through political parties.

Liberals and conservatives, at least in Australia, don’t see those interests as pertaining to classes, nor that they are permanent.

So the right has far fewer professional politicians (political service being a by product of citizenship not training) and has remade itself any number of times in the last 110 years of federation and before.

However, the demands of fighting an organisation which is professional and more disciplined has changed the way that right of centre political parties behave in Australia, and hence how they think. I, and others like me who have been expelled from the Liberal Party or its successors, show that it is less tolerant now than it was in, say, the 70s. Back in those days it was quite common for Liberal senators to cross the floor against their own party, and we never had a meeting of the Young Liberals but there were a few motions passed which criticised our own side and which we supported with press statements and interviews.

Perhaps the electorate’s tolerance of professionalism in politics has reached its outer limit. Or perhaps the professionalism of the Labor Party has pushed to the electorate’s outer limit. Either way, one of the reasons Labor didn’t win the last election (although they may not have lost it yet), is that they were too professional, to the point where it became parodic.

Once there was transparency in the way that parties operated. Just as now we are starting to get used to gauging the nuances of how Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor feel, once we understood how various members of other parties felt. That made their parties transparent, and their decisions more explicable and acceptable.

This hung parliament may do our established parties some good if it makes it more acceptable for politicians to speak their minds, and to be allowed to agree to collective action without being ridiculed because that action may be something they have argued against. One of the more juvenile aspects of the last campaign was criticism of both major party leaders for having said things in their portfolios that they now contradicted in their campaigns. Collective action requires that you argue the collective line, even when you disagree with it.

It might also give rise to a more authentic form of political party if it forces our three country brothers to caucus and act in a cohesive way so that Country Independents becomes something corporate rather than just descriptive.

Posted by Graham at 7:06 am | Comments Off on The inevitability of parties |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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