Over the Christmas period, I had the unusual experience of being asked to speak with the Burgess Hill Labour Party about why I don’t believe a Green vote splits the left. With the rising profile of the Greens due to controversy of their proposed exclusion from the upcoming leaders’ debates and Sadiq Khan’s appointment to deal with the ‘threat’ posed to Labour by the Green Party, it seemed a germaine subject, but it was quite a difficult sell. Burgess Hill Labour party is a branch of Labour that behaves as if Tony Blair never happened and I am all the more sympathetic towards them for it, but when I hear members of the radical left talk about fighting their corner within the Labour party, I begin to despair at the state of political discourse in this country.
Let’s begin with an exploration of democratic theory. The Downs’ model of voting behaviour holds that political parties within a representative democratic system will seek to align themselves around the ‘median voter’ in order to maximise their vote share. Many academics have argued that this is indicative of a fundamental problem in representative democracy; that it is, by its very nature, undemocratic.
reporters talking about ‘the centre ground’ as if it is a strategic objective; a target to be acquired in a military manoeuvre.
In such a system, political parties are part of a competing class of self-interested bodies; no longer seeking to advocate a specific point of view or represent specific communities, but interested in their own ascent to power. This is something that infects our political discourse, with reporters talking about ‘the centre ground’ as if it is a strategic objective; a target to be acquired in a military manoeuvre. When parties dare to present even a mildly ideological point of view they are slammed as extremists, hardliners or ‘out of touch’. We live in a political culture that worships the mythical ‘median voter’ and we elect governments who are first and foremost interested in power and defeating their opposing party.
A political system where the median voter is treated as the hallowed ground doesn’t just fail to represent specific sections of society; it fails to represent anybody.
The tragic part of all of this is that the median voter doesn’t exist. We know this to be true from our daily lives; the social world is full of intersecting ideas and viewpoints, constantly developing through argument, deliberation and collaboration. Political parties, alongside the media, decide what the aggregate opinions of the country are and present us with bland manifestos, devoid of inspiration or ambition. We don’t get to choose what the sum total of our views is; our compromises are chosen for us. A political system where the median voter is treated as the hallowed ground doesn’t just fail to represent specific sections of society; it fails to represent anybody.
When all of this is considered, then there is neither a reason to view a vote for Labour as a vote for the left nor to view a vote for the Greens as an attempt to split the left. The left are a group of wonderful, frustrating, idealistic, and compassionate people, concerned with fundamentally changing institutions in order to bring about a fairer, more equitable society. Labour ceased to be part of that long ago and the more we on the left vote for them, the more complacent they will become and the more our views will be dismissed as extremist.
The Tories have now, for the most part, abandoned social conservatism in favour of some weird kind of neo-Thatcherite libertarianism.
There is always the fear, of course, that voting for a party that represents our views will lead a Conservative government and to that I say this: the Labour Party now is more right-wing than it was in 1997, it is wedded to the ideology of neo-liberal capitalism and will continue to move further to the right with every passing election if we keep voting for it. The Tories have now, for the most part, abandoned social conservatism in favour of some weird kind of neo-Thatcherite libertarianism. There is not one policy Labour have proposed that convinces me that the country will be any worse under the Conservatives than it will be under them.
Red or Blue, if you vote Labour you will get a Tory government.