Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Political Tribes

With the Tory Party launching their campaigns for the June 4th EU and local elections, and Labour politicians preparing to knife their inglorious leader in the back, I started thinking about the tribal nature of politics. And it isn't actually very edifying. In fact it isn't at all edifying.

One thing the politicians at all levels have in common is their criticism of the general public for not seeing that they are right, and voting for them. That's fair enough I suppose, but they invariably include the statement: "If you put a red rosette on a pig they'd still vote for it". Just replace red with blue for the other lot. They find loyalty in the electorate, loyalty to the wrong side that is, distateful and incomprehensible. But look at the methods of keeping party members 'loyal'.

In parliament and local councils there is the whipping system. This disciplines disloyalty or freedom of thought, depending on how you look at it. Dare vote against your own party and you could have your membership suspended or even be expelled. This means that if you happen to hold any kind of position, be it at national or local level, you will likely lose that position which will also deprive you of power and probably, money in allowances or other payments.

Among members of political parties there is a frightening level of tribalism. Many people seem to gain some kind of justification for their existence from membership of a party. To many it is social, they get a warm glow from being able to tell people they are in a particular party. Others feel it shows their neighbours and friends what conscientious and active citizens they are. There often develops, in a frighteningly high proportion, an almost umbilical link to that party that nothing would seem able to cut. Remember how the Tory members worshipped at the feet of Margaret Thatcher, then immediately switched allegiance to John Major and Lord knows who since? Likewise Labour members went from Callaghan to Foot to Kinnock then......but let's not go further with that one, we're still suffering because of it.

Then there are the people who dare decide that the party they joined has changed beyond acceptability and leave. Many who dare show such disloyalty, or independence of thought, are then treated like lepers by those who previously respected and worked with them. The scorned party often begins a smear campaign in an attempt to blacken the name of the disloyal one. After all, they have to prove that the individual is wrong, it is never the tribe that is wrong.

Over recent months I have looked back at my time with the UK Independence Party, inevitable when you have spent nearly ten years in a party then find it has changed for the worse. They oppose membership of the European Union but are desperate to get MEPs elected in June. When I was involved I believe that the only useful thing about this position was that the resources that came with MEPs would be used to fight elections where it counts, in the United Kingdom.

But that hasn't happened. With a couple of honourable exceptions UKIP MEPs have 'gone native'. Election results are no better than pre-1999 when they had no MEPs. Now the party has launched its EU election campaign asking supporters of other parties to 'lend UKIP your vote just for the EU election'. With a general election no more than a year away UKIP have given up on our parliament. They are only interested in joining the gravy train and making a pile of cash.

But, just like members of the other parties, UKIP supporters still kid themselves into believing that voting UKIP will make a difference, they have to feel they are doing something, no matter how misguided. In one sentence they cry that the EU parliament is a complete sham, that MEPs have no influence or power and are only in it for finacial gain. In the next sentence they tell you that UKIP must get as many MEPs as possible. I wonder how many of them would try to close down the local brothel by putting their wives to work in it?

Well I'm afraid I do believe that the parliament is a sham, that MEPs have no influence or power and are only in it for finacial gain. But I'm not tribal enough, or stupid enough, to pretend UKIP MEPs are any different, they are not.

That's why I will be abstaining on June 4th.

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