Thursday, May 29, 2008

The invisible hand in political finances

As it is revealed that the Labour Party could be up to 24 million Pounds in debt, and that the senior officers of the party could be personally liable. It begins to look like the slow erosion of the Labour Party might end up being something a lot more dramatic. Could this be the free market's revenge against Socialism?

However, when I hear Conservatives trying to claim ownership of the ideas of the free market, I do get a bit irritated. Why? Because one of the biggest rigged markets of all is the political market, and Conservatives seem determined to preserve this rigged market in all its steam-age, Victorian glory.

The absence of transparency and accountability limits consumer -i.e. voter- decision making power. Meanwhile the barriers to entry are so high that over the past century only three parties have ever held office at Westminster. Of course, it is not strictly true to say that the two party system has continued unchanged- the Liberal party, in 1906 crushingly triumphant, was reduced by splits and defections to near annihilation. It is true that the politics of the twenties saw many Conservatives back both a Liberal and even a Labour Prime Minister. However despite anomalies, British political parties have had a remarkable endurance all the same.

I believe in a free market in politics- that political openness and pluralism offer the same benefits to a society as consumer free choice does in the economic sphere. This is why I believe that the rigged electoral system should be changed- so that the results of elections reflect what people vote for, rather than what some power elite thinks should be the result. I also believe in far greater accountability and transparency in political decision making, including returning far more decisions to the individual or the level closest to the individual.

Of course it means that one party alone is unlikely to gain a majority unless that is what the voters actually elect. However the current party political system merely disguises the process of coalition building. Labour is a fusion of many different political strands, and so are the Conservatives. It would be more open if the liberal Conservatives stood as liberal Conservatives, while the Cornerstone, socially right wing Conservatives stood as themselves too. That way the electorate would have more information and more choice about which candidates should represent them. Frankly I find it cringe-making and frankly dishonest when politicians from the same party, who clearly profoundly disagree (and who probably loathe each other) try to make nice. Even the broad coalitions of the current party system struggle to gain much more than a third of the vote although our political system may still hand over 100% of the power to one or another of them.

It is hard to believe that Labour, as the party of government, could actually go bankrupt. The financial Armageddon would surely be followed by political nemesis. However, even assuming that Labour deals with this crisis, all will be far from well. Since the fiasco over the appointment of the new general secretary, it is clear that the party will struggle for some time- it will simply not be able to compete with the Conservatives' Ashcroft millions. Meanwhile the morale of the party, already damaged by the missteps of Gordon Brown is plummeting still further. In High Wycombe, my Labour opponent has recently defected to the Liberal Democrats- a course I suggested to her on the hustings in 2005. Other defections are sure to follow.

I have long believed that the intellectual death of Socialist ideology should be followed by the end of even nominally Socialist political parties. Although I suspect that Labour will survive this particular crisis without a meltdown, I also think that Blairism will, in hindsight, be seem as the Labour Party's last hurrah. The Party with an ideology vacuum found itself led by a charismatic but unprincipled Prime Minister, but upon his departure the political market began to notice that the Labour Emperor has no clothes.

It would be a final-but inevitable- irony if the historic reconciliation of Labour with the free market- exemplified by the end of Clause 4- resulted in "the project" killing the Party.

And I believe that-ultimately- it will.


Anonymous said...

Frankly I find it cringe-making and frankly dishonest when politicians from the same party, who clearly profoundly disagree (and who probably loathe each other) try to make nice - Err so Prodi's Government was a haven of peace and tranquillity then.

Anonymous said...

Remember, it is in the interests of both the Tories and Labour to see the LibDems -- or any non-extreme third party -- fail, as the drain could be on both sides. With the LibDems now committed (correctly) on a centre ground, both sides will rather fight a duel rather than with an interloper.

This is why the success of the SNP up north has the strategists so up in arms.