Paradoxes of the Party system…..
Amid all Nick Clegg’s bluster about cancelling the Queen’s Speech he points to a vote on an issue that could make sweeping changes to the culture of Parliament. Select committee chairmanships could be removed from the grace and favour of the party leaderships and MP’s are likely to be given control over the timetabling of non-governmental business.
Measures that diminish the power of the executive and the Party hierarchies in favour of the legislature are doubtless part of necessary reforms to Parliament that will increase public trust. However, they open-up a wider question about the role of the party system and parties in doing the same. Part of peoples distance from politics is their distance and the decline of participation in party politics.
Independents are not the answer because while parties have a restrictive and overly tribal rigidity to them (something that does need changing) they do allow the presentation of cohesive policy platforms to the electorate. Parties carry within them internal tensions and that is true of every political party; wings automatically and naturally form around traditional left/right divides or single issues. How these tensions are resolved and if they are resolved in a democratic way is a litmus test of any political party.
Also, since they are the vehicle through which most MP’s are elected the quality of their representative nature is also a key test. Accountability of its representatives is another one and it is no accident that the Labour government has atrophied as it has; it’s degeneration is mirrored in the internal structures of the party. Parties form one of an organic link between an electorate and their government and the electorate and their representatives. Thus the current crop of scandals also has to be set in the context of the decline of participation in party politics.Opening-up and increaseing participation in party politics is part of the process of resotring trust in Parliament and it is one that is as important as any reform Clegg proposes.