The Unity Myth….
Once in a supermoon something odd happens. John Redwood writes or says something and I pretty much agree. His blog today on Party unity is pretty much bang on the nose. It is patently absurd for politicians and political activists to go around pretending we all agree on every single thing, with every dot and comma of Party policy. In fact, it is a tad hypocritical of the left especially to push this view. So many on the left criticise the monolith of News International, for example, for squashing a democratic media by imposing the will of one man, through the iron fiat of many different editorials. We can scarcely insist our political parties should operate in a way we criticise others for doing. Our parties do need some division, they need to reflect a healthy variety of different life perspectives and therefore naturally contain people who come to radically different conclusions. In any case, new media, instant gut reaction mediums like Twitter are making the unity myth even more unsustainable.
Party unity is also a mantra of the insincere and voters defiantly do not like this in politics. Parroting the party line constantly in public, when people often know you do not actually agree, makes you look like a thoughtless drone and worse, like somebody who is perfectly prepared to tell bare-faced lies about what you actually believe. If you don’t agree, people want you to be honest and tell the truth about what you think and why you think it, even if you change your mind, people can then see why and how you have changed your mind. How can people have confidence in your abilities and sincerity as a public figure if your determined to present yourself as being as independent of mind as a member of the Borg collective?
However, as Mr Redwood implies, it is also about the kind of division that exists. Division over policy, over ideas, about the direction we should take and the way forward are broadly accepted and, as is stated in Mr Redwood’s blog, even seen as healthy by many. Personality-based divisions however are broadly speaking frowned upon and unhealthy for Party democracy. This is because they encourage division along the lines of the faithful and faithless into exclusivist cliques, each vying purely for personal power for their chosen champion and nothing else.
Political opponents are wrong to try to punish disunity of an ideological and intellectual kind. For example, I essentially think Mr Jackson, my local MP, was right to rebel against the control-freakery of the Cameroons and I have some sympathy for him, as a fellow participant in politics who cares passionately about my Party. Obviously, I don’t agree with his ideas and indeed loath and despise his politics, however, if I felt I was being undemocratically repressed I would probably react in exactly the same way and think his Party should allow him the space to argue for his ideas. However, I have no sympathy for Peterborough’s Conservatives who are split along personal lines, fighting like ferrets in a sack over nothing more than personal advancement. We are right to criticise the latter but should respectfully not punish the former with cat-calls about ‘divided Parties’. If we do so, we dumb down the political debate and encourage a culture of insincerity and intellectual atrophy in our politics. If we are serious about restoring faith in our battered politics then we need to welcome intellectual clashes and the sincerity of those who rightly have no desire to put themselves before the public as mindless drones, parroting the Party line.