on political parties.

December 15, 2008

a friend of mine – who i would certainly put into the general “progressive” category – once said that he could never vote for the NDP because he thought that they are all crooks. this hurt personally to a degree – particularly because i don’t believe that theft is part of social-democratic ideology – but i can understand his disappointment.

people often have severe distrust for political parties of all stripes (perhaps this is why the green party has come under an increasing amount of scrutiny over the past few years: once a protest vote, the greens now have a half-decent chance of being elected in a small number of ridings across the country). the public does not understand why they exist, nor why they are important in a democratic society.

there is a whole lot of love for independent candidates – probably because we have a deep admiration for david-and-goliath stories. whenever an independent candidate does something of note, it appears that they do so on their own, without any degree of political support.

of course, this is not true; independent candidates, while certainly having a harder ride than candidates with a party backing them, must assemble their own tiny coalitions of interests in order to get elected or to stand out in a sea of affiliated members of the house.

there is an idea that an independent representative is always the best choice for a riding to elect because they are not beholden to any party line; they can thus seek out the best deal for their constituencies. this won’t work, however, since a representative would thus be inclined to vote against anything that didn’t benefit their district directly. hence, the only way of getting things done is through massive injections of pork, something to which independents are particularly vulnerable in times where power-brokering between factions is (more) common.

some people say that we should ban political parties and force all candidates to run as independents. this is an idea that i would support in theory, assuming a subsequent idea was attached to it that we also ban being sad.

political parties are extremely valuable to the democratic process for a few reasons. first, not only does it give the public an idea of how members will vote on the issues of the day, it also gives the public an idea of how the parties will vote on issues that have not yet come to the table. second, it helps to promote elections, and makes researching candidates for office much easier on the electorate – most of whom will only glance at a website or a couple of flyers in order to make their decision.

most importantly, though, parties are important because they are out in the open. banning parties would likely result in increased obfuscation in the halls of legislators across the world. any political movement needs support; it is thus much better to have constituted and visible factions jockeying for power than invisible, amorphous pseudo-caucuses trying to get things done piecemeal.

basically, forbidding political associations from campaigning does not add up to much beyond pushing these factions underground. any debate about banning political slates should not be about whether or not slates are good or bad. rather, people should be talking about whether or not they want to admit that political slates will always exist.

there is little sense in trashing political parties just because they are parties; citizen journalists – and by this, i am referring to those who are guilty of doing this – should stop doing this.

after all, politics is much more entertaining when you call politicians on their bullshit.

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