The modern political party, an assemblage of people who identify with an operate under a communal banner and policy, first emerged at the end of the 19th Century, starting in the United Kingdom. They emerged as a need to help communicate political messages to people who, frankly, couldn’t give a toss for politics and just needed a simple message to understand.
Until that point, politicans had been independents, aligning with movements, but still on their own for the bulk of their careers and their contributions. By aligning directly with a party, they didn’t have to work so hard to say “this is what I stand for”, because the party did that for them. And unlike individual politicans, the party endured.
To be fair, it made sense: simpler messages, easier to make decisions. Your local person mattered much less for their own intent and voice, it was a matter of what party they belonged to. You wanted less tax, you voted blue, and taxes (supposedly) went down; you wanted better government services (which varied wildly in the last 100+ years), you voted red and (supposedly) things got better. The alignment of red vs. blue to cheaper vs. better varied from country to country, but the split was generally the same.
In those 100+ years, we’ve sunk from “people aligned with a colour” to merely colours: you vote for the party, the person is irrelevant. Because the party rules, the parties have literal “whips” (people as opposed to weapons) to keep their members in line and following the leader’s direction, the parties are run by non-politicians that force policy despite not being elected (because the politicians are whipped into following it). This has led to massive divides in multiple governments and nations, not the least the United Kingdom (witness Brexit), the United States (who has got to be bordering on another civil war), and Canada (where we have two parties: conservative and “other”).
We’ve ended up with the non-elected setting the rules that the elected must impose upon the masses. It’s a new republic overlaid on what we believe to be democracy, leaving us with little actual choice.
Political parties were born of a need to communicate more complex ideas to people who little cared for them. Our modern world, however, is filled with complexities, most delivered personally through small, glowing slabs we tuck into pants pockets. We have at our fingertips almost the sum of human history and knowledge (not wisdom, let’s be clear), and willingness to follow the words of precious few that affect the lives of hundreds of millions.
The parties are the problem: policies dictated by precious, privileged few, intended only as solutions for those who dictated the policies. The ordinary person is not a consideration. And going to your local representative is a pointless effort – except in en masse conditions – because the party has already set the direction, regardless of the populous.
And those directions are sending us in different directions. I’m old enough to remember when the different sides of the Canadian Parliament were at odds with each other during debates, but would go out for drinks with each other afterwards. Today, they prefer to keep shouting at each other long after the debates are done, often using the leaders’ names as a form of insult or curse, to instill hatred within the public.
The divisions between ideologies grows wider each year. In the United States, the “you are either with us or against us” rhetoric has led to more than just a divide in the House of Representatives, there’s a literal gap. The differences are boiled down to whether or not someone voted for one party or another, and nothing to do with whom that particular representative represents in the House. Because it all comes from the Party.
But the divisions go much deeper than just one party’s perspective over another – we also have to content with political divisions within a nation. And with countries as large as Canada and the United States of America, we’re talking the breadth of an entire continent, with areas that have grown to have completely different perspectives than another area. For example, Alberta (where I live) has long-identified itself as being different than its neighbours, no more so than Quebec, which has held two referendums in my lifetime to determine its sovereignty.
Why? Because we’re very different people in very different parts of the country with very different backgrounds – we’re not homogenous. And yet we try to apply the same policies across a wide set of groups who might not see eye-to-eye – the simplistic rules that might work for one group could be entirely offensive to another. The regional areas require regional differences, which are not possible through a “unified” party approach.
Thus, we need to remove the party from the equation. The party is the problem, and the person is the solution.
We need to return to the world of the individual politician who represents their region, independent of any others who may share similar perspectives. We need politicians to return to a place where they come forward borne of the need to serve, not the desire to be rewarded for service, nor the rush that comes from being in a position of power (even arm’s length by being associated with power).
In effect, we need to ban political parties. Yes, that will cause some turmoil, because we’ve become accustomed to them. You can also become accustomed to tumours and boils, but that doesn’t make them any good, either. By removing the party, we place the onus and the responsibility on the individual, the person we intend to choose to represent us at legislature or parliament or council or senate. It’s on them to understand the issues and make informed decisions for their constituents, not some amorphous body that makes a rule.
Why would we do this? We could bring this up as a need for real accountability, lying with a single person, for saying something in public that doesn’t really reflect the group that put the person there. And that would be a pretty powerful reason. But it’s more.
In the last two decades, and more in the last few years, we’ve started to see a dramatic rollback of White Male Christian influence. Our populations are trending more and more to a mixed variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, some of which had been ignored and oppressed by the the White Christian Male. To continue and solidify that influence, the WCM has done an admirable job of centralizing power through the political parties. Remove that influence, and suddenly the WCM has to contend with the reality of neighbourhoods and the people who live in them.
Would in increase the chaotic nature of government? Unabashedly, yes, because instead of 2-4 unique voices, we would likely have hundreds. But only at first – just like times past, we would see stronger voices emerge from the noise, those who espouse visions and directions, and would inspire others to potentially follow. These are the Elder Statesmen of old (and likely would have been Stateswomen, had politics not been male-dominated) who took stands and make eloquent speeches. Disagreements were settled over discussions rather than a singluar “thou shalt follow policy”. You wanted victory? You needed to deal with individuals to get support. Was it perfect? No, but having discussions required interaction, which is far, far more than we get today.
Yes, it could slow things down, we might struggle with progress. But Government isn’t about progress, it’s about supporting it. So really, we need Government to keep supporting the things – the people – that make progress happen, not cabals who operate to their own agendas. Governments will have to deal with their people, the very ones who give the Government their power and responsibility.
It also complicates voting, because it’s not as simple as “I vote Conservative”. Someone might identify as a conservative, but without a specific party to align with, they must stand up with their perspective and ideals, because there might be more than one conservative candidate (something the parties currently prevent happening). It becomes about the individual and their competency to be a representative. No longer could you be elected for the colour of the flag you wave – you need to be seen as credible. And that would make all of us need to spend a little more time understanding the candidates, as we must do with civic elections where the parties don’t have influence, to ensure we elect the right people for our needs.
The party needs to be over.