20 October 2022
Votes For Quadrupeds
Join the party.
By John Watson
It’s the trouble, you see, with giving domestic animals the vote. I have never seen the full register of Conservative party members but I’ll bet you there are a few dogs and cats on there. When I was at university a friend of mine had an office with the National Union of Students and it was the source of some pride to him that because of his role he could issue to his dog a membership card bearing an entirely genuine name and photograph. Others who wished to emulate the jape had to falsify the photograph and possibly the name, Rover Smith being a moniker which might attract attention even in the 1970s; still, voting being postal, a number of household pets participated in the elections for officers and who is to say that their preferences were less sensible than those exercised by everybody else?
Life has moved on and perhaps the degree of scrutiny exercised by the main political parties has eliminated all four-legged members. I’ll bet it hasn’t, though, and the ingenuity of the joker generally exceeding that of serious-minded guardians of probity, quite a few animals must have voted for Liz Truss this time round and indeed for Jeremy Corbyn when he was elected Labour leader. Still, it is probably unfair to put these bizarrely bad decisions down to the quadruped vote. In neither case was a quadruped actually elected. No, it is more likely that the vote was swung by nutters; nutters, that is, in the very English sense of those who believe in the blind application of political and economic theories regardless of the circumstances.
That, of course, is hardly surprising. In the Conservative party leadership election the minimum voting age was 16. Now that means that a lot of the voters were not only members of the Young Conservatives but at the lower end of the age spectrum (16 to 25) of that organisation. The Young Conservatives has as an organisation been through a series of iterations, splits and reconstructions largely because, successful though it may have once been as a marriage bureau, the views of its membership on political issues have traditionally tended towards the naïve. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Put together a group of politically committed teenagers and what do you expect to emerge? Mature and balanced views or a mad following of the latest political fashion? And the decisions reached by groups of Young Labour where the joining age is 14 probably makes the young Conservatives look wise. Strewth, oh for the dogs and cats.
But it isn’t just a question of age. Not everyone who joins a political party is a nutter but there is a higher percentage than in the general population. That is because people tend to join parties because they espouse a particular political theory and once they have done so will tend to cling to that theory like limpets. By putting the choice of leader into their hands you are putting it into the hands of zealots, so what do you expect you will get? Why, zealots of course, the likes of Corbyn and Truss. Well, perhaps that can’t be helped, but as we have argued before in this column, as the public have no opportunity to ratify party members’ decisions at a general election the choice of a leader by the government in office should be that of its members of Parliament.
Having generally trashed the merits of leadership choices by party members it is perhaps worth considering why people become members in the first place. There are two main streams. There are the entryists pushing for the adoption of a particular agenda. They generally come from the political extremes and see their membership as a route by which policies unlikely to be adopted by the all too sane public can be slid in by sleight of hand. Perhaps the best example of this is the way in which the Labour group on the General London Council sacked its moderate leader Andrew McIntosh and replaced him with Ken Livingstone on the day following the 1981 GLC elections. The public would not have elected Livingstone but liked the look of McIntosh so the Left watched, waited and pounced. That was entryism in its extreme form and every bit as undemocratic as the system which left Liz Truss in number 10.
Yet not everyone in political parties is a nutter or a zealot. Many joined to support organisations which they hope will serve the British people. Often which party they join is as much a matter of tribalism and tradition as of conviction and there are times when there is little to choose between the alternative policy approaches. In the post war years the economic views of the Tory chancellor R A Butler and the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell became so close that they were satirically referred to as Butskellism and it would be hard to find much daylight between the general political philosophies of John Major and Tony Blair. That reflects the sentiments of the general public which generally favours moderate and compassionate politics with those on the Left taking a more radical and progressive approach and those on the Right being more cautious. British politics would be a great deal more stable and constructive if the large parties reflected the streams of public opinion rather than getting pushed about by the loony fringes. It seems an odd thing to say at a time when party tensions seem to be playing havoc with the national interest but now is the time for sensible people to join the main parties and restore their equilibrium and not to give in to the understandable impulse to walk away in disgust.
tile photo by Manja Vitolic on Unsplash