I am slightly active in the political party that I am a member of, but it worries me that maybe it is the very existence of political parties as formal structures that is the problem in modern politics in democracies. Here is a brief argument why:
If you have a formal organisation in which the rules are made by elected or other officials, then that narrows down the target for corrupt behaviour: the smaller the executive body, the fewer people have to be corrupted in order to corrupt the entire democratic process.
This comes out in two ways:
- Individuals who may become or already are corrupt can become executive members of a formal organisation, in order to exploit their positions, or
- Vested interests can buy influence from executive members.
We have seen both occurring in Australian politics, which has over the last century rapidly become the preserve of a “political class” – you either have to be born into that class or have worked in the “right” institutions, like a union, or company.
This inevitably leads to a shift away from proper representation of the wider electorate to the representation of vested interests, and leads to the nascent fascism of our present western society. The plutocracy is inevitable when political parties are funded by corporate interests by people who are socialised into the political culture.
One solution here, and I say this as a member of a political party that represents individual liberty against corporate interests, is to delegitimise political parties as such. In the United States, Europe and the UK, political parties are part of the governmental fabric. The systems are set up so that parties can seek votes officially when the populace votes in elections. In the US, they seem to have a weird system where you actually register as a voter for one party before you even vote. This allows you to vote in primaries for party-approved candidates. Sounds democratic, but it normalises the rule of parties, and only two parties at that. There is talk of doing this in Australia at present.
This makes it almost impossible for new parties to form and get votes. One state in Australia – New South Wales – even makes it so hard to get a new party elected that the fourth most popular vote (my party – I’ll get back to what it is later) could not be registered in time for the last state election. The media, which let’s face it is not well prepared to deal with subtlety in politics, ignores these “minor” parties (a distinction without meaning in politics) and does not discuss them, which forms a feedback mechanism for reinforcing the two-party idea. When new parties are formed, and are successful, they rely upon massive amounts of private funding, which again means corporate interests.
The solution to this is, I think, to “deregister” political parties altogether. At present, in Australia you vote along party “preferences”, the result of deals made party-to-party by the executives of those parties (and not the membership), which means that the voting papers offer you the option to vote en bloc. Again this institutionalises the major parties and constrains voting preferences. Public funding to parties is given by the number of votes received in the last election. New parties get no public funding.
There is no mention of political parties in the constitutions of the US, UK or Australia. They simply have no legal standing with respect to the public institutions of our polity. Why, then, do we privilege these corporate objects? When the US formed, representatives were exactly that, they represented their constituents as individuals. That these individuals allied themselves with other representatives in the parliaments of their countries was a factor voters had to take into account, but the formal idea of parties was not initially what mattered.
So I want to suggest that we pass a federal law in which no candidate may be listed as a member of the party they really represent, either on voting papers or in the arrangement of members in parliament. Who governs should be reserved for the parliamentary vote, not the privileging of prior institutions. This would resolve the corruption issue to a large degree: corporate interests cannot easily corrupt a parliament that has no formal institutional structure, and voters would be forced to decide who they would vote for as individuals, not as cogs in a political machine. I do not think this would eliminate corruption, but it would make it a lot harder for systemic corruption to become entrenched.
The party I am a member of is the Sex Party, which is a civil liberties party. We stand for the rights of adults to make their own life choices (hence the name, since sex is the major arena which is regulated for no good reason). In the last federal election, the Sex Party made a preferences deal with various other parties that were, to put it mildly, less objectionable than the major parties, but they failed to reciprocate in time, and as a result the Sex Party candidate for the Senate failed to get elected despite getting an order of magnitude more votes than the one that did get elected (a motoring enthusiast party with no policies). If preference deals were eliminated because one could not vote along party lines, the result would be a more representative senate (and lower house).
So as a member of a party, I am recommending we drop all party affiliations from the voting papers. What think you, folks?