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Letter: Political Parties Are An Inevitable Part of Government

Published on: 1 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 1 Mar, 2017

By George Potter

In his comment on council leader Paul Spooner’s letter: Who Does Hon Alderman Bernard Parke Support? Ben Paton repeats a familiar refrain, asking the question: Why do we need political parties on (insert any council name here) at all?

Well I’m a member of a political party so I’d like to offer a stab at an answer.

An old saying goes “to govern is to choose” and it is very much correct. Even when it comes to matters like rubbish collections, council housing and arts funding, it will always be the case that the people in charge are forced to make choices as to what to prioritise. Quite often these choices aren’t easy or pleasant.

So often one of the most important things about a politician is what values they’ll use to decide which choices to make. For example, if there was a choice to be made between economic growth and jobs or protecting the local environment, which choice would their values lead them to make?

Now let’s imagine we had a council made up entirely of councillors independent of any political party. It should be obvious that they’re not always going to agree and that, even with the best will in the world, different councillors would have different perspectives on what the “right” choices would be.

So what you’d then find is that councillors would naturally start to work together with other councillors who shared their views. It’s human nature to form teams and to work together to achieve a common goal.

Then, inevitably, at some point, you would arrive at a choice where the different groups were completely at odds thanks to their different perspectives. So at the next election the different groups of councillors would probably each issue some sort of joint statement as to what their stance was on the contentious issue of the day.

Eventually the different groups are likely to decide it made sense to formalise their arrangements and adopt a common label. They would become political parties.

Because political parties make sense. Because they don’t just exist for no reason.

Every political party is held together internally by a common set of values and a common perspective on the world. They are made up of individual people who want to work together towards a common aim with people who share their values.

And every political party acts as a shortcut to help voters decide who to vote for. Without knowing anything else about a candidate, which party they’re affiliated with will tell you a lot about the values they’d use to guide their decisions when voting in council meetings.

And because this kind of shortcut is useful to voters who have limited time to spend learning about all the candidate standing, political parties will always be more successful in the long run than a lone individual standing for election.

So even if we were to abolish all political parties it would only be a matter of time before new ones emerged to take their place.

And no doubt we would still get people complaining about their existence and whining about how underhand it is that councillors who share the same values mysteriously tend to all vote the same way at council meeting.

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test 4 Responses to Letter: Political Parties Are An Inevitable Part of Government

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    March 1, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Whilst I understand George Potter’s line of thought, I would like to add that at Parish Council meetings we too have differing opinions. Sometimes I agree with everyone, other times not. Sometimes I agree with some people on a particular issue and at other times disagree with the same people on a different issue.

    So, it is very difficult, at a parish level, to be considered part of any particular political party. Surely borough councillors should have the flexibility to decide with their own conscious whether they support or object to the items being discussed, this is not always noticeable at council meetings where many do appear to toe the ‘party line’.

    However, I notice in recent decisions, an example being the SANG application at Frog Grove Lane, that councillors, especially in the Conservative party, are starting to vote for what’s right instead of what the boss says. Long may it continue.

  2. Sue Fox Reply

    March 1, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    As a Liberal/Lib Dem since my teens and a former councillor I have always voted for my beliefs. I have never been ‘whipped’ as other parties on Guildford Borough Council have been, I’m a natural rebel, the bane of many of the leaders of my party.

    No one ever threatened or attempted to deter me, there were occasions when the Stoughton councillors were lone voices, voting against all others in defence of their electorate. It’s a pity we couldn’t persuade others but we tried.

    Another reason for political parties is elections and the need for help contact everyone in the ward, constituency etc. not just deliver a leaflet every four or five years. Free post is nothing compared with face to face contact.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    March 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    In order to save having to evaluate which party is most likely to make the decisions that we might make ourselves, perhaps we could just have one?

    Better still might be a single person as it would resolve the potential for dissent within the party. We might give it a suitable title and absolute power. That way we would only need help to vote once.

  4. John Lomas Reply

    March 4, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    I don’t think I have, in 57 years, agreed with everything a party has proposed in it’s election aims and objectives.

    I then have to choose on the basis of perhaps two or three policies and accept some I don’t like at all.

    If we had the opportunity to vote on policies (not feasible I know) I could easily be voting for parts of all three or four candidates’ aims.

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