Saturday’s Times had a front page article about tensions within the Conservative Party: between the top and the grass roots. Apparently, a senior Tory considers some of the activists to be “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.
My response is “What do you expect when political parties are so un-representative of the population at large?”
The percentage of the population that pays to be members of the main political parties is very low. Of these, the percentage that is active is also small. Thus, the percentage of the population that is politically active is extremely small.
If you think about the reasons why only such a small percentage of people become politically active, it becomes clear that it is because they have an agenda of some sort. They’re not doing it solely to support the political process in general, they are doing it to push their own world view.
In the case of the Conservative party activists, that agenda tends to be a right wing little England (not Britain) agenda. It hankers after a (non existent) golden age of empire, where the middle classes were in charge and the workers knew their place. It’s views are almost entirely negative: anti-Europe, anti Immigration, anti gay.
The Party knows that this view is not representative of the population at large, which has much larger items on its agenda: how am I going to pay my mortgage, what do I live on when I get old, where are my children going to live when they want homes of their own. These are the real issues: the rest is just intellectual masturbation. And this is where the trouble lies.
Regardless of the objectives of the activists, party HQ has only one real objective: to be (re) elected. Unfortunately, for the parties, because of the poor level of participation in party politics, none of the parties can be elected solely on the votes of their paid up members. To be elected, all parties know that they need the support of the middle ground.
Labour understood this when John Smith became leader. Blair implemented the resulting policies and moved Labour into the centre ground after defeating Militant Tendency. The Tories did much the same when Cameron took over as leader.
In both cases, the actions of the top infuriate the grass roots. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, they are more beholden to their grass roots. A lot is spoken of Labour’s dependence on the unions for their funding, but at least they are dealing with a group of leaders who understand the needs of real politik. The same cannot be said for the Tory party and their “swivel-eyed loons”.
Perhaps Gay Marriage is the Tory party’s equivalent to Labour’s Clause Four moment.