In an eerie Chinese propaganda song dating from the 1940s, the Chinese Communist Party declared that: “Without the Communist Party, There would be no new China!” That is to say, that the Chinese Communist Party is the perfect vehicle of communism, and of course, the political wing of the people. It goes without saying that this is absurd. Firstly, given that the CCP is questionable in its commitment to communism, and secondly, this suggests that the party truly represents the politics of its people. The song doesn’t state that communism was the true savior of the Chinese, but rather, the hard work of the party. Can a single party claim to be the savior of the nation? Evidently not.
Ideology and party politics are commonly entwined in the popular consciousness. In China this is evident to see. The CCP views itself as a true embodiment of Chairman Mao’s communist ideals. Many citizens blindly subscribe to this view. China serves perhaps as an extreme example of this confusion between ideology and party, but there is evidence of this school of thought even in the developed Western world.
In Britain, a victory at the ballot box is not a victory for conservatism, socialism, or liberalism. Rather, it is the victory for the archetypal political party. Can the 2019 general election be sincerely framed as a victory of Conservatism over Socialism? If society is any reflection of this election, the answer is evidently no.
This article does not serve as any particular criticism of the Conservative Party’s conservatism, or lack thereof. But rather a condemnation of a new era of soulless, apolitical politics. In China, the hypocrisy of ideological affiliation is evident. The party and state claim to preach an ideology which they do not engage with, while claiming to represent Chinese society at large. In the U.K, a nominally more pluralistic nation, the same hypocrisy exists; it is merely hidden behind a thin veil of naivety and ignorance.
In an effectively two-party state, there will never be true political representation. The Conservative Party’s attempts to erect a large enough party to cater to the majority of society has failed, collapsing its “big tent” ideal. The party now ultimately presides over a soulless husk of an utilitarian electoral machine. Any mention of conservative ideals is ramped up in the run up to an election, then promptly cast aside after their inevitable victory.
The Labour Party has fared no better. Its attempts to shift the goalposts to incorporate a new generation of socially conscious petit bourgeois has spiritually gutted the platform, leaving in its place a largely contrarian and turbulent agroupment of warring socialists and social democrats.
The Culture War exists, but it is fought on the streets, in the classroom, on the silver screen, and in the press. It is not to be found in our electoral system. British politics now resembles a long-running rivalry between two supermarket giants battling to cut prices, win market share, and deliver returns to their investors. A victory for either side ultimately results in little meaningful change in direction, national spirit, or popular will. There are certainly those who see this as the deliberate consequence of a new age of “political stability.” On the contrary, I describe this as stagnation.
Ideology is constrained by many factors in modern society. Our increasingly globalised world means that all party-ideological upheaval is subject to the whim of the global financial markets and merchant banks. Radical change is met with radical fiscal punishment. As a result, all modern ideology must work within the constraints of economic liberalism and transnational trade. This has not permitted certain nations from undertaking serious shifts in political direction, though it certainly has increased the incentive to stay within a range of unspoken ideological “acceptability.”
By far the largest ideological restraint, however, is not from outside, but from within. First-Past-the-Post voting has proven extremely harmful for political change. FPTP has created an insurmountable barrier to political competition, entrenched party structures rather than genuine ideological ideals, and disincentive political participation. While the left has championed this cause, organisations such as Make Votes Matter and Electoral Reform Society have rightly taken up this cause on behalf of small parties from across the political spectrum. As a small ‘c’ conservative, I am proud to support this movement and I encourage others to heed this call.
Proportional Representation, undoubtedly, will initially favour some. Both the Conservative Party and Labour have dragged their feet in addressing the elephant in the room. For the Conservatives, it would severely damage their grip on certain areas and hurt their control over the south. Labour have only recently warmed to the idea post-Corbyn, as the rise of the SNP threatens to stop the party from ever gaining enough seats for a general election win.
Only through proportional representation can we hope to reintroduce ideology to politics. Even the most ardent supporters of the Conservative Party should seek to support the move to democratise our electoral system. While PR may lead to the breakdown of the UK party political structure as we know it, conservatives will finally be able to make a party which truly stands for conservative values. If PR was implemented today, the Conservatives would remain the largest party by a wide margin, but may encourage the creation of more representative parties and factions.
British society has been subjected to centuries of near binary political identification and it is almost inconceivable for many to transition away from our red/blue system. Small ‘c’ conservatives must be able to stand with a party which truly reflects their own ideology. Only through this radical reform can any impact be made in the culture war in greater British society. Political conviction and engagement must not come at the cost of party affiliation, yet many Tory voters find themselves without any viable alternatives. In our current political system, the Conservative Party cannot meaningfully claim to represent conservative voices, when our electoral system has ground the party down into a one-size-fits-all electoral machine.
History should teach us to differentiate party and ideology. The “New Britain” that we wait for will not come thanks to the Conservative Party. Political victory, for any ideology, will only arise when a new breed of popular politics is born, and the political party finally re-emphasises the importance of ideological progress over electoral status quo. I strongly encourage voters to act with their feet and to stand up for their political principles, not for mere party affiliation.