Party Democracy

Parliamentary democracy rests on individuals being able to put themselves forward for election with the minimum of hindrance (i.e. a small fee or a number of signatures to prevent a multiplicity of casual candidates standing) and then the electorate being able to choose freely between them.  The successful candidate is then empowered to vote as s/he pleases within parliament.  In order to gain election, the candidate may make certain promises about how s/he will vote, and adherence to those promises may be a factor in the next election.

In a party system, the prospects of election are greatly increased by being adopted as the candidate of that party.  This provides the likely support of all those voters who have some measure of allegiance to that party or who are swayed by the arguments or image of the party nationally, it also means that local party members will undertake various electioneering activities for the candidate.  Very few people are elected to parliament without being the candidate of a major, national party.

In selecting candidates, party members will have a natural interest in the political ideals and preferences of those putting themselves forward and it is commonplace to give local members some measure of say as to who will be the party’s candidate in their constituency.  It should be noted, though, that this practice is not an integral part of parliamentary democracy, nor is any other measure designed to give party members a greater say e.g. determining the shortlist of parliamentary candidates, deselecting sitting MPs as candidates, direct election of the party leader in parliament etc.

The promotion of party democracy is therefore not necessarily in the interests of parliamentary democracy nor should it be confused with it.  Advocates of party democracy may feel that greater democracy in all walks of life is a good thing, but that does not make it so nor is it necessitated by democratic ideals that are about the government of the country being elected by the people.  At worst, the cause of party democracy may simply be a tactical measure adopted by those who see it as a means of furthering their own ideological ends.

Parliamentary democracy is, in fact, furthered by political parties that adjust their own constitutional interests to give primacy to parliament.  This should include:

  • No deselection of MPs on policy/ideological grounds (although deselection for wrong doing, including non-performance of MPs’ fundamental duties of attendance and spending time with constituents, could provide legitimate grounds for deselection).
  • Election of the party leader in parliament by MPs only (although they may choose to be influenced by members’ views through a vote or other means).
  • Overall control of the party, including the shortlisting of parliamentary candidates, to be in the hands of the parliamentary party.

A party member who is unhappy with the political programme being followed by the parliamentary party is, of course, free to join and/or vote for another party or to club together with other dissatisfied members to form their own political party.

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