(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents. An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6323.htm)
Although politicians in a democracy can act as independent individuals, it is more usual for them to work within political parties. Parties have organisation structures under a leader, and politicians can strive for promotion within the party. Parties can develop policies which they publish as manifestos, to attract support from members of the public – and the name of the party is more likely to be recognised than that of individual politicians.
Voting for the manifesto or platform of a political party appears to offer a mechanism for those who wish to steer their governance. It is unrealistic, though, to hope that everybody can be educated to the point at which they become sophisticated voters – so party manifestos should be pitched to enable the electorate to grasp the major differences between the alternatives on offer.
Manifestos should give examples of a party’s policy priorities, but firm commitments should not be made because circumstances will change within a government’s term of office. Both people and politicians have to accept that there must be a degree of latitude in manifestos. A manifesto which focuses more on ideology (6.2) and strategic objectives is less vulnerable to change than one which tries to provide details of implementation; it is also easier to vote for, because it demands less effort and less knowledge from the voters than one which offers a lot of information.
A single vote to choose a party is an endorsement of all of the aspects of that party’s programme – it isn’t possible to pick and mix policies from different parties. The best that can be achieved is that the voter has some basis for making a choice and can choose not to vote for parties with unacceptable policies. As argued later in this chapter (6.5.3), consultation is the most effective way of enabling the population to make its voice heard on specific issues.