188.8.131.52 Ideological Positioning of Political Parties
(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/edition03/6261a.htm)
Like-minded people in democracies tend to form political parties, with shared ideological positions and approaches to change (6.2.1). Democratic politics is characterised by different parties jostling for power – as exemplified by the ‘platforms’ of American Republicans and Democrats, and by the contrasting election manifestos offered by the major political parties in Britain.
No party label can precisely define the views of every individual politician within it. The British Labour party, for example, is broadly collectivist – but that encompasses a range of views (6.2.3). Some of its members describe themselves as socialist, and they support State control of major industries, but other members support Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ policy of encouraging capitalism (3.2.1) to produce the funds to improve public services. This split was so severe that Peter Hyman wrote that ‘This is an existential moment in Labour’s history. It may not survive. And it may never win again’. When some politicians disagree strongly with their party’s choice of direction, they may vote against it – so the behaviour of parties is unpredictable.
Since each party represents a spectrum of opinion, it is unsurprising that there can be a degree of policy overlap between them. There can be practical agreement between Burkean Stewardship (184.108.40.206) and Pragmatic Progressivism (220.127.116.11) for example, in responding to change when necessary – although the former would be more reluctant to act. When the US Constitution is working well, Congress approves legislation that falls within the overlap – but the increasing polarisation in American politics has left very little common ground and the system has become dysfunctional from time to time. The Economist article in October 2014, After the mid-term elections, summarised the impact of divisions between the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives over more than 30 years – in particular, highlighting moments of complete stalemate.
If the overlap becomes too great, parties become indistinguishable. Voters then become apathetic – believing that nothing that they can do will make any difference – or frustrated because they can see no way of improving their situation (6.3.9).
Whether a party is in government or in opposition, it has to adapt to circumstances and pursue an overall political direction – as described in the following sub-section (18.104.22.168).