126.96.36.199 Shared Ideologies and Attitudes
Like-minded politicians in democracies tend to form political parties with shared ideologies and attitudes to change
Democratic politics is characterised by different parties jostling for power. These parties describe themselves to voters by explaining their approaches to politics, and the policies that they propose for the next few years, with a party platform or manifesto.
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 social democrats (188.8.131.52), encouraging capitalism to produce the funds to improve public services. Other members describe themselves as socialist (184.108.40.206), supporting State control of major industries. This split was so severe at the end of 2015 that Peter Hyman wrote: ‘This is an existential moment in Labour’s history. It may not survive. And it may never win again’. This split still existed at the end of 2023, but the hunger for power was sufficient motivation for party members to negotiate a public show of unity, based on their shared ideologies and attitudes.
There can be a degree of policy overlap between political parties. There can be practical agreement between Burkean conservatives (220.127.116.11) and pragmatic progressives (18.104.22.168), 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. That has continued subsequently, with the threat of a government shutdown in November 2023 for example.
If the overlap between parties’ approaches to politics is too great, voters have insufficient choice. They then become apathetic, believing that nothing that they can do will make any difference, or they grow frustrated because they can see no way of improving their situation. As described later, there are widespread signs of political disillusion (6.3.9).
Whether a party is in government or in opposition, it has to adapt its policies as circumstances change – as described in the following sub-section (22.214.171.124).
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6261.htm