Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
In the contemporary age of politics, image and messaging matters alongside policies and purpose. It would be intriguing to see politics debranded. The polling company Populus assumed the existing political parties had been abolished, and asked respondents about their support for four new parties, differentiated only by a letter and broad positions on fundamental issues in British politics.
Party A is traditionally left-wing: backing membership of the European Union on current terms, believing immigration is generally positive and climate change necessitates urgent action, in favour of more business regulation and equal marriage for gay couples. Party A also argues that “private companies delivering public services amounts to privatisation”. Party B offers a Blairite manifesto, differentiated from the first party by thinking current levels of regulation are sufficient, and public services can be improved by private delivery.
Party C is the closest of the four new parties to the Conservative prospectus under David Cameron. This party argues for EU membership on better terms, and thinks “immigration has changed Britain for the better”. Party C also believes climate change has been exaggerated, but otherwise agrees with Party B’s policy on public services, business regulation and same-sex marriage. Lastly, Party D is an anti-globalist party. It is the only one of the four parties to desire secession from the EU, that “immigration has changed Britain for the worse” and is unsupportive of same-sex marriage. This party shares Party C’s sceptical stance on climate climate, but agrees with Party A on business regulation and public services.
In a direct contest between all four parties, Party D triumphed with 37% of votes. Party A came second, on 27%, and was closely followed by Cameronian Party C, which achieved 23%. Languishing last was the Blarite Party B, on 13%. This means, denude of knowledge about past performance or common presence, two-thirds of voters would have chosen parties beyond the prototypical positions held by Labour and the Conservatives.
If the government’s policy differs from the majority view expressed in an opinion poll, it is often labelled as ‘undemocratic’ and treated as a deliberate denial of the citizenry’s democratic rights. In democracies, the public typically engage in politics through parties, formed around the pursuit of desirable and agreed goals.
Voters must make their choice based upon the complete manifesto of each party. In Populus’s example, 60% of respondents supported parties that held a positive view of immigration, even if the public is generally more hostile on the subject. Unlike these unnamed parties, making broad statements on some pertinent issues, real political parties provide detailed manifesto commitments. This is the trade-off that the electorate make by crossing their ballots next to an instituted politician.
When asked on single issues, the public can back proposals that cannot be realised simultaneously. Voters may support low taxes, a potent military, enlarged spending on welfare and major infrastructure projects, but that does not mean these policies can be enacted concurrently. A democratic government’s failure to conjure an impossible political position is not ‘undemocratic’.