Is the British political system a paradox?  Are we beholden to a system which says it is one thing yet which in reality is another?  Our system (we are told) is a Party Political system, in which the elected government is typically comprised of members of parliament from a single political party.  Being from the same political party, they all support similar views and a political manifesto.  Manifestos are not subject to any legal rulings of which I am aware, however as a representation of political aims, a manifesto generally remains unchanged throughout the term of office.  Therefore in voting for a representative of that party, a voter is not only voting for an individual representative, but also for the policies of the political party of which that person is a representative (if indeed they are).

Whilst both the representative and the manifesto remain unchanged throughout the term of office however, there is no such expectation concerning the leadership roles of a political party itself.  Each political party has their own set of rules through which a person can be appointed to or removed from a position of responsibility, and such positions change hands with regularity.  .

The importance of the party itself is often reiterated in political messaging: the Conservative Party website for example states that they believe that the country “benefits from Conservative Party leadership.”and that the Conservative Party itself stands for “…personal liberty, democracy and the rule of law.”.  (Obviously the Conservative Party are an existential lot..  what with the fact that everything they do is of benefit for the country by simple virtue of the fact that they do it…)

Attributing values to a party and not to an individual by definition places prominence on the party over the individuals – if the party holds such values then anyone being a member of that party must also hold those values, else the party cannot claim to hold them either.  This is the sign of a truly party political system: a system which is theoretically isolated from and unhindered by a focus on the person leading or the members of the party. It follows from this that in an election, the political party in question has ensured that the person standing on its behalf shares the values of that party, and that the candidate agrees to uphold and defend those values.  Thus, consideration of the person standing for election is not a criteria for casting a vote – only the party (unless of course there are two candidates for a single party). Therefore, when casting a vote in such a system, the voter is not (in anything other than an emotive sense) voting for a particular person or Prime Minister – and there can be no complaints when or if that position changes hands.

So why so much fuss when issues about the leadership are raised..?  Why for example, is there continued support from members of the Conservative Party for Boris Johnson to remain Prime Minister despite the fact that this week he became the first British Prime Minister to have knowingly broken the law whilst in office. (He was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice by the police for breaking the covid lockdown laws last year.)

Because in reality, the British system is not a party political system – even if it dresses up as one in public.  If the British political system were a party political system, then there would not have been the protection of Boris Johnson that has been witnessed over the past 12 months.  Boris Johnson has broken the law, Boris Johnson has lied to parliament and Boris Johnson has also broken manifesto promises: all 3 of which break the Conservative Party values – notably democracy and rule of law.  Yet despite this, Boris Johnson is being protected by the members of his party – which clearly indicates that either they place their support for Boris above their support for the party, or that the 2 are synonymous.  Yet in a truly party political system the 2 cannot be synonymous.

So how should we describe the British political system then? Well, it seems to me that it is a system which claims to be party political but which in reality centres on a person (or in the example of Brexit an idea) and where the political parties coalesce around that point: effectively becoming political cults.  Having politics centred around one person or idea in itself does not necessarily pose a problem; the French Presidential elections are all about one person, and voters make their decisions and vote accordingly.  The French system however does not pretend to be anything else; whereas the British system is dishonest.  Voters are supposedly voting for a person standing for a party – but in reality that party only serves to support the leader at the time.  British voters are voting for a cult, and a cult that can change during its term, simply by changing the party leader.  For the present, the cult is that of Boris Johnson – the Conservative Party seems to have decided that it is better off with Boris Johnson as its figurehead, and it has shown that it is determined to do anything it takes to keep that figurehead in place.

Therein lies the fallacious nature of our political system – not only do we claim that we are voting for a party when we are in reality voting for a person, but it follows that we are not actually in a democracy, we are simply in a system of elected autocrats.  We voted for Boris Johnson, so we follow him for 5 years… until we vote for our next autocrat.

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