Beyond The Political Party: A New Model

Michael Doherty of the Peadar O’Donnell 1916 Society Derry gives his critique of party politics based on the writing of Simone Wiel. This is the second of three instalments of which the author has written on the subject.

The party system has squeezed out independent political thought. Let’s be honest, while Independents do tend to ‘punch above their weight’, Independents have no place on the ideological spectrum and are generally seen are political lightweights who seem to survive on a fairly low-calorie ideological diet.

What might happen if all the politicians in, say, Westminster or the Dail, woke up one morning and became Independents? The implications would be staggering, especially the implication that they would now offer honest opinions on matters rather than line up like penguins. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it would be perceived by the Establishment as a ‘threat to national security’. Anyway, there are two conclusions we should draw from this: Independents are a step in the right direction and, secondly, let’s make it happen.

Weil, of course, is an anarchist. Another much misunderstood word with bogeyman connotations. One of the principal arguments against anarchism is that it might lead to, well, anarchy – Anarchy defined in terms of chaos, war and bloodshed. This is a theoretical argument that must stand alongside the reality of today’s modern and highly regulated world, characterised by unprecedented chaos, war and bloodshed. Therefore, this argument against anarchy is self-cancelling based simply on the basis of empirical observation.

So, how can we inject a bit of anarchy into the body politic? Weil has a simple suggestion for a practical start: Use the personal pronoun a bit more and keep it simple. Engage in political discussions using terms like “I think” or “I’ve thought about this and my opinion is X”. Challenge those who say “we want” or “we think” and those who speak for ideological blocks “as a socialist I would say…”, “as a republican I would say…”. These are based on collective thinking, poisoned by collective passion, and when organised as a party, inevitably lead to contradiction.

Something is happening in Ireland. Ordinary people with no party-political affiliations are standing in elections and winning as ‘Independents’. Their shoestring budgets, home-made campaigns, and low-calorie ideological diets are trumping the slick, well-funded party machines. So what’s going on?

Independents’ main assets are honesty, diversity, and autonomy. Generally speaking, Independents tend to share a worldview of what constitutes progressive politics for society; however, openness about the diversity of political opinion among Independents is a strength when it comes to solving problems and tackling issues. Independents don’t line up like penguins to tow a party line, they don’t conceal their real opinions in a quagmire of party policy, don’t jump to a party whip or submit to the personality cult of a party leader. Their public opinion is the same as their private opinion. In other words, they’ve got nothing to hide behind.

The main outcome of electing Independents is not the implementation of a new ‘ism’ (socialism, capitalism, liberalism etc.) It’s much more ambitious than that. It is to return democratic decision making to ordinary people. It’s to strip away the conditions that allow corruption and deception to thrive in the most important public forums we have.

In modern politics, the party has become more important than any issue it claims to represent. The party is more important than the people, it serves only power. Parties have created a model of politics in which society accepts, as a matter of convention, that politicians will lie or evade telling the truth. This model is the result of our adversarial party system. The chief beneficiary is the Establishment which retains power regardless of which party enters government. We shrug off the systemic lies and propaganda of political parties as something normal, a necessary evil. The Independent model challenges these assumptions. If political parties can offer nothing of benefit to the public then there is no reason to preserve them. We simply do not need political parties. Elected representatives are capable of making decisions on issues without being commanded to vote along the party line. Global experience has shown parties to be magnets for corruption, especially on the corporate and multi-national levels.

The two states in Ireland are built on a corruption of fundamental democracy. If we start off by accepting this corruption what outcome should we expect? No silk purse out of a sow’s ear here!

Western democracy has become the prisoner of party politics. Not only do the politicians line up like penguins when the party whip is cracked, but they expect the electorate to do the same on polling day – turn up to vote and then take a seat as spectators as their health and education systems are privatised or run down by corruption and incompetence. If you object, you’ll soon find that you are speaking to a bureaucratic machine and not to a person, the party is deaf unless, of course, you carry a fat chequebook. Independents, however, tend to be local people who are passionate about making a difference. As elected representatives, Independents make up their own minds. Whether you agree or disagree with them, you’ll certainly be heard by your Independent elected representative and the conversation will be between two human beings who want the best for the local community.

In the next instalment, I’ll look at “Independents, Activism, and Representative Democracy”.

Michael's first instalment can be found by clicking on this link: The Abolition Of Political Parties.

Michael Doherty is a Derry political activist and member of the 1916 Societies.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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