Don’t vote for Party leaders

It’s often said that if you are foolish enough to  make a bet in horse racing it makes at least some sense to bet on the jockey rather than the horse. The horse is the muscle, the jockey is the mind, the strategist. The thought is compelling when we think of the ‘horserace’ that is a General Election – but it’s the wrong principle – it doesn’t work. The idea that the political Party is the horse, the Party leader the jockey is just lazy thinking.

Here are 5 things you can vote for:

  1. a political party (ideological vote)
  2. a party’s manifesto (rational vote)
  3. the local candidate (personal vote)
  4. the team behind the manifesto (confidence vote)
  5. a party leader (the X-factor vote)

Of course, there is a sixth vote – voting against one Party, rather than for another. That’s probably more common than is assumed by pollsters even though we now have a robust polling category for ‘strategic voting’. In my mind, I never once voted for Tony Blair – but I always voted against the Conservatives. #1 is historically the dominant vote, but said, these days, to be eroding. #2 seems to have been influential in the 2016 election where the Labour manifesto caught the public imagination. #3 is obviously influential – send to Parliament the best advocate for our constituency. #4 makes most sense if we want good government – look no further than the current (2019) government to lament its absence. #5 is the one force-fed us by the media – it makes for the sexiest news while making least political or democratic sense.

But the important question in the current General Election (December 12th, 2019) is how to strike a proper balance between voting for ‘Boris’ Johnson/Jeremy Corbyn and voting for their respective Party ideologies. The little canvassing I have done in this election finds a majority of those I spoke to wanting to vote Labour for their life-changing policies, but refusing to do so because of Corbyn. Fewer were those who insist on voting Conservative, but baulk at supporting ‘Boris’ and concerned about food banks and in-work poverty. (Brexit was a minor theme.) This is confused thinking – more Presidential than Prime Ministerial.

Our Parliamentary democracy is not Presidential. Rather than a ‘supreme leader’ separated from both judiciary and legislature, our Prime Minister is part of government, which is part of the legislature (Parliament) – in fact, the common definition of Prime Minister is Primus inter pares – first among equals (ie. among ministers in Cabinet). Prime Minister is not even a formally constituted role. Of course Party leaders are influential and Prime Ministers more so. But government is far more complex than in a presidential system, and Prime Minister can only accomplish what they can persuade their Ministers, and then Parliament, is reasonable. The quality of government lies in the ministerial team, far more than in No. 10 Downing Street. In fact, in terms of influence and decisiveness we are far better off voting for the person most likely to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, since the Treasury exerts most effective controls over single ministries.




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