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What to do about parties


Now, then, my bucks, let me have the pleasure of making you a few Presents - an assortment of valuable Pledges warranted never to break (Punch). Some things have not changed since 1847.

Hedley Lester has been tracking down the origin of the quote, variously stated -

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing.

It has long been attributed to Edmund Burke but has never been found in his writing. Lester wonders what it says to those concerned about the current UK Parliament and US Congress, where malfeasance, if not actual evil, is in ample supply.

Unresponsive political parties

As Lester points out, Burke did write, When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. Burke's point seems to have been, unite in a political party to oppose the bad men who have already done so. However, as Lester observes, it is political parties that seem to be our problem -

For some little while now, it has been my (far from original) thinking that the party political system has been at the root of our loss of true representation in Parliament (or, in your case, Congress). As soon as representatives are members of a party, their loyalty to party and party whip frequently exceeds their loyalty to the electorate. Being a member - and a selected member - of the party ends up being the main reason why they gain votes enough to become elected, so, whilst there is good income to be made out of being a representative, it is in their own interest to give far more ear to the party whip than to those whom they supposedly represent.

This is not entirely the case. Even a whipped member will hesitate to fall in line if he or she believes the voters will eject him at the next election. Assisted political suicide is not popular with members of Parliament or Congress.

What's to be done? End political parties?

Lester continues -

Even if official political parties were banned in Parliament, there would always be factions and groups of like-minded men who would work together to achieve common cause. And if these factions and groups were of evil intent would it not be necessary for good men to band together in order to resist them? So we would inevitably end up with informal parties even if there were no formal recognised ones.

My co-editor has ideas about electoral reform, which would make MPs more responsive to their constituents. He outlines them below.

Comments (1)


To adapt my original metaphor of Lake Constance washing out the garbage, let us assume that injury is endemic to life. When an injury corrupts, we clean out the pus, pour on the iodine (scream a little) and go on with life, feeling better until another wound corrupts and we have to do it again. The problem is not the parties, it is our dog-like devotion to them. Throw the bums out!

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