Sunday, 10 January 2010

Labour is a Coalition and Brown is Destroying its Core

It is a truism that our main political parties are coalitions, and that with a first past the post voting system we have to accept coalition members who are unattractive to other parts of the party.  At least we know the worst about a coalition before we vote and are not faced with coalition-formation after the election.  Not usually anyway, first past the post having the supreme advantage of producing working majorities.

There are different models, mental images, of a coalition political party.  The idea of a core surrounded by fairly stable coalition satellites and then, further out floating voters who are attracted by the policy stance of the central mass is popular.  Another is of a much less stable group of party factions (or cores) reacting to the presence of one another and, again, surrounded  by coalition satellites; but in this model the floating voters who potentially could be attracted are  more numerous, but the pull from the centre is much weaker while the forces generated between the multiple cores can even repel outer floaters.

Coalitions can limit core splitting or absorb alternative cores by the imposition of hierarchy within the party - the authoritarian response that provides control and certainty but limits attractiveness to potential coalition partners and even more to floaters.  If that is the party practice then a split in the core is an absolute disaster.

Or coalitions can recognise their multi-core and the complex effects this has upon support and have a much flatter party structure with conflict resolution by negotiation and discussion, which produces dynamic policies pragmatically responsive to events in the world. Splits in the core are part of life and the party is designed to cope with them and reconstitute the coalition. 

Inflexible, hierarchical authoritarian parties deny expression to central parts of their coalition and lose not just floating voters; they shed core coalition support without means, or with only rudimentary or ad hoc means, to reconstitute the coalition. 

Labour needs to recognise what is happening and stop pretending that Brown's leadership is just a personality problem of unattractiveness to floating voters that is recompensed by a solidification of its core vote.    

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