“Mob-minorities”, democracy and Parliament
The British have been learning a lot about the different sorts of votes and voting that go on in a democracy. The oddest thing that has happened is the emergence into power of a small number of political activists. Both Conservative and Labour political parties – are, just now, at the mercy of their quite peculiar members. So are the vast majority of voters and politicians.
[Since I wrote this note, Andrea Leadsom has dropped out of the Tory leadership contest, and so Theresa May yesterday enjoyed a coronation. But there remains the underlying modern phenomenon of a few party activists wielding – at certain moments – extraordinary power. 16 July 2016]
The nuts and bolts of this extraordinary situation are that a few hundred thousand members of our two main parties are presently able to trump the power (the agency and voice) of the hundreds of MPs who represent the parties in Parliament, put there by millions of voters.
So, in effect, the votes of millions of mild, not-very-political citizens are worth something like a tenth of those of activists.
I am being very casual when I say there are, say, 20-some million votes cast for the major two parties in a general election and, say, 200,000 votes in the leadership elections of major political parties.
Of course there are various ways of unpicking this “data”. One might say that lots of Labour voters would like to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in a general election. One might say that lots of Tories would like the chance to vote for Andrea Leadsom, likewise. So the whims or prejudices or wisdom of Labour and Conservative party activists may yet be confirmed by a much wider constituency or mandate.
But I am inclined to wonder whether the moves toward “democratisation” of power within parties, away from MPs and towards activists, is actually at all democratic, let alone suited to the country which years ago learned to eschew both aristocratic and mob-rule.
If I am right, to the claims of the not-very-populist business of representative democracy within Parliament can now be added the claim that political parties ought to learn how to insulate themselves from the mob – even their own committed mobsters, so to speak.