As party affiliation or identification has weakened over recent years the question I am asked more frequently is about voting for the individual or the Party. It seems in 2015 this is even more prevalent as so many people are still undecided with just over a week to go.
Clearly I am biased. Despite being a nice gentle parliamentarian I do recognise the necessity for parties and am surprisingly tribal!! I would therefore always start from the point of view that you should be voting for the party that is closest to your values. As I wrote yesterday I don’t think voting at elections is about a shopping list of which party is best for me or just my family. However, I do understand that many people look to their short term individual self interest however depressing I find this practise!
Voting for the party closest to your values means of course you have to aware of your own values and those of the parties. Being based on the values and aspirations of a party means that people like me do forgive parties when they make mistakes or don’t quite get everything right. However, even in a knowledge driven world I am still surprised at how little people know about the parties policies and values. There are of course websites around that help…
So if you are not particularly tribal in your politics should you vote ‘for the person’. Again I declare an interest. I worked hard as an MP to generate a following amongst non-Labour voters who might at election time be so impressed by my work rate and effectiveness that they would put behind their party loyalty and vote for me personally. I was aware that even this was only ever worth a few hundred votes at most. But it did exist. I knew many people who personally backed me against their normal voting pattern. I even had Tory councillors vote for me!
So I can’t deny it is possible to vote for the person not just the party. But why would you do this? I would hope that whilst I was largely tribal and loyal to my party on big issues of conscious and issues of trust I would ‘rebel’ and represent my views and those of constituents. On big issues like Iraq, Tuition fees, Trident etc I did rebel – at the cost of always happily being a back-bench MP not on the Ministerial greasy pole. My successor for example has little ideology and was ambitious only to be an MP. Ambitious to climb that greasy pole has meant that there have been no rebellions – just party loyalty. If this is the case what is the point of voting for the ‘person’ if all you get is party cannon fodder with a smile? In a Party based parliamentary democracy you vote for the party because that’s what you get… party votes on party lines.
These days the level of public scrutiny is greater and the type of MP is changing. Across all the parties it is harder to see the old fashioned lazy MP survive. It used to be just MPs in marginal seats that worked hard, but increasingly I saw signs of the new post 97 generation working harder to be in touch and active in their constituencies. Therefore, there will be less areas to discern what is a good local MP and why you should vote for a ‘person’.
You might have a political or from my experience a faith based reason to vote for an individual. There might be something very specific or a local issue where the candidates have taken a different line outside the national party whip remit. So there are grounds in a few cases for going with a local candidate if you are not particularly tribal. But for me it’s Party first every time. Even if I lived in a constituency of an MP friend from a different party, I would vote against them every time. There are still friends in opposite parties standing this time and whilst I wish them well, I want my party to do well in their constituency!
All these thoughts came about from a Facebook discussion and a tweet from a well known Tory who said he would be happy to see the Labour Party reduced to 4 MPs – including me! So even the most tribal can put these feelings aside.