Can apolitical party keep its members and voters happy?
The question came after this comment by Dutchie Down South prompted a lively discussion on the issue.
A party’s first responsibility is to its own principles and through them its members.
In a broad church party like National, there is a wide range of views on many issues, but if members disagree with the principles then they ought to look for another philosophical home.
A party must stand on a firm foundation of its principles if it is to attract and keep its members and if it is to last.
Having said that, it must also attract voters. Under MMP that requires an ability to be flexible with policies which may mean swallowing dead rats.
National has done this with Working for Families and interest free student loans.
WFF may be the only way to help low income wage earners but it’s bad policy to turn middle and high income earners into beneficiaries. I hope the party will come up with a way of offering a better alternative at the next election but accept that it was too risky to go into the last one saying they’d scrap it altogether.
National had a better policy for helping students for the 2002 election but we lost and that’s why the interest-free rat was swallowed. That doesn’t preclude the development of an alternative which could be attractive to voters and sits better with National’s principles which the party could offer before the 2011 election.
Accepting the need to be flexible and stomach a few deceased rodents isn’t an argument for government at any cost. It’s accepting the reality of politics which means you may have to give a little to make some gains.
The Greens provide a good example of what happens when you don’t bend. They’ve marooned themselves on the far left and in spite of being the oldest of the wee parties in parliament have yet to make it in to government. Contrast that with the Maori Party which many thought would never coalesce with National but in just their second term in parliament are part of government and have already made some real gains.
A party which promotes independence and self reliance is always going to attract people with strong views which will not always be in accord. That’s a sign of strength rather than discord because it means there will always be healthy debate.
It also recognises that no-one member will always agree with absolutely everything his/her party does.
That applies as much to the leader as anyone else. Sir Keith Holyoake was asked how he coped with differences between his views and the party’s.
He said he was 100% behind 60% of his party’s views, there were about 30% that he was less enthusiastic about but they weren’t die-in-a-ditch matters and given that, he could agree to disagree over the other 10%.
If that was good enough for the Prime Minister, it’s good enough for me.
When all else fails, it helps to remember there are no miracles in politics and it’s better to achieve something in government than nothing in opposition.