Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ideology and Party Politics

The ideology embraced by a political party is perhaps the single most important factor in determining the policies that party promotes. All parties have an ideological outlook — whether its members are conscious of it or not — and that outlook is positioned somewhere along the left-right spectrum. And, no, Bermuda is not an exception.

The Progressive Labour Party was founded as a party of labour and has been a critical agent for social reform over almost 50 years. Over the decades, some of the strident “progressive” policies such as income tax and nationalisation have given way to the practicality of electoral politics and the party has moved toward, yet does not occupy, the political centre. Ideologically, the PLP is left of centre on Bermuda’s political spectrum and could rightly be labelled a liberal party.

A new political party, the One Bermuda Alliance occupies the same ideological space as the now marginalised United Bermuda Party. They are cut from the same cloth. The OBA tends to place greater emphasis on addressing business needs since business growth is seen as the engine for the growth of the country and therefore the betterment of people. Their agenda for governance would sit comfortably alongside that of the Conservative Party in the UK and is rightly placed right of the ideological centre.

There are striking parallels between the political battle around ideology and elections in Bermuda and what is going on in the US presidential campaign. Consider the issue of debt, the recession and budget deficits — no doubt critical issues for the election campaigns.

The Obama administration has implemented a number of decisions designed to inject money into the economy to prevent a further contraction, to help support those in need and to help provide for economic stimulus. During his tenure the US debt has increased significantly as these policies were set in motion. This is directly paralleled with economic programme Premier Cox has adopted.

The Romney campaign has excoriated President Obama for a massive increase in debt levels over the past four years and for growing budget deficits, which he has labelled irresponsible and indicative of mismanagement. He has pledged to significantly reduce debt levels and get to a balanced budget over two terms. The OBA has adopted a similar approach here.
None of this is surprising given the ideological dispositions of the respective parties. What is surprising is that political parties would hold to positions based on ideology when substantive bodies of research and analysis point to it being wrong-headed. 

On the issue of debt, for example, the New York Times wrote yesterday in an editorial that the Eurostat Euro Indicators statistics released on Monday “provide objective support for what has been clear to just about everyone except pro-austerity German officials and deficit-crazed Republican politicians. Namely, deep government budget cuts at a time of economic weakness are counterproductive, complicating, if not ruining, the chances for economic growth.”

The power of ideology is such that it shapes a party’s ethos and it shapes its policies. At times, ideological purity will be sacrificed in the pursuit of electoral gains; and this can be done without moving away from core principles. Everyone has a way of seeing the world and they tend to support political parties that they find common cause with. A good friend of mine recently posed the following question: “If Barack Obama was Bermudian, which party would he vote for?” My answer: “That’s a question about ideology.”

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