Last night at 6:15, I chaired an event at Lib Dem conference with Tim Bale, Paul Webb, Mark Pack and Tessa Munt on the topic of political party membership as it stands and where it looks like it’s headed. We learned a lot of interesting facts (UKIP voters see themselves as less right-wing on a scale of 0 to 10 than Tory members do, as a for instance), but coming right at the end of a conference that had already made me think about this area in a lot of detail anyway, it was especially fascinating.
I spoke at a large number of events at conference these last few days, which allowed me to come across people with wildly diverging political views from within the same political party. I spoke to people who had recently joined who were Clegg fans who had liked the coalition; I have also spoken to people whom I would put to the left of Jeremy Corbyn. One woman in particular began on far-left territory with international banking conspiracies undermining the welfare state, and ended up by telling me that the reason we have so many non-voters in this country is because of the Islamification of Britain (Muslim women not being allowed to vote, you see), thus neatly proving my theory that the far-left and the far-right have a great deal in common in one go.
I also spoke to some Labour friends, covering the conference for work related reasons. They were devastated about what was happening to their party, and while certainly not thinking about joining the Lib Dems anytime soon (one remarked that the Tories are looking increasingly tempting), they did concede it was strange that they and I should be in separate parties given our reasonably similar political sensibilities.
I have no doubt whatsoever that I will go to Brighton this weekend and meet more similar minded people; those who think the same way I do about the economy, about housing, about Jeremy Corbyn. Then I will go to Manchester the week after for Tory conference and meet people who share my views on Europe (yes, there are a lot of pro-European Tories still, believe it or not) and a host of other matters. But again, we will be in different parties, each one of the entities containing people will all agree with and admire; each one also containing folks who think that the Islamification of the country is being intentionally placed upon us all by the international conspiracy of bankers.
So in short, parties can be a pain in the arse sometimes, and fail to do the basic thing they are supposed to do, i.e group together those who have similar political viewpoints. But we need them, at least for now, because our system of democracy needs them to exist.