What is a political party for?

“A political party is like a business. But its currency is not profit, it is power”. So said Mike Nesbitt, the UUP’s next Leader. Many will have agreed with him, not least within his own ranks.

And yet he is astonishingly wrong. In the same way as Monday’s blog established football clubs are not businesses, nor are political parties. Football clubs exist to win football matches and trophies, an objective which often those which are least business-like end up achieving the most often. Likewise, political parties exist to achieve their vision of society, notably (but not exclusively) by earning election to government offices. They are not businesses in any way whatsoever.

Political parties are in fact vehicles, in many ways close to charitable foundations which seek to shape lives in various ways. It does help them if they can be relatively efficient (what may be described as “businesslike”), but if they start thinking, even remotely, in terms of profit margins and such like, they will hit a downward curve quickly.

Similarly, there is little point in football clubs or political parties seeking “gaps in the market” the way a business might. Football clubs play football (and, in a broad way not necessarily understandable to all, provide an emotional outlet), but there is no “gap in the market” for them to enter; ideas for actual profit come from outside agents, such as Nike or Sky TV. Political parties promote a vision of society and work to achieve it, again with no “gap in the market” because the aim is to advance an already established vision/platform. Where companies can move from making ships to making wind turbines or some such (and often need to in order to survive as markets and technologies change), football clubs and political parties will always do the same thing they have always done – football clubs will only collapse completely if it turns out no one is prepared to back them (clubs almost never disappear completely, often being “replaced” if necessary – cf. Derry City, Aldershot Town, Fiorentina etc); political parties will only collapse completely if it turns out no one shares their vision (or broad identity), if they merge with a party whose platform and vision turn out to be similar, or if representative democracy itself fails (notwithstanding the odd “protest” party’s occasional success over a single electoral cycle).

In other words, political parties are most certainly not businesses. They are not even like businesses. Their objectives are different, their raison-d’etre is different, their scope for collapse is different. They are much more like charitable foundations or even community groups (although even there caution is best applied with any direct parallels). Most of all, they do not exist to exercise power, but rather to achieve vision. The ones who haven’t worked all of this out are the ones losing votes at election after election. It is noteworthy that the next leader of the UUP is obviously so far from working it out himself.

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17 thoughts on “What is a political party for?

  1. NorthernIrishTory says:

    I would have thought words like service, betterment of our citizens would have been more appropriate than profit and power. It suggest very self seeking and selfish aims.
    The buses are back on the road on Saturday and their occupants are no more visionary.

  2. NorthernIrishTory says:

    Requested correction made

  3. NorthernIrishTory says:

    Totally agree Ian.
    I started off believing John McAllister was a breath of fresh air and some hope for the old, tired, backward looking UUP, a chance for it to live. Now I hope Nesbitt wins, this old horse needs put out of its misery!

    • Paul says:

      what a load of nonesense mcallister is poison just like his side kick mccrea.they should of been kicked out of the uup a long time ago for there back stabbing and posioness ways they undermined tom from the very start.

  4. NorthernIrishTory says:

    Whats more Ian he derides moderates yet supports David McClarty who is I think a moderate?

    • Paul says:

      You really make me laugh you NI tories i too am a moderate.Are you saying just because i support closer cooperation between the UUP and DUP.That means i am not a moderate.The two gentleman i deride are not moderates they are back stabbing and posison the pair of them.David mcclarty is a personal freind and a fine politican yes i supported him and it was an hounour to do so. predicted he would win his seat and was proved right.I proved ian wrong on that not for the first time is

  5. Paul says:

    yes ian i have left the uup on a point of principle ie the EL selection farce.No i have never condemned tom i supported tom too be leader.I regularly rounded on basil mccrea and john mccallister and the liberal wing who constantly undermined him.Tom is a good man but those persons mentioned and i know and eveybody knows that they caused a lot of bad feeling and un rest in the party.I still have a lot of good freinds in the UUP and i want to see the party do well.it saddens me to see the party having problems it is in.I have said it before and i will say it again the way forward for the UUP is closer cooperation with the DUP.

  6. Paul says:

    So ian you are totally wrong i have never attacked Tom elliott so you are wrong.

  7. NorthernIrishTory says:

    No Paul I’m saying you regularly deride moderates, liberals, alliance supporters etc. On this blog you have called them the ‘real fascists’. You supported Danny Kennedy and Mike Nesbitt both of whom are not considered to be on the liberal wing of the UUP, although to be fair the jury is out on whatever wing Mike Nesbitt is actually on.
    Its generally acknowledge by most people that those who support closer co-operation with the UUP are not usually on the moderate wing of that party and David McNarry is a prime example.
    And now you are saying you are a moderate. You may support a man who appears to be moderate and reasonable but your own moderate credentials are questionable to say the least. Your manner certainly isn’t moderate on this blog and never has been.

  8. Paul says:

    yes you are damned right i deride liberals.they insult good descent folk labeling them sectarian dead wood etc .people like jeff peel Who do they think they are.Now are you saying i am sectarian because i support closer cooperationm between the UUP and DUP.??You have no idea what mccrea and mccallister are like i have.

  9. Clare says:

    On Mike Nesbitt he is very much style and very little substance. He shirks difficult questions and seems to have learnt that knack from interviewing politicians himself.
    He has managed to publish my questions on his blog Ian, insisting he rarely, if ever, refuses posts. But his Sir Humphrey style answer is ominous for the future of the UUP.
    The UUP appear outdated and out of touch and Nesbitt is not sending out signals that he has what it takes to remedy the situation. His opposition to further talks with the DUP is interesting because it may be the parties final hope with him as leader.

  10. Seymour Major says:

    What is a political party for?

    It is certainly a vehicle but is it going in any particular direction? A political party has to have policies but if policy-making is purely to win votes, and thereby driven by no other factor (such as ideology) then you have a party that exists for power only.

    Some parties have come pretty close to that description. In Northern Ireland, unionism is pretty much a redundant ideology. I cant see what principles drive the politics of the unionist parties at the moment. Maybe somebody can tell me what they are?

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