By Vexen Crabtree 2006
Single-issue-parties are political parties centred on activism surrounding a solitary topic (such as environmentalism, religion or race). They are infamously are poor at governance in general and most of them lack economic skills or have realistic knowledge of demographics or international cause-and-effect. Special interest groups are a benefit to democracy as long as they don't actually have any power because they shift the interest of mainstream parties. If they become popular in their own right they are dangerous to democracy and to national stability on account of their imbalanced approach to national governance. Single issue parties are too narrow and too specific to be able to cope with governance at large and are frequently intolerant towards those who don't subscribe to their particular ideology, making them poor powerbrokers and poor democrats. For example ethnically-based and religion-based parties (who exclusively represent particular communities) are sectarian and very poor at engendering tolerance and peace throughout the country as a whole1. The most effective governments are formed from parties that are not biased towards any particular community.
Pressure groups and elite groups of activists are known in politics as special interest groups. They are renowned for their energy, enthusiasm and dedication to a cause and often promote and fight for the cause with extreme organisation and specificity. Most the time they do not reflect the electorate at large, and as such they can risk democracy itself if the government continually "gives in" to pressures from special interest groups2. But with moderate influence, they do of course form part of the 'civil society' that is an important feature of democracy; they can make an issue popular that deserves to be so. Developed groups have potential to become political parties and to test their popularity with the general people in the poll booths. They generally do not do very well, and only the biggest and most well-established groups show up at all on the charts and graphs of election results produced by the Statistics Office.
Single Issue Parties can exert pressure and influence on mainstream parties. This is perhaps their most democratic and useful role. For example, the 1990s saw nearly all the parties in the UK adopt green issues. The political theorist and sociologist Peter Heywood points out that "one of the problems confronting green parties is that their mainstream and much larger rivals have taken up 'eco-friendly' positions that were once exclusively theirs"3. The Green Parties, by representing the beliefs of a portion of the populace, have demonstrated to the other parties how to be green. Duly, the other parties have picked up on the potential votes, and adopted some of the milder green policies. This is good democracy in action, albeit indirectly. The people now find that they can vote for green issues, yet still choose between economic policies of Labour or Conservative.
Does John Smith, a serious animal rights activist, know how to manage the economy? He has dedicated his life to fighting corporate abuse of animals and the government's blind-eye to it. He knows government policies and laws on animal welfare inside and out. But, can John Smith or any of his fellow activists, if voted in, devote their time to keeping roads in good order, managing the modernisation of the police forces and military? As an example, in 2006 Hamas won power in the Palestine area; they campaigned as freedom fighters but the USA and Israel consider them terrorists. In either case, they are an anti-Israel, anti-USA single-issue party. Late in 2006, civil servants and security forces went unpaid4 due to foreign policy and fiscal blunders by the incapable single-issue-party. The British National Party certainly have oodles of opinions when it comes to immigration, but do they have the skills to manage the UK's highly complicated budgets and assets across the spectrum? At the start of 2014, Nick Griffin, BNP's leader, was declared personally bankrupt, so, the signs are not good5,. The job of government is highly complex, highly technical and requires a party with a deep reserve of political know-how, mathematicians, sociologists, etc. Can single issue parties fulfil all the roles required of them in government? Looking at religious parties and parties divided along ethnic lines, and then at far-right parties such as the extremist BNP, it is apparent that such parties appeal to basic, short-term instincts of ignorant people, and have no genuinely well thought-out policies nor the skills (and education) to govern in a wide sense.
In reality, single-issue-parties must act in coalition with other parties, so, that in voting for a single-issue-party, the main party this will work in conjunction with them is going undecided, or rather, it is being decided by others. If you're happy for the main party to be whoever, then, voting for a single-issue-party might be for you - but please vote responsibly, and only for those who have educated opinions!
Party politics works well, because people know which parties represent which economic, social and legal policies. But ethnic and religious parties do not have particular policies on most issues. At best, they ensure that prejudice against their particular social caste is removed. But more often than not, it means that prejudice isn't removed: it's simply reversed, and now works against other groups. A society that divides votes between ethnic parties is often caught in an endless cycle of revenge-politics.
Some religious movements can become powerful, rich and influential. When a religious body rules a country, it is called "theocracy". In the dark ages, Europe was largely run by Christian theocracies. Religious rules became common law, with many long-lasting effects. The UK retained blasphemy laws until 2011 for example. Islam is the religion of Muslims. Muslim activists who want an Islamic state are known as "Islamists", and Islamist parties exist in many countries, campaigning merely on the fact that they're a Muslim party.
A number of developing democracies have deep social divisions. What happens is that the short-sighted, confused and simple-minded populace simply vote for the party which is the same as their own ethnicity. So, Shia Muslims vote for a Shia party, whilst Shi'ite Muslims vote for a Shi'ite one. Their choices have nothing to do with which party they think has the best policies for the country. Africa in particular is beset by insurmountable problems resulting from religious political divisions causing armed conflict and militant rebellions1.
“In societies without strong traditions of multiethnic groups or assimilation, it is easiest to organize support along racial, ethnic or religious lines. Once an ethnic group is in power, it tends to exclude other ethnic groups. Compromise seems impossible. [...] How does one split the difference on a national religion [that both sides believe to be eternally and absolutely true]?”
In 1991 in Algeria, the Algerian Army intervened to prevent the second round of elections which would have brought in the Islamist party the Islamic Salvation Front. The following conflict between the military-backed regime and the Islamists cost 100 000 lives. In 1997 in Turkey the people also voted to end democracy with an Iran-style Islamist cast of religious rulers. They appealed to international law in order to resolve the problem (can you democratically remove democracy?), and it was ruled illegal to do so by an International Court.
Parties that represent a single religion or ethnic group are inherently undemocratic and undermine social stability. But such single-issue-parties still appeal to certain portions of a population who merely want to be heard, no matter the cost to everyone else. If politics is based on division instead of policies, they government soon becomes broken.
The National Front (NF), the British National Party (BNP), and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are three well-known anti-immigration and anti-foreigner parties in the UK. They nestle alongside like-minded groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and horrible thugs such as Combat 18. Leadership and membership swap between all these organisations relatively freely with most of them being offshoots of one-another. Some are merely drinking clubs for racists and who get an inordinate amount of attention from the media, whilst others (such as UKIP) have had genuine impact on the populace of the UK. They all have anti-EU policies. Their policies are dangerously shallow and single-minded. They appeal to nationalists of the most hateful and simple kind. On account of the long-term damage such parties do to the UK and to other European countries, Russia has been quietly and effectively supporting right-wing parties6,7 in order to further its own interest in a fractured Europe8.
The average age that supporters of these parties left school is significantly lower than for other parties: 55% and 62% of UKIP and BNP supporters (respectively) left school at or before the age of 16; nearly double the average rate of the 4 main parties (at 32%). Possibly linked is the employment status of UKIP and BNP supporters which show an outstandingly high number of manual workers and unemployed, and the lowest proportion of professional and managerial workers.9
The UK requires an immigrant workforce; our population would otherwise decline and our pensions system would break down as a decreasing work-age population has to pay for the services and pensions of an increasingly old population. Only immigration stops this happening. Simple economics seems to escape the attention of extremist nationalist parties. But these parties are not aimed at the intelligent members of the population, they are squarely aimed at underlying bigotry and emotional xenophobia.
Here's the intro from my page on the BNP - click the link underneath for the full text:
The British National Party (BNP) was founded by Tyndall in 1982 from a faction of the violently racist National Front organisation11. He had led the NF at times and was involved in several Neo-Nazi groups. It gets its support "largely from poorly educated, white, working-class men, concentrated in ex-industrial towns [...] Membership is open only to 'indigenous' Britons"12. Its policies fall into two main camps; aggressive anti-foreigner rhetoric, and simple one-liner reactionary politics in the area of social justice - "its platform includes [...] withdrawal from the EU and the restoration of corporal and capital punishment"12. Its most famous leader, Nick Griffin, along with several others, had criminal convictions, in Mr Griffin's case for inciting racial hatred. At the party's height in 2009, they had 12,600 members13 but many of its core staff and many supporters switched to UKIP. By Dec 2013, they only had 4,20013 and Griffin was replaced by Adam Walker. Since then membership has dropped to 50014.”
“UKIP is a right-wing nationalist political party found in the UK, made popular by its anti-immigration and anti-foreigner rhetoric. In its 20-year history16 it has been led most infamously by Nigel Farage and on account of the sensation of his approach he has gained a disproportionate amount of air time in comparison to the support his party actually has. They sometimes have an elected MP or two in the UK government and normally have an elected MEP or two representing the UK in the European Parliament. Nigel Farage has fulfilled such a role, being most infamous for a speech in which he berates them for not being hard-working. Farage, despite receiving a salary from the EU for his position, has spent extended periods of absence from the European Parliament and has been criticized at home for not voting (at all) on issues that affect the UK. UKIP membership since 2002 has varied between 10,000 and 39,000 (the highest figures being those claimed by UKIP itself)13, and the party has struggled to find qualified, educated and capable politicians to fill major roles in a stable manner.”
Current edition: 2006 Apr 18
Last Modified: 2018 Mar 14
Parent page: Democracy: Its Foundations and Modern Challenges
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Independent. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
British National Party
Website page "What We Stand For". Accessed 2006 Apr 19.
(2003) Political Ideologies. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Originally published 1992. Current version published by Palgrave MacMillan.
The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.