It is a great decision for parties to make when electing a new leader – whether to pick someone who has more chance of being successful at the polls, or someone who embodies the true ideology of the party. Which is more important?
One might argue that it is better to choose a leader who is true to the core values of the party. This can inspire the core voter base of a party and appeal to the more traditional political divisions in a country of right or left, or play on typical feelings surrounding immigration or social welfare.
For instance, in the recent Conservative Party Leadership election, many who argued in favour of Andrea Leadsom articulated that she would suit more with the grassroots Conservative Associations who tend to be more socially conservative. However, one of the main points made against Mrs Leadsom was that she would be less capable than Theresa May of winning the party a General Election.
Labour and the Republicans are finding out now just what it’s like to elect a leader who is situated on the political fringes of a party. After the hard work of Blair to reinvent Labour as a centre-left, pro-business but socially conscious party, Corbyn has dragged Labour toward their more socialist routes. Some Labour supporters have heralded this as a wonderful achievement, believing the country has been without a proper socialist platform for years and claim New Labour were just ‘red tories’.
Despite their view, one only has to look at what’s happened to Labour in the polls to see the Corbyn circle is disastrously misaligned with the general public. Brown was a move to the left from Blair, he was rejected by the public at the ballot box. Miliband took Labour further left, he was rejected at the ballot box. Anyone noticing a link?
But of course to the logic of the die-hard socialists, Corbyn will connect with the public and Labour are better off having him as leader.
Likewise, to the deep-south traditional republican voters, and many of those in the so-called ‘Tea Party’ movement, Trump is a great choice. They believe he will move the Republicans away from the centre ground and truly think the US public will vote for what many consider to be a far-right government.
All of this is a demonstration of why it is damaging in modern politics to allow any politician who is away from the political centre, unless they command an extreme likeability and connection to the public, or there has been a significant shift in political climate, to become leader of a major party.
By pure logic one can devise that there are more votes to be won in the centre ground and more political consensus. Look at Theresa May, who is professing an image of ‘One Nation’ centre politics and currently enjoying over 40% in the polls. On the other hand, this centrist type of candidate can often be viewed as the ‘establishment’ candidate and is not always a wise choice.
Sometimes politics is in need of a shake up and by allowing the political fringes some voice infrequently to amend the establishment, they maintain the status quo with relative continuity. Equally, leaders away from the centre can be extremely successful if they can command the wider support of the public either because they are likeable or show strong leadership.
Margaret Thatcher was certainly a solidly right-wing politician, yet gained huge electoral majorities at the polls. This was in part due to a political shift to the right by the public after years of perceived failed socialism, but also because in comparison to her opponents, she was seen to be strongest choice.
As UKIP now look to appoint their new leader, they must keep this in mind. Perhaps in their case it is not so much about ideology, as they are firmly on the right. However, they are poised on the precipice of a unique political opportunity in the north where Labour are weak. They must choose the candidate who is the most electable if they are to shirk off the stigma that still plagues their party.
This decision can often be a Heart vs. Head call of those interested in politics. One might dream of a Thatcherite nation, and believe that to be the best course for the country. However, would a politician without her leadership attributes, but the same politics, win in today’s environment?
One has to be prepared to compromise and remember that there are things to be gained from the centricity of politics. Pragmatism, in this scenario, is extremely useful. As we look ahead, will Labour choose Ideology or Electability? Most likely the former, making the same mistake the republicans have and the Conservatives didn’t. Will UKIP do the same? Only time will tell.