Friday, 1 July 2016

Why Most Party Leaders Are Probably More Extreme Than The Average MP In Their Party


Today I stumbled upon a very interesting paper, in which the author Andreas Murr from the University of Oxford predicts that according to a Bayesian analysis there is a 95 per cent probability that having the larger winning margin in party leadership elections increases the chances of winning the General Election, and that the party leader with the largest winning margin will almost certainly become the next Prime Minister. Murr was one of the few people last May to predict what most people didn't expect - that David Cameron, not Ed Miliband, would be Prime Minister for the next term. 

What, then, does that say about the best kind of leader for a party to have? It's certainly a pertinent question, given that at the time of writing the Tories are looking to elect a new leader after the EU Referendum result has rocked their party, and that Labour is in a shambolic mess under Jeremy Corbyn.

Because politicians only exist by virtue of votes, popularity is the main driver of political rhetoric. If an idea is socially unpopular then any politician that holds it ensures he or she is stuck on the fringes, eliciting ridicule or opprobrium among the majority (a good example is Nick Griffin of the BNP). To hold such a position means you depart from the electorate's view of what mainstream, common-sense politics is all about.

By equal measure, once an idea is socially popular, anyone that departs from it is likely to be accused of being a socially toxic person. Given that party members want to be valued by their tribal group, the opinions each member holds are more likely to be in line with what they perceive the general opinion to be (obviously things like the EU referendum throw up spanners in the works).

If dissenting voices are known to be suppressed then there is usually a prejudicial reservoir flowing through the party, which increases the likelihood that the leader is going to be slightly more extreme than the average MP or party member.

But also, given that leaders are so important to the party's chances of winning an election, and that the principal goals of a party are to ensure in-group solidarity and cohesion (as much as possible) and to be popular enough to form a government, I suppose the goal of all parties is to have a leader that best represents a kind of weighted average of the nation, rather than a leader that best represents a kind of weighted average of the party, which also adds weight to the idea that the leader is likely to be slightly more extreme than the average MP or party member.

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