On a Facebook thread recently, there were very interesting assertions on Virgin Islands politics. First, there was a call to move away from two-party system which has been a feature of politics in the territory for more than 20 years. This writer appreciated these assertions, but he offered a caveat: It is near impossible to move away from two-party politics as viewed from the international politics model.
The reason is twofold. First, established parties become institutional. They swiftly hijack the avenues to political, social and economic power. These parties acquire a strong following owing to decades of political partisanship. That following is composed of powerful people and organisations.
It is difficult to remove this core component from party politics. At elections, these followers and organisations are the financial and political capital that drives political campaigns. It is very difficult to challenge this two-party hegemony.
Then there is the matter of brand. Brand is always a very powerful component of two-party politics. Yes, there are independents: politicians who will win with specific constituencies and constituents owing to factors such as family clout, very well organised grassroots politics, and simple energy. But they remain a rare species of animal.
However, brand is the leading reason for the preponderance of two-party politics. Think of brand this way. We walk into a supermarket for soda. Frequently, we will place the well-established brands in our shopping cart: Pepsi, Sprite, Coca-Cola. In fact, the supermarkets will stock these brands notwithstanding their quality. The supermarket buyers know that stocking an equally good quality but lesser known brand will usually mean a loss of revenue.
It is the same with politics. Voters in the booth behave in much the same way. Voters will usually pick between the main political brands.
Now on a parallel vein, ideology is a reality largely ignored by VI politics. However, ideology is a fact of politics. Ideology is a constant that derives from centuries of world history. Concepts such as communism, socialism, capitalism, social democracy, fascism and dictatorship did not arrive from nowhere.
The United States, for example, is described as a capitalist democracy, albeit recent years have made that nation appear more of a fascist state. Hopefully, with the election of President Joe Biden the thoroughfare called democracy may be back on track in spite of attempts by Republicans to make voting very difficult for blacks and other minorities.
The United Kingdom is traditionally a social democracy, especially between 1945 and the Margaret Thatcher era when the ideologies of free trade and economic deregulation gained supremacy. But today, the UK is becoming increasingly authoritarian, with a capitalist culture that drives social and wealth inequality.
So can VI voters identify any type of ideology in the two-party politics that drive the social economy? The answer is yes.
For the VI, economic ideology is clearly the key parameter that drives politics. To understand VI politics, look at how the political parties rule economically.
Ironically, an independent observer can identify ideology in the activities of the two parties from rhetoric and action. One party follows a supply-side economic type that favours business and foreign investment. That party’s ideology is the classic “What is good for business is good for the territory.” The party is allied to drivers of business and appears to be favoured by foreign investors.
However, the preceding assertion is not easily established until one looks at where the cash comes from at campaign time and who rubs shoulders with whom when the rubber meets the road on the campaign trail. When in power, the party invests in projects that it believes drive business investment first and foremost.
The second party appears to be more of a stimulus-oriented social democracy. It thrives on the idea that what is good for the small man — Jack and Jill Average — is good for the territory. It claims to be the party of public investment. But most important of all, it has captured the public imagination as the party of “us versus them” — “us” meaning the party of the “small people.” It has succeeded in that claim, and in spite of the recent social and economic crises it may well succeed again.
Effective politicians use ideology as a platform for establishing their visions, manifestos and policies. Voters use ideology to understand what they want from their politicians and political parties. Ideology cannot be divorced from politics.
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