Opinion: How much does geographical accident influence politics?

I have been wondering for a while how much of a role geographical accident plays in politics.

When I first decided to get involved with politics a few years back I chose the Liberal Democrats because they were the party that most closely matched my views. In my local area, the party did not have any council seats but there are a small group of very dedicated and experienced local members and campaigners who have fought a number of local and national elections with alacrity since I joined.

The situation, though, has got me thinking about how political careers are nurtured and developed. Through my blogging and tweeting I have got to know a lot of activists from across the country from lots of different parties. Some of them have gone from being activists to councillors and in a few cases MPs or MEPs. Some of those councillors will doubtless use that valuable experience as a springboard to further political ambitions later.

For my part I fought a council by-election here in 2010 and despite putting lots of effort into it I lost very heavily to the Conservatives (I blogged about my experiences here). In this area they are very strong. I have no complaints however, they fought very well and won fair and square. I also stood in the local election this year and again lost heavily.

Realistically, it would be very difficult for me to win a council seat here. That’s not to say impossible of course, with enough time and dedication this party has proved repeatedly that even the most difficult of areas can be cracked. But at the moment I do not have the amount of time available that would take in this area.

But if I happened to live in an area where my party was a lot stronger, by now I may already have been elected and be getting good political experience under my belt representing people and helping to improve their lives.

One day I may have more time to be able to devote to this, but for now, where I live it is unlikely to happen. It makes me wonder how many other people like me would like to get involved in representative politics but because of geographical accident and their political persuasion (e.g. Conservatives in parts of the north, Labour in parts of the South West) it is unlikely to happen.

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  • Richard Swales 21st Dec '11 - 7:30am

    I am the only Lib Dem member in a country of 5 million people, so geography does have an impact on my involvement 🙂

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Dec '11 - 12:02pm

    Do ALL the people where you live really like the Tories? Do they REALLY like what the Tories are doing to the NHS? Do they REALLY like the way the Tories suck up to the bankers who fund their party? Do they REALLY like the way this country’s business and even infrastructure is being sold off to foreign buyers thanks to Tory economic policy? Do they REALLY think your local council is doing a wonderful job?

    I suspect the reality is there are a small number of ideological committed Tories, a larger number of people who vote Tory without seeing (since the right-wing press won’t tell them) just how far the Tories are from the old “Queen and country” party they used to be, a larger number who vote Tory just our of habit “because we always do”, and a MUCH larger number who don’t vote at all because “all politicians are just the same”, and actually what they hate about “politicians” is that they are “rich and out of touch” i.e. they are Tories – except the right-wing press has managed to sell them the notion that all politicians are like that.

    This has been the major push by the ideological right in recent years, aided by the stupid left – divide the public up into those who will vote for the right (often by concentrating on emotional arguments on small social conservatism issues or by using the term “middle” to mean “the wealthiest 5%” but conning the true middle into thinking it includes them), and those who can be sold the line that politics is a dirty business in which they should not be involved at all.

    In short, I think you are being defeatist.

  • Simplest way that geographical accident influences politics: All nationalists were lucky enough to be born into The Greatest Country On Earth. (Or, I guess it wasn’t luck, they instead peered out of their orbiting mother, and commanded “Aim for England, Mummy!” as she entered labour…)

    But on this specific point, yes, and this goes to the general issue we were facing with the arguments over the constituency sizes/borders/registration etc – any system of representation based on geography is, intrinisically, a comment on where people live. It’s inescapable – the alternative would be to have constituencies of interest, of identity, of other-characterising-feature, all of which open their own cans of worms.

  • @ Charles – that first para is an excellent observation and I look forward to borrowing it! 🙂

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