Omphaloskepsis Will Not Redeem Defeated Political Parties

The British Labour Party is going through an internal debate process right now that seems de rigeur after an electoral thrashing. Long-time party members are saying the party must move to the centre, or to the left, or reach out to business more, or be tougher on business, or improve its broadcast communications and stop worrying so much about retail politics, or improve its retail politics and stop worrying so much about broadcast communications etc. Every proposed course is contested by another party faction, and a long period of internecine conflict and introspection has begun.

There is nothing particularly British or leftist about such post-defeat omphaloskepsis. The US Republican Party went through the same ritual after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat. I appreciate the natural impulse to analyze (gripe about?) an unpleasant experience, but that shouldn’t stop political actors for facing a fundamental point of logic:

When the public turns against your party, the people you need to listen to are the ones who DIDN’T vote for you. If your party were in touch with the electorate and could figure out on its own a winning formula, you would have, well, won. The pathway to more support from the electorate by definition lies beyond the usual voices and outside the people who supported you in the recent election. It might therefore be more profitable for losing parties to talk much less about themselves and listen much more to what those who rejected them are saying.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.