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 the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. 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, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.