Is There a Paradox of the Loyal Opposition
In this paper, I argue that within a political system that favors bipartisanship, when the Loyal Opposition attacks the government by employing a package of arguments through which on one hand it questions the government’s fiscal policy in terms of benefits to the citizens, while on the other it decries members of the government of power-hunger, then it contradicts itself. For if we assume that one of the most effective tactics toward maintaining power is to provide as many goods as possible to the citizens, then, if this does not happen, it means that either there is not enough money available in the treasury for this purpose or that the governing party is not power-hungry. Either way, this particular pair of arguments should be avoided, since, whatever the government chooses to do on this issue, the rhetoric of loyal opposition is doomed to fail.
It is a usual phenomenon in modern democracies two political parties to dominate the political scene and consequently compete with each other in the elections for the governance of the country. In the majority of instances, these parties are the already governing party (GP) and the loyal opposition (LO) one. To be sure, there can be numerous other parties as well, whose influence nevertheless is not so big enough in order to affect dramatically the final result. As such, my approach will be developed within the framework of bipartisanship, adhering to the bigger picture.
It is natural to assume that both the aforementioned parties have generally the same goal, that is, to win the forthcoming elections almost at any cost whenever these happen, aiming at either maintaining power (in GP’s case) or gaining it (in LO’s case) either for the first or nth time.
Unless a serious incident(1) took place, it is reasonable for anyone to suppose that the (GP) continues to enjoy at least a slight lead against its major political opponent for various reasons, especially because it handles and has access to unique tools. Tools that the state itself provides to any governing party each time and by extension is at the GP’s discretion whether and how will exploit them for self-benefit and self-preservation.
In light of the assumption that the (GP) remains theoretically the strongest candidate for winning the forthcoming elections once again, in an attempt to reverse the unpleasant situation, one is expecting from (LO) to try to gain ground by advocating a certain stance against the GP’s way of governance. Consequently, (LO) must adhere to a certain type of polemical rhetoric in order to make the (previous elections’) balance lean toward its side this time; otherwise, it is very likely that it will remain in the loyal opposition.
To this end, the (LO) has to develop a persuasive package of arguments through which it will, on one hand, attack its major political opponent, and, on the other, try to convince predominantly potential voters who do not belong as official members – irrespectively of their ideological convergence – to any political party already. Thereby (LO) aims to fish for voters from the pool of neutral, ambivalent and yet undecided ones, harming simultaneously the public image of (GP). These kinds of voters are obviously more easily approachable than others, being open to hear what every candidate has to say.
Given that official party members along with citizens who are ideologically adjacent to certain parties constitute by and large the political base(2) of each party, the significance of the aforementioned group of voters is critical for the election’s result, as any possible change regarding the current situation can rather come from their side. Put differently, considering that the range of each party hinged upon their political base is to a certain extent fixed, then one might well contend that the way ambivalent and undecided voters are going to vote coupled with the actual number of them who will eventually choose to vote is what often determines the outcome in similar cases – especially if one advocates that the more modest the governance the lesser the government’s decline. Hence, this disparate group of citizens becomes the sought-after for all political parties, since its behavior can decisively influence the result.
With these in mind, the crux of the problem for the (LO), if nothing else, is to find out which kind of rhetoric, in particular, could prove persuasive enough, being also able to destabilize (GP) and reverse the situation under the current circumstances. If there is no such a rhetoric directly available on the market owing to the absence of scandals and the modest governance of (GP), (LO) is summoned to devise and in turn invariably employ such a rhetoric. Yet, what elements usually make up such a polemical rhetoric?
The observant individual may have become aware that a quite common package of arguments consists of the denunciation of fiscal policy of the (GP) coupled with reproach for the hunger for power of the members of the latter. In other words, (LO) will first harshly criticize the manner government manages public money, which is flexible and multidimensional an argument since it may appear in numerous forms. Such an argument provides (LO) with a rich palette whereby it can challenge a wide range of GP’s policies and choices – from social care measures and unemployment rates to taxation policy and the way government has chosen to treat big corporations and conglomerates. Subsequently, (LO) will want to amplify the above argument with another one through which a justification of ethical type – when possible – will be also implicitly offered regarding why the alleged poor fiscal policy is so-and-so instead of such-and-such. According to this argument, members of (GP) as a single whole are power-hungry; therefore, they will do whatever it takes to retain power. In this respect, LO’s rhetoric against (GP) consists in two main pillars, the first of which challenges money management, while the second the integrity of GP’s members.
Considering that every politician wants to retain power and be re-elected, while there is always another way to handle public money, one might think that the aforementioned arguments are sound and that with such a package (LO) kills two birds with one stone. I reckon that this specifically or similar kinds of rhetoric, although very appealing at first, let alone within a system that favors bipartisanship, encompass at least a contradiction that may harm the general rhetoric, thus causing adverse results for (LO).
Let me elaborate on it. Put simply, interpreting the above package of arguments, (LO) is trying to convince mostly ambivalent and undecided voters by saying to them: “We are better people than them, we do care more about you, and (precisely because of that) we are going to give you more by altering the fiscal policy”. In view of the fact that money in the public conscience is inextricably linked with the quality of citizens’ life, while we are rather inclined to choose what we believe that is going to improve our lives, LO’s package becomes quite compelling and it would make an ideal election narrative one could say. This is of course not the case. In fact, I reckon that approaches of the (LO) that are on the same wavelength will be disastrous for the loyal opposition and sabotage its candidacy for the government in case the group of potential voters (LO) is targeting prove rational in a broad sense.
Let me evince where the problem lies. There is no doubt that should one party have full access to the economic data and knows precisely what is going on in the treasury of the country, what is the cash and cash equivalents, and so forth, this is the (GP). We can succinctly summarize LO’s rhetoric as follows: “The government doesn’t give enough money to the people, and its members are power-hungry, thus will do anything it takes to be re-elected”. However, if indeed (GP) is a power-hungry party, and we assume (or even accept) that the most effective, tried and tested, strategy in order for any governing party to remain in power is to give as much money as possible to the people – whilst simultaneously has full knowledge of the financial situation of the state –, then LO’s rhetoric is contradictory. For if (GP) is really greedy for power and strives for maintain it, then it would choose to give everything to the people even just before elections, knowing that such a strategy constitutes the best solution toward the realization of its goal. In the event that this does not happen, there are two possibilities: either (GP) is not power-hungry or there is not enough money available. (I rule out the scenario where (GP) feels confident that can win the elections without taking any such measure, since theoretically both parties in question are close to the polls). I understand this situation as a contradiction, which the Loyal Opposition falls into when employs the rhetoric analyzed above in order to attack the governing party before the elections.
That contradiction alone, however, is not enough to harm the (LO) if no one points out its problematic character in particular. Actually, it is of crucial importance how LO’s package of arguments against (GP) will be interpreted from the side of voters (LO) is targeting and aiming to persuade. Unless those people (i.e., undecided voters) perceive LO’s rhetoric as contradictory, thus insufficient and unrealistic, the package at issue will not have a negative impact on LO’s performance in the elections, since the biggest percentage of voters either belongs to a party or has already decided what is going to vote.
Let us stipulate, however, that this motley group of yet undecided citizens and potential voters is rational in a broad sense and understands the points (LO) stresses regarding GP’s stance and way of governance. For this reason, they will probably be trying by interpreting LO’s arguments to draw a conclusion about which party of the two has the better intentions.
It is quite difficult, at least from my view, to determine why those people have chosen not to belong to a certain party, remain apolitical, and so on. In this respect, it would also be naïve to strictly characterize them qua citizens and/or voters, sacking them all together, as they probably do not try to achieve something in particular by advocating such a behavior and anywise their reasons surely vary largely. More precisely, one might claim that a sheer self-interested voter would probably be a member of a party, aiming at capitalizing on their membership and connections when their party would take over the government of the country. Considering all these, I think it is safer and makes more sense to say that those people see themselves merely as a part of the citizenry and hence they are going to vote for the party that they presently feel is going to do more good to society in general. That is because they perhaps consider that through a better common good they will be indirectly benefited as well.
After this brief digression, let us now return to the way that group of potential voters is going to construe LO’s package, and examine what will the corollaries be if they do so aptly.
Suppose the undecided though rational voters, hearing LO’s arguments, develop the reasoning that on condition that giving money to the people constitutes one of the best solutions for maintaining power, in case (GP) is power-hungry, then it is irrational not to proceed to such a pivotal move. Therefore, such a move is going to foster its re-election with whatever benefits that entails for both the party and its members. Thus, if there really is enough and available cash, it should be given before the elections in order for the public image of the government to be strengthened. If this does not happen, then either (GP) is not power-hungry or there is no money available for such a (populist) purpose. So, if the (LO) claims that there is money. which the government simply does not want to give it to the people, it obviously contradicts itself as long as at the same time decries (GP) for greed for power. This thinking, provided that the voters in question are able to form, I consider the Rational Voter’s Break Point. (If the undecided voters manage to reach this point on their own, the choice between the two parties ceases to be a dilemma).
Even if that group of people cannot analyze LO’s rhetoric in such terms, however, it is perhaps enough the contradiction embedded in LO’s package to be exposed by members of (GP) and in turn this sort of analysis to be adopted by the group of undecided voters. The result, by and large, I reckon will be the same.
Let me now examine what is going to happen if (GP) chooses to act otherwise, showing why the combination of arguments LO’s package consists in create a sort of circularity and thus should be avoided.
In case the government chooses to give to its people whatever it can to be re-elected, then the people receive by definition the maximum benefits from the government they already have. If one has a government that gives all the money available to its people, why would they choose to change government? In fact, the voters we are mainly discussing here base their votes on the political party that seemingly maximizes their prosperity and quality of life. At the same time they consider those inextricably linked with money and benefits people receive from their government, As such, it is natural to expect that the voters in question will either continue to or vote for the first time for the already governing party.
Only if the expectations regarding LO’s future performance as governing party surpass in the extreme the present performance of the government undecided and ambivalent voters may vote for the (LO).
Be that as it may, LO’s package of arguments against (GP) is being knocked out irrespectively of how (GP) will choose to act. Hence, I conclude that (LO) should avoid challenging the denunciation of the government’s fiscal policy while simultaneously accusing the members of the government of power-hunger. That is because even those potential voters who initially did not intend to support the (GP) in the elections, they are not going to vote for (LO) whilst it is very likely not to vote at all in the end. It becomes clear furthermore that on no account should LO employ that package of arguments in a systematic way, that is, in multiple and consecutive electoral battles, let alone make it an integral part or pose it at the epicenter of its electoral rhetoric, since it is doomed to lose the elections indefinitely in virtue of two, otherwise strong, arguments.
- Consider, for example, scandals that shocked the public opinion, a certain type of governance that dissatisfied a large percentage of their voters and supporters in the previous elections or anything similar that caused or triggered the political deterioration of the (GP) between the two electoral battles, thus giving an implicit lead to the (LO).
- For the most part, the political base of each party constitutes a known and shaped landscape, which has been historically measured multiple times.