Who needs political parties?

Traditional political parties are redundant. That is the message of new president Emmanuel Macron whose first government deliberately ignores party divisions in the cause of “progressive national renewal”.

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Many voters in France are not sure what to think about familiar parties any more. Why not pick’n’mix politically rather than remain loyally lumbered with bureaucratic ideological dinosaurs like the Socialists and Les Républicains?

Political parties, however, came into being for a reason and they continue to have a raison d’être. A party is a reminder to politicians that the group is greater than any individual who arises out of it. In an age of personality-driven politics, we should remember that. We may place all our hopes on a visionary, charismatic leader who is full of good ideas but he cannot achieve everything alone and, if he stumbles, there has to be something to fall back on.

Every political party serves several vital functions. It gives ordinary people a means to participate in politics, particularly at the local level. It serves as a debating society in which ideas can be tested – and it provides coherence and continuity between political generations.

Macron is right that we shouldn’t allow political parties to ossify and take turns in supplying jobs for their own boys (and girls) but neither should we think that individualisation and compulsive political cross-dressing are necessarily good things. If we try to live without political parties it is quite probable that we will find we have to reinvent them.