11 June 2008

It's The Constitution Stupid!

The rules of the game affect everything - whether it is...

globalisation, national sovereignty, infrastructure, inequality, environment, the state of the economy, the Iraq war or 42 days detention, it is the strength of democratic rule itself that protects the most vulnerable in society. Get democracy right and everything else will follow.

The dysfunctional liberal (mixed capitalist and socialist) democracies of the West triumphed over the undemocratic socialism of the East precisely because the West was more democratic and therefore more efficient.

The height of intellectual endeavour was probably reached in Scandanavia in the late seventies. It is those democratic mixed economies that leaned towards socialism the most that have the highest quality of life, the least inequality, the strongest economies and infrastructure, and the best environmental protection. They also have the most democratic constitutions with powerful local government and representative, more proportional, electoral systems. This is no coincidence.

The increasing lack of democracy within the Labour party has brought the demise of new Labour and culminated in the disaster of Gordon Brown as leader. And this lack of democracy in our political parties is what makes Cameron and Osbourne and the rest of the Tories a bigger threat than Thatcher. It is already set in Tory manifesto stone that broadcast impartiality will be scrapped and that electoral boundaries will become even more arbitrary in the drive to increase Tory presence in parliament (so much for the mythical 'constituency link'?). We already elect governments with 55% of the seats on 35% of the vote. As turnout falls expect Tory governments elected on even less than the 1 in 5 support of the electorate that Labour now gets.

Political party membership has been decimated - but not the power of the big two political parties. Even less people now dominate our local and national governance and inevitably it is the charlatans and the careerists that are the least likely to leave party politics. As our political parties become dominated by vacuous elitists expect our politics to become even more vague and distant from the electorate.

For good or bad, the Labour party remains the only left-of-centre vehicle that can make the democratic change we so desperately need. I implore people on the left to join the Labour party so we can reclaim it. Without these decent people lost to the Greens, Lib Dems and no party, it is a much harder task. The Lib Dem leadership will always blow hot and cold on left issues and the Greens are many decades (if ever) aways from any real power (even if they did replace Labour - with the left split the Greens would soon face the same problems). It is much easier to change the Labour party than overcome the inertia of party allegiance.


  1. No-one in the two local Labour parties I was a member of was remotely interested in any issues apart from trying to get elected and shaft all other parties at any cost. No-one locally or nationally gave a stuff when I left and stopped voting Labour because of ID cards (even though that turncoat scum Blair said he was against them when the Tories were in favour).

    All I got was a standard letter with a load of bollocks managementspeak, spin and lies in it imploring me to rejoin - and it took ages and a couple of reminders to get them to refund my subs too.

    I cannot go back to party that is full of such a gang of control freak nanny wonks - that's not the party I thought I'd joined.

  2. Urko, I understand why you left and don't want to return, but can we really leave the only option we have to get change to these stupid scumbags?

    Lets come back in force - a dozen members would take over my ward. When asked by the LGC to give an assurance of loyalty to the party whip if I became a candidate - I politely told them to f*** off. They were gobsmacked, but to kick me out of the party would cause them more grief. We need more members to stand up to these charlatans. To let the Labour party fall under their control is OUR fault - if the 50% of active members had stayed we would outnumber them and they wouldn't be destroying our only real chance of government from the left of centre. the Labour party is OUR party, we should take it back.

  3. Why have you migrated over to a new URL?

  4. Mark, I assumed it's because Neil is now ashamed to have "Labour" in his URL!

  5. >>Neil: "the Labour party is OUR party, we should take it back."

    This is something I've wrestled with for a while, Neil. If I thought I could make a difference to Labour policy with similarly-minded colleagues, I'd join, but I suspect that every new member for Labour at the moment will be touted by Gordon as vindication of his stance on 42 days, etc.

    Do members of the party have any collective powers now, beyond acting as cheerleaders and canvassers for the current leadership?

  6. Mark, Snafu - it was a mistake to have such a cumbersome and narrowly defined URL. Most people link to me by my name and it is simpler to enter this, so I have decided to change it.

    This has always been a personal blog and too much association with the Labour party and one particular ward was short sighted (especially as I will be moving ward soon). I am unlikely to leave the Labour party - but one must always allow for every possibility!

  7. Seany C - The trick is to be your own person - join the party but make very clear where you disagree with policies. Members still have the power to select candidates (so ultimately the direction of the party and it's leader). Yes conference powers have been eroded to the point to make attendance virtually pointless (apart from a campaigning perspective), but when you compare to the Tories, there is still power in being in the Labour party.

    This is actually a good time to join, because the party is so decimated that just 12 active members could take over most wards. I am sure there are Tory stooges in our party wrecking it from the inside - in fact I am not so sure that GB himself isn't one. How we wish for the good old days under Blair - he now seems almost left wing compared to the Brownmeister!

  8. I've changed my blogroll to reflect the new URL.

    The problem is with your call for activists to return is I just can't see it happen. I have never been in the Labour party and short of a real seismic shift never will be. I know the argument - "if you join you can help make that change happen" - but can you? What's the point of the left taking over the local party when its candidates can be vetoed by central office? What's the point of putting forward left policy proposals when they can be safely ignored? And how can a real change of direction happen when conference has become an orgy of Nuremberg-style backslapping?

    Lefties should work together wherever possible, but I fear your hope of getting good new activists into Labour is a forlorn one.

  9. Neil, I suspect I want broadly similar things to you, but I cannot really see that my getting involved in the Labour Party is likely to help achieve them.

    Maybe I should declare an interest: I was a member of the Labour Party (in Croydon) through much of the 1970s. I drifted away because (a) I became uncomfortable with the party's relationship with the trade unions at a time when a lot of trade union activity seemed to be pretty much the opposite of socialism (remember Clive Jenkins?) and (b) I was treated like a leper when I tried to persuade people that the electoral system needed changing. That was a "Liberal" policy, and the Liberals were "just Tories in disguise", and therefore I was an enemy of the people. Also I did find quite a few of the activists rather uncongenial.

    For a while in the late 1980s I joined the SDP-Liberal Alliance, but the individuals at grass-roots level seemed if anything even more obnoxious. Nevertheless, I have generally found myself in agreement with much of the Lib Dem policy manifesto and have voted for them whenever it seemed the best way of opposing the Tories.

    I enjoy having the freedom to be independent of party - a year ago I was campaigning for a Liberal friend in Kent, against the Tories; recently I was campaigning for Ken Livingstone in London. No party is ever absolutely ideal, but the system forces people to pretend, once a member, that they are 100% in favour of their party and 100% against everybody else.

    It's long been evident, anyway, that once a party is in government it takes very little notice of its grass roots, so one wonders what is the point of belonging to any party. All those meetings, all those conferences, all those motions and resolutions -- so stressful and wearing, so time-consuming, and all to little or no effect.

    On balance I am inclined to continue working on single-issue campaigns in the fields I know something about and feel strongly about. One of these is electoral reform, which in many ways, as we have discussed before, is the key to everything else.

    If we had a more sensible electoral system, I might have followed Peter Tatchell into the Green Party. As it is, there doesn't seem all that much point.

  10. VPS: Thanks for updating your blogroll.
    "I fear your hope of getting good new activists into Labour is a forlorn one".

    The point is - 'how are we going to get the things we want - redistribution, electoral reform, local democracy etc?'

    Can we get these things through the Greens? - maybe that can enact some minor electoral pressure but power for them is realistically decades away even in their wildest dreams.

    How about the Lib Dems? Well a party full of dissaffected Tories as well as disaffected Labour is always going to be ambiguous on left issues.

    The truth is the only realistic left vehicle that might get us what we want is the Labour party. Until we get electoral reform - only one party on the left can get any real power and the Labour party are likely to remain the largest party potentially on the left. Whether I have any hope of doing this I don't know - but I do know it is the ONLY hope we have.

  11. PZT - I suspect we do agree on most things. I suspect most of us would like to see more democracy and equality and if put to the electorate in a referendum (as promised) - in an evenly resourced fight, the impressive economic growth, lower inequality, better public services, infrastructure and electoral turnout of PR elected countries would come through dispelling peoples fears put about by right-wing PR myths.

    The Labour party is in a mess, but as I have argued above - we on the left have nowhere else to go. Yes we can campaign on single issues but we can do that inside the Labour party. Whether we like it or not - it is the largest party of the left that will bring us PR and other change - and the Labour party are likely to be that party for some time yet (if not forever).

  12. Neil, What do you mean by "left issues"? Are we talking about tax-and-spend, Tony Crosland, Roy Hattersley, Polly Toynbee, social democracy? I am broadly in favour of all that, but it has gone out of fashion, and is now clearly a minority view in the PLP (not sure about the party in the country, in so far as that still exists).

    Hattersley, Toynbee etc. are now evidently in despair, to judge from their recent writings, having hoped (I was never very clear on what evidence) that G. Brown would bring a major change that sadly has not happened.

    Are there not still some social democrats in the Lib Dems? You have mentioned that they have been drifting rightwards and I was happier with them when they were proposing to increase income tax by 1p. But at least the Lib Dems are clearly preferable to Labour on liberal issues (where both Tories and Labour seem to be deeply split between authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies) and also on green issues.

    I just want, as I always have, Britain to be more like Scandinavia and Benelux -- successful and prosperous and increasingly greenish social democracies where people pay their taxes to fund excellent services and which are also generally pretty liberal on personal freedom. Instead, we get all this neocon small-state anti-tax rhetoric from the USA infecting all political debate, nowhere more so than in the Labour Party at the moment.

  13. Music to my ears - "successful and prosperous and increasingly greenish social democracies where people pay their taxes to fund excellent services and which are also generally pretty liberal on personal freedom".

    Yes this vision has been obliterated by media propaganda, but most people would subscribe to this, if only they were offered it by this government.

    It is a despairing time to be in the Labour party, but that still doesn't alter the fact that if we ever get PR, radical redistribution etc - it is the Labour movement that has to be won over.

    It is just not credible to expect a wholesale transfer of Labour voters, members and trade unions to another party - not in my lifetime anyway. And even if it did happen, it would not solve the conundrum of changing attitudes within the largest left party under FPTP and a hostile press. We have to persuade the Labour party to make this change, any other tactic just makes things harder to achieve. Every decent left-wing member and voter that leaves Labour just reduces the chance of change.