Thursday, May 01, 2008


The Limits of Party Activist Consultation

According to Patrick Wintour, said to be close to Labour's inner counsels, local parties will be canvassed on future policy directions following what will probably be something of a disastrous set of local election results. It seems six draft policy documents will be despatched to constituency parties 24 hours after the elections with rights of amendement given to the local cadres. Will this so much good? I doubt it. How many 'Big Conversation' type consultations have there been under both Blair and Brown? And how many have actually happened?

In my experience local activists have few ideas on policy- they rather think such matters should be the responsibility of the experts at the top of the party, buttressed, when in power, by the deep expertise of government departments. Local activists are better at saying 'we don't like this idea' rather than saying 'we think we should be doing A,B or C...' It was different in the old days when members were infused with the spirit of socialist conviction. It was firmly believed that collective ownership- in the UK that meant by the state- would make the economy both fairer and more efficient. Well, experience proved that wrong by some measure and few activists now still retain that socialist soapbox based on Old Labour ideas.

That is not to say activists do not have something useful to contibute. For example, I'd say we in the Labour party favour: avoidance of foreign military excursions unless absolutely necessary and 'doable'; well funded public services which do not involve too much private sector input; steady democratic reform; redistributive fiscal policies in favour of the lower paid; and, perhaps most important, efficient gaffe-free government. As long as these conditions are met, most activists would prefer to leave the detail of policy to the specialists.

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