I met up with one of my fave bloggers this evening – and he didn’t disappoint. The occasion was Chester’s Refounding Labour event. But more of that shortly.
Meeting people you have first got to know through their writings can sometimes be a disconcerting process. Just because someone can show integrity and brilliance in the written word doesn’t mean they may necessarily exhibit such qualities in the spoken. Paul Cotterill does, however, exude integrity and brilliance from every pore.
This isn’t hagiography. It’s just the plain and simple truth.
Hero-worship moment over and done with, let’s get back to the job of refounding Labour.
The format of these events works as follows. We’re sat in teams around several tables, get an intro from a visiting MP, read through and discuss four or five pages grouped thematically and then finish off the exercise by supplying a number of short sharp pieces of advice aimed at changing the way Labour works.
It’s not a bad format – overly prescriptive for my liking, but then almost any format probably would be. You know what I’m like, after all.
So what did we achieve on this wonderful warm Chester Friday when most of us were almost certainly looking to be elsewhere?* Quite a lot actually. Or, at the very least, it clarified for me the need to continue developing the theme of simultaneous democracy and efficiency which I touched on yesterday. Though I’m not absolutely sure that the time allowed for us to provide feedback (five minutes per team) and discuss the results in an open forum (no time whatsoever) was the best way of harvesting the ideas.
Some of the feedback sounded more soapboxish than was necessarily useful – though, of course, understandable in circumstances where a political party’s members have, for so long, had absolutely no real input on the subject of process, and very little on the subject of policy. But even so, if we are happy to accept that no real democracy can aspire to be so without also aspiring to be efficient in its functioning, a wider and more intelligent use of modern technologies such as video cameras and computers would have improved the ability of all those present to get their views across.
This, for what it’s worth, is what I took away with me:
- firstly, if the Labour Party wants to engage both members and supporters more effectively, it needs to empower CLPs so that they can track the behaviours and actions of their MPs, councillors, prospective parliamentary candidates and other representatives in the community. A process whereby such representatives were required to present regular action plans for ratification and review would require no changes to structures, rule books or procedures – and yet would add a tremendous sensation of control and inclusion to all members
- secondly, Party Conference needs to be what it has become: a stage-managed opportunity and showcase to generate positive headlines for Labour. If it should, also, in some way continue to be the place where true debate is allowed to happen, then this should happen behind closed doors – and should be as true as it needs to be
- thirdly, CLP decision-making meetings and management processes in general should be split off from what we might broadly describe as political education events: by all means, let delegate and/or all-member meetings briefly ratify or dismiss decisions already structured and proposed a priori by the CLP’s Executive, but please please please do not any longer start off monthly all-member meetings with interminable apologies, accounts and complaints about a membership which doesn’t like to see itself simply as envelope-stuffing fodder. Instead, let’s open the Party up to all the components of our society and invite along single-issue organisations and other guest speakers from anywhere along the political spectrum
- finally, whatever we do, wherever we do it and whenever we manage to get there, let’s keep in the forefront of our minds the importance of nurturing a democracy which offers both equality of voice and efficiency at the same time – as, in fact, I said yesterday, a democracy we could call and, indeed, market as the “Good Democracy”
All in all, a surprisingly hopeful experience.
Oh, and did I mention I got to meet one of my heroes?
*Back gardens, barbecues, setting the world to rights over pints of beer and packets of crisps … you get my general drift.