If I had to choose, I think right now I’d rather be the Salvation Army. Anthony Painter would argue otherwise:
Labour rose from community social action and now that is to be recognised in its constitution. But there’s a problem in all this. Everything that Labour has secured has been through becoming an electoral force. It is not community action and election. It is social justice secured through election.
That is the means through which political parties secure their aims. That is why you have a Labour Party as opposed to just trade unions, christian social action, or community activism. So the proposed new Clause I, while containing worthy elements, just doesn’t get it right. Labour people are part of their local community in a myriad of ways and they bring that into the party. The party reaches out to the local community and serves its needs. It does so through representative democracy. Actually, the current Clause I is better because at least it makes it clear that Labour is a political party:
“Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”
(Incidentally, more opinion on the proposed new Clause 1 can be found in yesterday’s post over at Though Cowards Flinch.)
Meanwhile, Painter goes on to underline the following:
[…] A political party is a means not an end. To secure social justice? Sure. To serve local communities? Absolutely. Is power an end in itself? Absolutely not. That’s why we have a statement of our values in the constitution. It’s why we present ideas and policies in the form of a manifesto. You just muddy things if you make ‘collective action’ a foundational function of the party. It’s not the Salvation Army. It exists to advance a set of values through electoral success.
And yet I still find the idea of the Salvation Army more attractive. Well. Not the Salvation Army itself – but something more resiliently wholesome and acceptable in that grander moral scheme of things than the political parties we must choose from.
Painter’s argument seems to be that in the real world of Western politicking we must accept the dirtiness and dishonesty which all that – of late – would seem to lead to and inevitably invoke. It’s as if political parties and sincerity cannot go together. And it is therefore our responsibility as realistic participants to accept that dirty money, marketing-ridden lies and spin after spin after spin are simply going to be givens in our daily existences.
Our sad environments.
Our envelope-stuffing cannon-fodder foot-soldier lives.
Get used to it. Get real. Or get off.
That seems to be the message.
But surely that’s entirely missing the point.
If people find the connect between organisations such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz.org so much more convincing and are prepared to sign up in their millions to defend a rolling sequence of causes, where exhortations to support political party campaigns rarely reach their tens of thousands, surely we need to ask the following question: what can we do to make political parties more 21st century and as effective organisational tools as these other campaigning institutions?
For 38 Degrees and Avaaz.org are not the single-issue groupings of yore – the CNDs and Greenpeaces that welded certain profiles in tight-knit enthusiasms. They are, rather, hybrids – halfway between a Greenpeace and a political party. A hybrid which is very 21st century – and properly designed to work as most of us need.
How, then, do we gauge exactly what 21st century could mean – and how might we design a new kind of political party on the back of it?
This is a question which may lead us to conclude that the openness and sincerity, the absence or presence of dirty money and the general impression that everything’s above board are all elements we should continue to keep firmly in mind – as we decide how to properly recover the initiative which, arguably, Painter’s understandable realism has nevertheless led us to so comprehensively lose.