There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian: ‘Labour party is major force for alienation in Britain’s big cities’. Some US activist person working in Manchester has claimed that someone like Barack Obama would not have been able to succeed in rising up through the Labour Party.
I agree that a rigid party structure can be off-putting to some people. Every Labourite has come across plenty of internal party rules-obsessives who seem to take delight in lecturing new members about all the boring stuff involved in political organisation.
I also accept that there are plenty of local Labour parties across the country that are lacking in any sort of dynamism. In places with populations where ‘people would vote for a monkey wearing a red rosette’ etc it is too easy for the Labour Party to become the conservative-minded establishment.
Whatever the result of the upcoming election, I have no doubt that the Labour Party will need to concentrate more on rebuilding its roots in community networks and recruiting more people to its activist base.
However, apart from these general points, there’s a lot in the Guardian piece that I find irritating.
For one thing, James Purnell’s former special adviser is quoted as saying “James was interested in doing something different because he felt that the Labour Party had given up on organising and emancipating people”. The born-again grassroots activist Purnell is apparently going to work with the campaigners at London Citizens.
To say that the Labour Party has given up on organising people is a bit dismissive of all the party organisers up and down the country who have worked hard to give people like Mr Purnell his job in Parliament.
And whilst I like any example of gay rights campaigners and Muslim clerics working together on something, I’m always a bit sceptical of unelected people from religious groups saying “politicians have to listen to us, to negotiate with us”.
I do not accept that a better form of democrat community organising is to hand over more influence to religious figures and to undermine the role that political parties can play. While on this subject, there’s a post over at HP about Islamist entryism in East London that everyone should have a look at.
Political parties are not the ‘end all’ of political organising, but I don’t think we should give up on them. Internal party reforms to encourage greater openness and to make membership more meaningful may be needed – yet I would still prefer to retain party structures rather than surrender too much political space to potentially less democratic forces.