Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Labour Deputy Leadership election

Whilst the Labour leadership election alternates between minor farce (Michael Meacher's candidature) and outright enigma (just why are so many people who've worked with Borwn convinced that he would be a disaster as Prime Minister but none of them, Meacher aside, are prepared to try to stop him?), the deputy leadership election has for the most part been a vanity parade as a series of (mainly) Cabinet Ministers seek little more than the opportunity to be an unsackable Deputy Prime Minister, possibly with a grace & favour residence thrown in.

But there's one candidate who's been the exception to this. And whilst I am reluctant to endorse any candidate in another party's elections, I have to say I am seriously impressed with some of what Jon Cruddas is saying.

Don't get me wrong - I don't agree with many of his policies. But what he's saying about party organisation and the need to reconnect with voters is something that applies far beyond the confines of any one party. As noted by Tom Watson, "he is striving to energise [his] party's grass roots. You can't do that from a TV studio." (Tom Watson MP: Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) Here are some of his comments from the Changing our Party section of his campaign website:
But grassroots campaigning has to go hand in hand with giving members a real voice. The policy making process in the Party must be overhauled- at present it is simply an exercise in top down political control.
As I've said before (For Conservative Democracy), Conservative members also need a real voice. Grassroots campaigning by members with a real say is one of the best ways to reconnect with voters, with human faces not mass media machines.

The Deputy Leader should be the voice of the party with a direct link into Government; if elected I would refuse a departmental portfolio. This is not an election to be Deputy Prime Minister, it is an election for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and that job should be honour enough.
One of the best pledges of all. How many other candidates are really and merely seeking to be Deputy Leader?

The party should not be seen as an inconvenience, best held in check and occasionally cajoled into knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes, but a real asset by which policy making is anchored in the day to day life experiences of millions of people.
We are constantly told there is widespread disillusionment and distrust with party politics. Turnout is plummeting, particularly in traditional Labour areas. But it does not have to be this way.

I aim to turn this decline around by getting real funding into local party organisation. I support the idea of constituency parties getting £3 per voter that will fund local organisers, boosting local activity.

I support capping party spending.

This will refocus political activity around the needs and aspirations of local communities, not politicians in Westminster.
Much of this is sounding encouraging. It's true that turnout is stronger in Conservative areas, but the decline all round is something that should worry all involved in politics. I would not be happy if the Conservatives win power merely because the party managed to benefit from plummeting turnout. Government needs to be for the all.

In my own borough [Barking & Dagenham] voters have turned to the racist BNP not because they are racist but out of fear and a sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Many are simply protesting against mainstream politics.
On an aside, I hope many anti-BNP campaigners pay serious attention to this. All too often they become seen as part of a "mainstream politics" conspiracy that wants to ignore the needs of voters and deny a voice to parties that are perceived as offering answers. Addressing the vulnerability, insecurity and disillusionment with mainstream politics is the way to fight them. Banning their voice and trying to encourage tactical votes against them does nothing to resolve these problems. It merely plays into the BNP's hands.

There is also little doubt that the centralisation of decision making and the outsourcing of services from democratically elected councils has taken power away from local people. Local communities and voters are feeling increasingly powerless.

Through this campaign I hope to bring people together to find radical new ways of engaging local communities and enhancing participatory democracy.
Of course one election for one position in one party isn't going to solve all this, but a start needs to be made. Each of the main parties has a crucial role to play in the political system (although I'd prefer it if Labour would play that role on the Opposition Benches!) and it cannot be good if any party sees its organisation collapse. I shall not comment on Cruddas's policies for the country (not least because he's not seeking a ministerial portfolio at all) but much of what he is saying about party organisation is highly encouraging and Conservatives would do well to study it.

The chances of my being a Labour member are about as likely as the chances of pigs flying, but I note that most of the Labour blogs I regularly read are backing Cruddas. And I wish him all the best of success!

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