Vivé le Local Association

‘Party’ has become a dirty word. Their only hope is the return of strong local party branches.

In a recent article on Labour Uncut, Ben Cobley describes how he spoiled his Labour-Euro election ballot in protest of what he terms institutionalised fixing. He argues through a process of electoral ‘zipping’ that favours sitting MEPs, cronyism towards unionists and an abeyance to create artificial balance on the ballot, the Labour Party is doing little to reflect the values of its members, let alone the country. The same accusation can be levelled at the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

In the digital age where communication has never been easier, the main parties’ engagement with their members is often superficial. No moderniser should wish to return to the days where each policy decision had to be ratified on the floor of conference or fear a stalking horse from the 1922 Committee on the backbenches, but the rank and file members are almost completely shut out of key policy, selection or ballot decisions

This has significant implications for political parties and local associations. Constituency branches were a crucial part of the democratic channels for the electorate for a significant part of the last century. They allowed people to regularly engage further in the political process. The result was twofold.

On a principled basis it gave the electorate a greater democratic voice and made parties more legitimately in touch with the lives of the electorate. On a pragmatic basis when elections came, it wasn’t a cynical grab for bodies to deliver leaflets or hit the phones, but a genuine exchange: truly representative movements and engines for social change. If the Labour Party, in particular, needs and wants a large volunteer base to help win elections, it has to strengthen the local associations once more and give members a greater say in the internal political processes.

This does not mean not just allowing them to choose which tea cosy to display at fundraiser events: it means allowing them to play a part in making critical decisions for the party. The CLPs overwhelmingly backed David Miliband as leader, and yet they are now led by his Union sponsored brother, meanwhile local Conservative associations are experiencing mass migration to UKIP.

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