All those thoughts about reforming local democracy have been bubbling away in my head but really I’m not sure we can start there.
Let me try to explain, I think that too many of the people who write about potential solutions to the ‘problems’ of politics have tended to focus on system changes.
Introduce a new electoral system and people will see the point of voting change the way that local authorities are led and people will want to hold them to account, that sort of thing.
There may be other good reasons to make these changes – or not to – but they don’t lie at the root of the solution to voter turn-off and antipathy to politics as we practice it.
So I’m more interested in culture changes initially for political parties but also if I can sustain the momentum in the culture of government as well.
It often appears that political parties across the spectrum seem to have given up the struggle to increase the numbers of people involved and actively participating in local politics. From the inside of that process I’m not sure its true, but perhaps we’re stuck on what we feel we can achieve and when push comes to shove we retreat into focusing most attention on those with a record of participation.
What is clear to me is that those of us who are active members of political parties are often stretched so thin that we struggle to do more than just cover some of the basics. A leaflet here, a street stall there, and a bit of canvassing is the sign of healthy campaigning.
This creeping retreat from the position where political parties were once at the heart of significant parts of daily life must in part help explain the disconnect between parties and those we seek to serve.
I suspect that when I pin my rosette on my chest I go from being an ordinary member of my community to being an “other” in the eyes of most of my fellow citizens, I’m like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons that knock on my door occasionally, just plain weird talking about things that are of little interest and an irritating distraction from what’s on television.
Lots of people express the view that we should, as a result of this disconnect, abandon the current set of political parties all together. You won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t subscribe to that view.
I believe that political parties need to re-imagine how who we are and how we fit in with our communities.You can see some of this thinking emerging in the sorts of things that a number of the candidates for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party are saying. And indeed from Gordon Brown who in an interview with Jacqui Ashley led her to the view:
The Labour party may not realise what is about to hit it. Brown believes the days of political parties as “small organisations of people who are accused of talking to themselves” are over. In future, constituency parties will become local hubs, building links with other networks and groups, and using new technology to reach out way beyond their usual supporters.
Brown expands his theme: “There are so many different forms of communication – writing, phoning, the internet – at the moment we’re not doing enough to keep people informed and to show people that when they have a view, we’re prepared to listen to them.”
I’ve got some half formed thoughts about where we might be heading and I hope I’ll come back to them.