Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom?

This is new - at least for me. Compass are asking all and sundry to propose new policies. People can organise their own meetings to discuss the ideas proposed. It's not a sudden outbreak of unmediated direct democracy however - they still have an 'expert panel' to judge the ideas before Compass members get to vote on them.

No doubt all this is a predictable outgrowth of the Howard Dean and Obama campaigns - and an attempt to link the 'flash mob' phenomenon into the political process. But what interests me is that it seems to be a step on a path to re-imagining what a political party might be in the internet age.

'Modern' political parties are all, in essence, run by their full timers. The only real difference between the Tories and, say, the SWP in this respect is that the Tories' full timers are mainly elected representatives. Much as I dislike the paraphernalia of democratic centralism - the list system, the absurd insistence on defending the line - in strictly sociological or organisational terms all political parties are deeply alike in this respect, however different their ideology, party rules or policy offerings. The membership - even if you call the membership the 'cadre base' - is there to act as a transmission belt of ideas and activities generated from the top. The members are 'amateurs', theoretically in democratic control of the 'professionals' but in reality almost always subservient to them. So being a member ain't much fun unless you're an election/ paper sales junkie - which many of them are - or very keen on endless policy wonkery.

This sort of initiative might well prove to be e-window dressing that still leaves the professionals firmly in control. Indeed, it is likely that many of the proposals submitted will come from other professionals in various campaigns and pressure groups. But I still think it is worth two cautious cheers. Who knows, one or two ideas genuinely originating from amateurs might actually make their way through the process. & in the ossified world of politics that really would be something new.

( Hat-tip Tom P)

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