Saturday, 7 March 2009

Polly Getting Desperate

Polly T has upped her game from nose pegs to smelling salts today. She's switched from a kind of genteel version of the old SWP mantra of 'vote Labour with no illusions' to an analysis which seems to call for root and branch restructuring on an almost Italian scale:

"The moribund party structure now serves mainly to put down political enthusiasm. Fifty years ago one in 11 people joined parties: now it is only one in 88. These are roadblocks to democratic engagement. If you don't start a political career as a party researcher straight out of university, forget becoming an MP. If you want to start a new movement, don't expect to elect any MPs: the system is stitched up."

Well, seems to call for that: actually she's just supporting the rather under-powered-but-probably-necessary attempts by Compass to begin the process of organising an anti-Tory, pro-social democratic popular front before the expected election defeat. Polly, as befits an ex-SDP member, believes that it must all rest on the rock of PR.

But, in the British context, PR is a solution to a losers' problem - which is why Labour became tentative interested in it during the 1990s. Winners tend not to be so interested. Which is why Labour immediately forgot about it once it had had its own landslide in 1997. In any event, it certainly isn't clear that PR alone breaks the power of the professionalised party machines. As a glance at the governments of Israel or even Ireland makes clear. I support PR, but it is absurd to imagine it can save us from the ills she delineates.

Funnily enough I wonder if one way of allow popular voices to break into the 'magic policy circle' is to actually give political parties more power, not less. I'm slowly coming round to Paul Evans' idea that allowing incoming administrations to appoint their own senior civil servants on the American model might help. It seems, in America, to allow for a whole strata of talented people to have portfolio careers based partly in government, partly in academia and partly actually developing an expertise in specific areas. So incoming Minster don't just have 'straight outta Oxbridge' policy wonks or Mandelsonian PR oriented minions to advise them but solid, 'domain competent' experts who share their political objectives and might be expected to be able to counter the usual arguments from lobby groups and a sometimes supine civil service.

But we're still going to need that popular front. Especially if Mr.Salmond wins his independence referendum shortly after a Cameron government comes to power.

No comments:

Post a Comment