Tell the truth and trust the members, says Staynton Brown

Across Europe, we are seeing the loss of influence of progressive, social democratic parties. It is time for Labour to be at the forefront of restating the values that re-engages those of us on the left.

This requires more soul searching and honesty than at any time in recent memory. No longer should Labour party members act solely as fundraisers and canvassers. The collective ideas, skills, experience and knowledge of members must be more readily tapped into.

We are no longer a party of government, so the process of renewal and reaffirmation of values needs to involve all party members in a way not seen over the past 15 years.? ?Honesty requires the leadership to be more transparent and committed to revisiting some of the conventional wisdom that leads people to say that there is not much to choose between the Conservatives and Labour.

This is a perception that needs to be rebutted with vigour and force. But that can only start when Labour starts a more open and honest debate about what went wrong over the last 13 years. The liberal economic free market orthodoxy, embraced without question by the leadership of the three main parties, must be the first topic for a root and branch review by all sections of the Labour party.

Political leadership requires an understanding and aggregation of the power and influence of vested interests. Labour party candidates must be more open about the challenges they face when confronted with powerful vested interests. Among at least four of the candidates, there is still the mentality that they’re in government. We still have to read between the lines, or wait for an ‘unnamed’ source in a newspaper to explain why the candidates won’t offer a proper critique of the financial sector, what drives the relationship with the US, how GP pay has risen inexorably over the decade, why reforms could not have been made more quickly in secondary education.

What we need is a leadership candidate who is not afraid to explain this to the Labour party, to give us a better and clearer understanding of the forces that handicap progressive change.? ?Labour party members – as with wider society – are so much attuned to the nuance of policy decisions. The explosion in telecommunications and information, gives many savvy voters the chance to interrogate the policies and positions of their political masters in an instant.

The Labour leadership has at times failed to realise this, still holding the belief that as ‘leaders’ their word will be enough. Well, that time has changed. As Labour moves forward, more honest debate will regain the trust that has been lost. Why do we wait for books from every former player in new Labour to expose this? We need a labour party that is upfront from the start. This may create some initial tensions, but the leadership must trust the party members and the public more.

Otherwise, they risk being exposed by the anonymous tweeter or blogger, who gives a more honest appraisal, reducing trust and weakening the connection between the leadership and members. We live in a fluidly interdependent world, with rapidly changing social behaviour, the growth in transport and travel, the complexity of financial products and instruments, the changing demands of the public, an ageing population, aggregating competing national interests, responding to climate change, the list is endless.

Labour must realise that ‘policy makers’ and ‘analysts’ are often overreaching when they claim to have found answers. We are stuck in a climate of bogus objectivity, where leaders are expected to answer these sorts of hugely complex questions. Whether it be the Iraq war or the financial crisis, we have been told that assessments and analysts support measures that justify action that has been wrong, and caused either severe hardship or death.

What Labour must embrace is judgement and conviction as better criteria for making decisions.? ?The party should hold an event one day this summer, where achievements over the past 13 years are celebrated. During the election, many of Labour’s achievements, such as passing equality legislation, increasing the overseas aid budget, reducing child poverty, seeing more people at university, securing peace in Northern Ireland, redistributing taxes to support lone parents – many of whom have actually gone to university as a result of measures Labour took – and many others, were not properly championed and celebrated.

My sister and mother, both single parents, suddenly saw there was encouragement and support to become better educated. Sure Start and increased university places allowed them both to work hard and get to university. These were hard won and hard fought victories that improved the lives of many.

I would also propose the following.

  1. Regular US style town hall meetings from the shadow cabinet members
  2. The mobilisation of experts in particular fields within the Labour party to coalesce and develop new ideas (and not only relying on thinktanks)
  3. Creating and supporting more online blogging space, for a wider diversity of ideas to be debated

Until the other candidates pick up this baton, they will fail to reinvigorate the party. We have been watching them very closely over the past few years, so they hold few surprises. What is more critical now, more than ever, is a more honest relationship between the leadership and the party, for the leadership to be more open, for members to be trusted, for a greater diversity of ideas to be embraces, but most of all, for judgement and values to replace an the over-reliance on policy prescription, politically motivated assessments, and bogus objectivity.

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2 Responses to “Tell the truth and trust the members, says Staynton Brown”

  1. paul barker says:

    I am sorry but this is fantasy. The Labour Party is controlled by a combination of the Union beurocracy & the MPs. Once youve cast your 3/10ths of a vote for the dear leader thats it for another decade. The Union bosses control 90% of the votes at conference & 80% of the the money, the MPs elect the shadow cabinet. The membership are there to take orders not give them.

  2. This is godawful. I say that as a grassroots activist who remains pissed off about the way the party hierarchy stabbed us in the back.

    Blogging as the solution? That’s moronic. Blogging mostly empowers right-wing loonies and those with a direct line to the hierarchy anyway. You can see this in, respectively, the commenters on most prominent Labour blogs and the proprietors.

    Even in the US, where the online left is much more powerful and grassroots-led, it still utterly fails as a place to discuss policy. It’s good for fundraising, it’s good for enforcing the whip (or for sparking grassroots revolts) and it builds a degree of fervour, but you won’t get very much more than that and in any case it only really works in the US because their media are so conservative and so pisspoor.

    Mobilising of experts? Christ no. Firstly, plenty of think-tankers are members. Secondly, we should be consulting any relevant expert, not just ones with a Labour Party membership card. Thirdly, I don’t want self-appointed experts joining the party, failing to do any membership work and then demanding a say. At the very least, their ought to be a requirement to do a leafletting round before being eligible for such a consultation.

    But honestly, the problem with the 1997-2010 government alienating the members had nothing to do with the experts. It had to do with the ministers who consulted the experts who’d tell them what they wanted to hear. So you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway.

    Town halls? In the US style? Great for showing faux-outrage. But terrible for proper scrutiny and basically just an excuse for cheap political theatre. I don’t see how public meetings empower the membership in any case.

    If you want to restore the power of the membership (and whilst we might want to do that a little, there are legitimate questions about how far we want to go – anybody who regularly attends GCs will know that not all of the debate would be a credit to the Commons) then you need to be changing the party’s rules.

    Increase the power of conference and the NPF so they’re harder to overrule. Take shadow cabinet elections away from MPs and give them to the membership or the NEC (whilst allowing the leader some free picks – or some similar solution). Allow a leadership challenge to be started by a sufficiently large petition by members.

    Those are all just ideas off the top of my head. Depending on your ideal situation, there may be others that work better. But anything’s better than tosh about blogs and fake consultations.

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