Author Archives: Simon Banks

What is a movement?

In the discussion – and sales talk – around the party reform proposals, people often talk of creating a movement, sometimes equated to a supporter scheme. Sometimes, as in that video, it’s presented as an alternative to a political party. There is a danger of positive language being repeated till people stop asking what it means. So what is a movement and how’s it different from a political party?

“Movement” suggests moving – towards some shared goal. Parties can do that, but you can’t have a movement for not changing things much. Movements require mass participation.

Any party can call itself a movement. In France in 1945, some traditional parties were blamed for France’s unpreparedness for the war and others for collaborating. So a new party was called the “Mouvement Republican Populaire” – People’s Republican Movement. It was organised as a traditional party with mainly unclear goals.

Parties have a defined membership, organisation at local and national levels, a leader or leaders and some process for choosing people with particular responsibilities. Movements may or may not have these things.

Many movements campaign for something narrowly defined. Consider the 19th century movements for abolition of slavery in the UK and the US. The UK movement worked through traditional parties. The US movement founded its own parties (Free Soil, then Republican). Other genuine movements include the Feminist movement, the Green movement, CND and nationalist separatist movements. Some have formed parties, others not.

Posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments
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