Opinion: Long term gains from short term arguments

Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderMost participants in the post-election debate have concentrated on specific changes they want now: the Leader, his advisers, the communications team, the detail of policy issues etc.  I firmly believe that the underlying issues are systemic rather than one-off and that we should use the opportunity to establish structures for the future which minimise the likelihood of problems arising and improve our capacity as a democratic Party for dealing with them.

Some key targets:

  1. Agreement by the Party in advance on the elements which underpin construction of a coalition agreement: what are the elements to build into any future agreement about separate identity, resolving policy differences (or not), when and how to go beyond an agreement, responding to immediate challenges (e.g. in foreign policy)?  The fixed term Parliament was an example.  The time of negotiation, when a potential partner is eager for government, is the time to write on these conditions.
  2. The President: her/his role as “principal spokesperson of the Party” has been sidelined.  The next Presidential election creates an opportunity to spell out that responsibility and to get any and all candidates to sign up to an explicit job description, including the President’s role on behalf of the Party in negotiations, during coalition, and in relations with the Leader.  The job is not a stepping-stone to the Leadership; nor is it a role for representing the Leadership to the Party rather than the other way round; nor is it about being any sort of figurehead or symbol.  The President has the position and the power and should have the authority to speak the Party’s truth to the Party’s leadership.
  3. The supine nature of the current FE is scandalous.  It has a central position in the Party (NOT just one particular role in relation to organisation matters, but across the Board).  Its key role is governance (in the context of the Constitution, which is both federal and has some separation of powers).  Its responsibility, often through the President, who should be its creature, is to ensure that the whole structure comes together, problems and tensions are resolved and the Party’s staff carry out the Party’s will.
  4. Something that happens to all parties in elected assemblies (parliaments; councils, etc) is that the short-term agenda and timetable of those bodies takes over the party’s policy priorities.  All parties in government become even more obsessed with short-term policy choices as formulated by departments of state.  It’s inevitable and necessary; but it means that a strong party needs strong, independent machinery, outside assembly members and government, to build its own ideas, directions and policies.
  5. There is the belief, nurtured by the broadcast and print media, that a political party has “bosses” and that the Leader is the boss of bosses, the “capo de tutti capi”.  It’s the Leader’s responsibility to respond immediately to any challenge to the party by “ordering” an enquiry or a set of actions, regardless of whether the Leader has the power, the responsibility or even the knowledge.  Disagreement is reported as treason; argument is a “rift” or a “challenge”.  Any attempt at open debate is judged by which side a Leader is on.  What egregious nonsense!  In fact, Liberal and Liberal Democrat Leaders have managed to hold out better than most against this corrupting influence, but it’s hard when the principles and dynamics have not been thought through and accepted in advance.  The answer is not simply to have a different Leader – it is to ensure that any Leader is constrained, checked and balanced in an open, democratic, vibrant party.
  6. Over the next five years, the party will have to re-establish its long-term activist base – where will we find those people, what is needed to give them the long-term motivation that underpins long-term commitment, what are we asking them to do – certainly not just doing what they are told by a cadre of campaign technicians?
  7. The community politics idea is not just about using technical skills to get elected and then faithfully representing their views, prejudices and fears, while dealing with casework.  It is about helping people in their communities to take and use power.  That means engaging with them from the base of our own beliefs and philosophy and therefore a commitment to a revived political discourse at every level, but crucially based on starting from where people are and moving on from that.
  8. A Party which is strong and sure in its core beliefs and the policies which give them effect can rightly be confident that its leaders will articulate those beliefs.  Increasingly, we have substituted specific policies for basic beliefs in our debates.  Where are the fora in which those ideas are formulated, rehearsed, articulated and developed so that all members understand and are comfortable with their creed?

Photo by David Spender

* Gordon Lishman is a member of the Federal Board.

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28 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jun '14 - 9:48am

    We now have this excellent road-map from Gordon on the structure required to make the Liberal Democrats a better vehicle for Liberalism and for the re-creation and maintenance of a vibrant Liberal Movement in the UK.

    Add to this David Howarth’s excellent evidence based programme for major campaign themes https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-what-does-the-evidence-tell-us-about-our-strategy-should-be-40422.html and we have a chart by which to navigate towards and beyond the general election.

    But Gordon also asks an important question at the very end of his piece. The answer to it illuminates how we come to be in the present woeful position and points to what we have to do to take the break off the Movement that many here have spent years helping to sustain.

    He asks, “Where are the fora in which those ideas are formulated, rehearsed, articulated and developed …”

    The answer is that the most influential engine for the ideas central to Liberal Democrat policy and action within the Coalition (as opposed to the Party – the two are not the same, sadly) has been and looks set to continue to be the board room and staff room of Centre Forum.

    Look carefully at the key players and influencers on the Liberal Democrat side of the Coalition and you will see that Centre Forum has groomed the thinking and promoted the careers of the key Liberal Democrat players in this Government. It has developed, promoted and positioned the key advisers, paid and unpaid. It’s influence dwarfs that of the Federal Policy Committee, let alone Federal Conference.

    I don’t believe that you will see Gordon and David’s excellent ideas paid more than lip service (nor any findings of the campaignreview set up by the Leader without reference to the Federal Executive, whilst that organisation is so influential and whilst its chosen people are making the key personnel, policy and campaigning decisions affecting what is done in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

  • Love the comment about the press viewing our political leaders as mafia bosses!

  • Peter Chegwyn 4th Jun '14 - 10:50am

    An excellent analysis of the challenges ahead.

    I’d particularly endorse 6, 7 & 8.

    But will the present Leadership take any notice?

    There’s no sign of them doing so yet.

  • I hope someone up there at the top of the party reads Gordon’s advice and acts accordingly.

    Gordon says —- ” it’s hard when the principles and dynamics have not been thought through and accepted in advance.  The answer is not simply to have a different Leader – it is to ensure that any Leader is constrained, checked and balanced in an open, democratic, vibrant party.”

    Currently we have small group huddled round a leader who are trying to cling on to the recent past. They resist any change however sensible. Their song is “More of the same”. The sort of changes outlined by Gordon cannot happen whilst the circled wagons are blocking the road. To be able to address the points above we need to clear the path for change.

    But as someone (was it Bill e Breton?) has posted in an earlier thread —

    We have a leader who no party activist or candidate puts on their election material because they know he’s a negative factor. This is the definition of a lame duck leader.

    We have a leader who unerringly gets on the wrong and illiberal side of issues, is a magnet for negative campaigning, is tactically inept and unable or unwilling to get a grip of detail.

    We have a leader who virtually every party member wishes would voluntarily step aside.

    We have six or seven other MPs with the capacity to do this job without these disadvantages, because Liberal Democrats, who work up and win seats largely from scratch, are multi-talented people.

    We need one of them to be allowed to take over the front of house job urgently. Then, the process of reconnection can begin.

  • Hi Gordon,

    “The supine nature of the current FE is scandalous.”

    As a member of the executive, why do you think this is the case? I’m just thinking about how slow and challenging it appears to be to get modernising ideas for the party actually implemented (OMOV and reform of the Conference Rep situation for example). Is it that the executive doesn’t have the power to do what it wants, or is it that the majority of the executive want to keep the status quo?

  • I don’t know much about the history of Lib Dem (and before that SDP and Liberal) internal structures, so could someone explain to me the process by which the party leader in the House of Commons became the “Leader of the Party,” with majuscules and other knobs? It seems to me that — given the breezy indifference by the current “leadership” to immense losses of councillors and MEPs — that if the Party is to have a single person as its public face and voice, with (in addition) enormous influence on determining the overall policy and direction of the Party, that person ought to be anybody but an MP. The Party seems better off if a small number of MPs on one wing of the Party are not taken as characteristic and typical of the whole.

  • paul barker 4th Jun '14 - 1:20pm

    An intelligent & sensible article.
    A comments thread hijacked by the usual suspects for their obsessive rants against Clegg. This seems to be the “New Normal” on LDV & the only people who can change it are the The LDV Team themselves.
    I recognise it would be more work for unpaid volonteers but can I ask for all threads to be moderated & every comment that doesnt directly address the Article above be excluded ?
    As things stand its hard & dispiriting to plough through the Anti/Pro Clegg material searching for the few actual comments.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '14 - 1:27pm

    David-1

    I don’t know much about the history of Lib Dem (and before that SDP and Liberal) internal structures, so could someone explain to me the process by which the party leader in the House of Commons became the “Leader of the Party,” with majuscules and other knobs?

    It’s the way politics is reported in the country. The 99% or so of people in this country who have no active involvement in party politics have nothing which tells them that politics is anything but that. In my experience if you try to explain to almost anyone, but especially to anyone not old enough to have memories of the days when the political parties were not so smoothly organised in a top down way (that is anyone younger than me, and I’m in my 50s), the idea of a political party as being a community of volunteers who come together to choose some of their number to put forward for public office, they are absolutely ASTONISHED, because it just never occurred to them that a political party was meant to be that sort of thing. The vast majority of people in this country now just assume that a political party is a top-down organised thing, perhaps a branch of the state or perhaps a private company, but whatever, under the absolute control of whoever is its “leader”.

    It could be argued that the party leader in the House of Commons became The Leader when we switched to electing that person by a vote of all members rather than by a vote of the party’s MPs. However, that was really just a recognition of what was already assumed to be the role of leader in the House of Commons.

    I do quite agree that our party has a separate leadership position elected by the party membership as a whole, and that this means the person of President could be seen as the “real” leader of the party. Well, how often do we have a President who sees that as his or her role? I think we need such a person now.

    On the whole, we have let this impression of how a political party should be take over because we have been far too willing to go along with it. But also it goes back to how politics was covered in the media up to the 1980s, when the “activist” was reported as the big problem in political parties, the typical “activist” was held up as an obsessive who was out of touch with ordinary people. The idea was put across that if politics was put all into the hands of professional politicians at Westminster and local activists reduced to a subservient role or removed completely on the grounds that everyone votes for a party based on its national image and national campaign not on local campaigning, then we would have a political system which would be much more popular and respected. David Allen won’t like me saying it, but to quite a large extent this was what the SDP was about. Much of the division between the Liberal Party and the SDP at the time of merger came down to these two very different models of political party. The SDP was founded as a leader-oriented party, and seen as breaking away from the then activist-dominated Labour Party. The difference between the two parties was NOT, as is so often falsely written up today, about Liberals being free market fanatics and Social Democrats wanting to see an active state, on that issue there was little difference between the Liberal Party and the SDP.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Jun '14 - 3:14pm

    @paul barker
    “An intelligent & sensible article.” OK, no problem.

    Then we come to “A comments thread hijacked by the usual suspects for their obsessive rants against Clegg. This seems to be the “New Normal” on LDV & the only people who can change it are the The LDV Team themselves.
    I recognise it would be more work for unpaid volonteers but can I ask for all threads to be moderated & every comment that doesnt directly address the Article above be excluded ? ….”. Paul – this for example?

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Jun '14 - 4:17pm

    Thank you Gordon – An excellent piece.
    “Most participants in the post-election debate have concentrated on specific changes they want now: the Leader, his advisers, the communications team, the detail of policy issues etc. I firmly believe that the underlying issues are systemic rather than one-off and that we should use the opportunity to establish structures for the future which minimise the likelihood of problems arising and improve our capacity as a democratic Party for dealing with them.”

    Yes, whilst we must extricate ourselves from the present hole, the need to prevent the situation arising again is even more important.

    Indeed if we could resolve certain of them BEFORE the next GE, it would have a positive effect on the future success and stability of our party.

    By our very nature, those of us who join the Liberal Democrats are free thinking libertarian democrats one of our characteristics is us being significantly less likely to accept the top down prescriptions of an unpopular leader.

    What you suggest generally reflects us being a bottom-up movement of likeminded people who, for the purposes of practicality, elect representative leaders; not an elective dictatorship or grant any leader the right to move us to a different place in the political spectrum without an internal debate and a one member, one vote ballot.

    A duopoly of party president/leader of the party in the country and leader of the party in parliament that will set us apart from Labour/Conservative/UKIP etc and show to those inside and outside the party that we have learnt from the mistakes of the 2010-14 era. I also believe it will encourage the crop of new and returning members to the party … people who appear to be being drawn in by the party in the country reasserting itself.

    Matthew Huntbach4th Jun ’14 – 1:27pm. Great post Matthew. Goes a long way to explain the growing disconnect between those outside (be they party members or ordinary voters) and many of those in the Westminster bubble (very much including the majority of newspaper writers and TV commentators in that).

  • Gareth Wilson 4th Jun ’14 – 11:04am
    “The supine nature of the current FE is scandalous.”
    As a member of the executive, why do you think this is the case?

    As an ordinary member who witnesses what some members of the FE say in threads Ike this in LDV —- I would suggest that Gordon Lishman is being kind when he describes the nature of the current FE as supine. He could have been more robust.

    To give just one example — when the subject of The Coalition Agreement is discussed do we see you Gareth Wilson taking the Leader to task for failing to implement key parts of the agreement ?
    Do we see the FE holding the parliamentary party to account for going beyond The Coalition Agreement on say nuclear
    powe.r? If I am wrong and this has happened I am sure you will want to give chapter and verse. But am I not correct that the Secretary of State for Energy changed party policy on this at the last conference whilst saying that there would be no subsidy for new nuclear? Did he not then go ahead with a scheme that depends on a huge subsidy? Have the FE taken him to task?
    Has the gap between what was agreed by the party when the Coalition Agreement was put to a Special Conference and the reality of what has gone on in government ever been evaluated by the FE ?
    Or has there been supine acceptance?
    And worse than supine acceptance have the FE also been guilty of acting as cheer leaders for min isters doing things which the party has specifically rejected such as the bedroom tax ?

  • paul barker 4th Jun ’14 – 1:20pm

    “……. obsessive rants against Clegg. This seems to be the “New Normal” on LDV & the only people who can change it are the The LDV Team themselves. ”

    Ah the voice of a true democratic. Too many people disagree with him some wants to silence debate. I wonder paulbarker if you have actually read what Gordon has written here?

    A quick recap for you — Gordon wrote —
    “….. I firmly believe that the underlying issues are systemic rather than one-off and that we should use the opportunity to establish structures for the future which minimise the likelihood of problems arising and improve our capacity as a democratic Party for dealing with them.”

    You seem to believe from your repeated posts in LDV that the party is best served by singing the praises of those at the top, resisting any change in direction or emphasis in strategy, denying the reality of electoral failure and pretending that a 6% level of support in the opinion polls are OK and everything will be “back on track by the summer”.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Jun '14 - 5:57pm

    JohnTilley 4th Jun ’14 – 5:33pm.
    That’s the trouble with the usual suspects like you John – you keep bringing the facts into the argument!

    Re our long-standing position on Nuclear Power or its more recent twist regarding not subsidising it, whether it was Ed Davey’s fault or if he was directed to do so by the MP for Hallam, whatever, this is an area, just as with tuition fees where our agreed party policy has been completely rewritten with no agreement or reference to the wider party. Such decisions have taken a terrible toll on the party.

    Your points regarding the power and influence of the Federal Executive are very pertinent.

    It was one thing to go into coalition with the Tories but another altogether to rewrite much of what we stand and have long stood for.

    In addition to the powers of the Party President, those of the Federal Executive also need strengthening.

  • paul barker 4th Jun '14 - 7:02pm

    By my count more than half of the comments so far are at least partly about Clegg rather than on the original Post. More than half are also comments on other comments; this one is a comment on comments on a comment.
    What is the point ? No-one is saying anything new, we are all just chasing our tails.

    Can I suggest that those who want to dump Clegg just get on with calling EGMs for their local Parties & leave LDV to talk about other things.

  • Peter Chegwyn 4th Jun '14 - 7:46pm

    So Paul Barker now wants to censor LDV and stop any of us talking about the Leader and his future?

    How very liberal!

  • paul barker 4th Jun ’14 – 7:02pm

    paul barker
    For the second time I will ask you go back and read exactly what Gordon Lishman has written.

    You do not have to read past the second sentence to realise that you are out of order in your criticism.
    Gordon has written a thoughtful and sensible piece.
    Why will you not tell us what you think on the subject rather than throwing criticism at oter whohave commented?
    If you disagree with what people have said — why not explain why you disagree rather than suggesting some sort of conspiracy?
    Your contributions seldom go beyond four or five lines. Why not expand a bit and tell us why you think everything is OK and indeed why you think the opinion polls will be “on track by the summer”.

  • Stephen Hesketh

    Yes indeed as you say —
    It was one thing to go into coalition with the Tories but another altogether to rewrite much of what we stand and have long stood for.

    What I find deeply frustrating is that The Coalition Agreement once published seemed to be immediately forgotten.

    Only weeks after the coalition started with ” No top down reorganisation ofthe NHS ” we got top down reorganisation of the NHS announced and then supported by our MPs. What did the democratic structures of the party do about this brech of contract?
    The actions of the leader and most of the MPs on a series of government decisions are in direct contravention of the agreement. Tuition fees, House of Lords, new nuclear power with illegal subsidies and others.

    What was the point of a special conference if the Coalition Agreement was just a sham?

    Gordon Lishman’s points about systemic problems in he democratic structures of the party are relevant. But where are te reasoned counter arguments from those who want to cling on to failure?

    The cheerleaders for the status quo have never responded to this point.

  • Great article.

    Especially the community politics aspect. I was discussing politics with a non-partisan person the other day, but was cynical about voting for us again following fees and the ‘Euro’ issue. He (probably not completely unfairly) blamed us for the the raise of UKIP.

    During this discussion, he asked me a very interesting question, “What do the Lib Dems actually stand for that no other party would claim they stand for?”

    I had to think about it because much of what we say, the other parties would claim as their own in some capacity, but eventually I said ‘community politics’.

    Now, when I say community politics, this is not the Tories’ ‘community politics’, which is basically just a nice way of saying ‘small Government and everything but the state’, I mean actual community politics as in politics taking an active part in bettering a local community on its local issues.

  • William Jones 5th Jun '14 - 9:20am

    Lots of very sensible proposals for strengthening of the body Lib Dem, organisationally, here.

    However, there is a very good argument for simplifying organisational structures of the party if we look at the spiders web of committees that represent the decision making process without becoming less democratic. Many of the committees are there for historical reasons but effective decision making for modern organisations have much flatter and hierarchical structures. I am sure these committees will be defended by the party stalwarts that sit on them. But we really do need to modernise some of our internal structures to not only strengthen the body Lib Dem but to ensure the likes of the Rennard Incident do not happen again.

    What has gone wrong has not just been organisational and the proposed Lib Dem organisational structures probably wouldn’t have solved this. It’s about message and the damage that the coalition has wreaked on party North of Birmingham. How is some of that damage to be mitigated before 2015? How can the those who have lost not just activists, all their MEPs and hundreds of councillors have their campaigning capacity strengthened to fight elections effectively again?

    The ‘community politics’ boat is a proven boat and we should sail again in it to rebuild. But if we don’t sail with provisions that have meant we have listened to voters, have solutions for their every day issues and provide an unmistakably CLEAR Liberal vision for British society. We will be ship wrecked on the rocks of wholly mindedness and voters will continue to ask if the message is not clear: “what do the liberal democrats stand for?”

  • William Jones 5th Jun '14 - 9:40am

    Lots of very sensible proposals for strengthening of the body Lib Dem, organisationally.

    However, there is a very good argument for simplifying organisational structures of the party if we look at the spiders web of committees that represent the decision making process without becoming less democratic. Many of the committees are there for historical reasons but effective decision making for modern organisations have much flatter and hierarchical structures. I am sure these committees will be defended by the party stalwarts that sit on them. But we really do need to modernise some of our internal structures to not only strengthen the body Lib Dem but to ensure the likes of the Rennard Incident do not happen again.

    What has gone wrong has not just been organisational and the proposed Lib Dem organisational structures probably wouldn’t have solved this. It’s about message and the damage that the coalition has wreaked on party North of Birmingham. How is some of that damage to be mitigated before 2015? How can the those who have lost not just activists, all their MEPs and hundreds of councillors have their campaigning capacity strengthened to fight elections effectively again?

    The ‘community politics’ boat is a proven boat and we should sail again in it to rebuild. But if we don’t sail with provisions that have meant we have listened to voters, have solutions for their every day issues and provide an unmistakably CLEAR Liberal vision for British society. We will be ship wrecked on the rocks of wholly mindedness and voters will continue to ask if the message is not clear: “what do the liberal democrats stand for?”

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '14 - 11:14am

    William Jones

    It’s about message and the damage that the coalition has wreaked on party North of Birmingham.

    Why do you write “North of Birmingham”? The Liberal Democrats have been wiped out in many parts of London and the south-east as well. Please don’t think we south of Birmingham are all Tories and happy with this government and doing well under it.

  • Sue Doughty 6th Jun '14 - 5:31pm

    Gareth
    the reason we are taking time over OMOV is not to avoid it but to make sure it works. This is why we consulted members in Spring and will bring forward the proposals to our members at conference in October. We want it to work and we are now also spending time with conference committee to make sure that it will. The main issue will be Spring Conference where fewer members attend and so the conference venue is smaller. The last thing we want is for our members to arrive to vote and there’s no where for them to sit and be counted. However this can be planned for in the future and that is just what we are doing. The other point is a constitutional one – local parties select conference representatives (who hold all votes except those for the Leader and President) and we need to get this changed. This is a big change for the party but we are working hard to make sure that the proposals work and are acceptable to our members.

  • “The supine nature of the current FE is scandalous.”

    I remember Donnachadh McCarthy who was on the Federal Executive for 7 years, two of which as deputy chair. I believe he was instrumental in getting the Liberal Democrats along to the “Stop the War” rally in 2003. So perhaps it was under President Navnit Dholakia that the Federal Executive began to lose its way and take a more back seat position in holding the leadership to account and being a focus for radical liberalism once Donnachadh had left feeling that he was not being supported. I think the issue for him was that our members of the House of Lords would not comply with a resolution of the Federal Conference that banned them from working as lobbyists.

    The Federal Executive in 2004 was failing to hold the Parliamentary party in the House of Lords to account.

    I am not sure that we are any good at holding our Federal Committees to account and Federal Executive should look at how this can be done, so individual items of concern can be highlighted and the committee be censured on it, not everything done between conferences.

    We need to ensure that all our elected public representatives vote for agreed policy unless they state at the time that the policy is agreed they will not. Failure to do so should result in removal from the party. We need to ensure that if any elected public representative makes a personal commitment to vote a particular way that if they fail to do so they are removed from the party.

  • Wow, Michael! I believe we should be rather more disciplined as a Party, but I think your prescriptions here are a little harsh. What does one do, by the way, with members (who are often elected public representatives) who are anti-EU, which is more than policy, it is an article of faith through our preamble??

  • @ Tim13
    Maybe you see it as harsher than it is.

    If they have said they are anti our EU policy while being selected as a candidate – nothing. If they said so during the debate on our party policy – nothing. If just a party member – nothing; they have the right to try to change party policy.

    I am not sure how much our one sentence on the EU means we have to be a member of it. It just seems we want it to be a Federal organisation. How much power the Federal government has is always open to debate.

  • David Allen 8th Jun '14 - 7:35pm

    Matthew Huntbach,

    “The SDP was founded as a leader-oriented party, and seen as breaking away from the then activist-dominated Labour Party.”

    Well, I’m pleased that you have stopped trying to claim that the 1981 Jenkins SDP was just a right-wing brake on radical Liberalism (admittedly, usually by responding to occasional equally ludicrous remarks by a few ill-informed individuals along the lines that the old Liberal Party was the foutainhead of neocon libertarianism!). I’m pleased we now agree that “about …. free market fanatics (versus) wanting to see an active state, on that issue there was little difference between the Liberal Party and the SDP.”

    I also accept that the SDP was, to some extent, about centralism versus anarchy. The more difficult question is, were they wrong?

    Michael Foot’s Labour Party produced their “suicide note” manifesto as a result of that party’s capture by their radical, ideological activists. The SDP wanted some attention paid to policies that might make economic sense, might not completely repel the voters, might appeal to all those ordinary people out there who couldn’t tell an anarchosyndicalist from a Eurocommunist. Were they wrong?

    OK, it is very easy for a party instead to be captured by a leadership clique, especially in alliance with a rich donor clique, and that is certainly our current problem. But, can that problem easily be rectified by structural design such as is advocated by Lishman?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it isn’t easy. The Soviet structure was, in theory, a superb example of democracy – or indeed community politics, if you like. There were multiple concentric circles of power (like Dante!) in which grassroots committees democratically elected a committee of local representatives, who in turn elected national reps, etcetera. Stalin was, in principle, elected as the culmination of a thoroughly democratic process. Of course, what Stalin and Lenin before him did was to capture the process at all its stages, use its complexity as a means of manipulation and disempowerment, and turn it into autocracy. Can Lishman demonstrate that his prescription is not amenable to similar capture by the leaders it produces?

  • SIMON BANKS 16th Jun '14 - 8:47am

    Excellent. I’d just add the need to make sure that the tail of social profiling and the “target demographic” doesn’t wag the dog of the party. It’s valuable to know what sort of people, defined in easily measurable terms, tend to support us, but I perceive that this definition (aspirational 20s – 40s on low or middle income, plus no doubt tweaks for ethnicity and so on) is driving policies in government and even how we define ourselves (the party for people who want to get on in life – sorry, Mrs Smith, but you’re 80 and haven’t got much life to get on in; and sorry, Reverend Jones, but our computer says you’re not ambitious). So we end up looking to most people like a party not interested in them and we edit out messages like liberty, equality, community or our green agenda which can actually motivate people to vote for us AND become activists. And that in turn determines what sort of people join the party anbd what sort of party we become.

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