Opinion: People power – a different kind of coalition

In the face of rapidly declining membership of political parties we – along with the other parties – face a challenge to survive.

In the past we have prospered as a membership led organisation, supported by a national network of volunteers and activists. Our revenue is derived from a combination of membership fees, donations and small scale fundraising.

Above all else we are members of a party that exists to promote and further our values by electing Liberal Democrats to all tiers of government – local and national. We are not a pressure group or a single issue party.

In light of drastically changing attitudes towards political parties, and with a concentration of older members we face serious challenges in securing the future of our party.

This takes place against a backdrop where young people are better informed than ever before through the Internet and armed with an ability to rapidly access information on current affairs.

Membership organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International have seen a significant increase in grassroots membership as well as penetration into popular culture through brand recognition, publicity stunts and a general ability to make themselves relevant to young people.

As well as learning specific lessons from such organisations, we would do well to acknowledge those which share similar values to our own – such as green issues and human rights – and develop stronger relationships in order to jointly influence local and national policy.

This might mean inviting members of such organisations to our conferences with some ability to engage in debates and influence our own policy. If such an initiative went well we might consider going so far as offering affiliate membership and welcoming such groups into an umbrella organisation (at a grassroots/membership level) that the Liberal Democrats would become.

Evidently there will be significant challenges in such initiatives: overcoming skepticism on both sides, breaking down the line between charity and politics, communicating the value of such influence to their members whilst continuing to empower our own.

But where common goals exist, and an appetite to influence government policy, public opinion and change the world we must find the will to work together.

Jo Grimond described his vision for the Liberal party as a coalition of interest groups aligned with common values and I firmly believe this is the direction we ought to take.

As liberals and democrats, co-operation is built into our DNA. Labour’s organisation is boosted by their links with trade unions at every level, the Conservatives are often perceived as the party of big business. If we take bold steps we can truly be the party of grassroots activism, of “people power” and in a way which is true to our values, not one which compromises them.

* Sean Davey is the Chair of London Liberal Youth

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38 Comments

  • There is a fundamental dichotomy between single-interest pressure groups and political parties, and that is one of pragmatism v ideology. Organisations such as Greenpeace can take quite advanced (or extreme) positions precisely because they don’t have to build a coalition of support in order to get there positions enacted.

  • The problem is (in my honest opinion) that the LIbDems blew the concept of “people power” after the last election. The actions of your leadership since 2010 have had, in many peoples eyes, very little regard for “the people” and much, much more to do with your leadership’s ideology. The next election will tell us if this is the case or not.

  • I would add to my above comment that since the 2010 election the LibDems have lost approaching 40% of their membership, as well as half the voters. How can you seriously consider building on “people power”.

  • A Social Liberal 25th Sep '13 - 7:02pm

    The reason 38 Degrees and their like are taking membership from the political parties is to oppose what is happening in this coalition government. They have left our parties and taken the path they have BECAUSE they disagree with the direction of travel we are taking. Why would they want to come to conference and try and convince us to follow them when they know too many in the party will disagree with what they say, and when their way of doing things are paying such dividends?

  • Ian Hurdley 26th Sep '13 - 8:14am

    In an electorate of, I guess, around 35 million, no more than 500,000 now belong to a political party. Obviously, it is the party which sets and communicates it’s policies, and it is party members who are approved to put themselves forward for selection as candidates. However, if we want to reconnect effectively with voters I believe that the actual selection of candidates – certainly for Westminster and EU elections – should be at open primaries, with al who attend entitled to vote for the individual of their choice. It’s the constituency that we need to connect with, not single issue groups.

  • I’m not sceptical on this point. It’s a good idea. We need more ideas like this and less worries about what these new ideas might achieve. I’m a “Human Rights – Equalities” activist, particularly LGBT, with Lib Dem principles myself – which are not always shared by my colleagues. We don’t assume that all LGBT activists are Lib Dems but many are.

  • Caracatus ,
    Happy to form a coalition with you on this topic and probably others on LDV. Will be reading you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '13 - 2:09pm

    DAVEN

    The problem is (in my honest opinion) that the LIbDems blew the concept of “people power” after the last election. The actions of your leadership since 2010 have had, in many peoples eyes, very little regard for “the people” and much, much more to do with your leadership’s ideology.

    Er, sorry, but how can this be? Surely forming a coalition with the party that won the most votes (the Conservatives in 2010) is going along with what the people wanted. If there was any doubt about that, a year after the general election, we had a referendum where the “No” side put the proposition “It’s best to have a government made up of just one party, the one which won the most votes”, and by two-to-one the people of this country agreed to that. So, surely, the more Nick Clegg just gives in and accepts whatever the Conservatives want, the more we have a government that fits in with what the people, by their votes, have said they want.

    It looks to me that by “people power” you actually mean “DAVEN power”, that is, you are just assuming that whatever it is that you want is what the people want. Now, I’m as appalled by what this government is doing as anyone, I think it’s the worst government of my lifetime. However, I was on the losing side in the general election and in the referendum. So, I just have to accept, it may not be what I want, but it is, by their votes, what the people of this country have said they want.

  • Michael Parsons 26th Sep '13 - 7:29pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    But the Coalition is the triumph of Clegg’s False Flag politics. He has destroyed not just the democratic liberal movement but the very notion of Political Parties as a meaningful instrument of the Popular Will. The agrements and conduct of the Coalition, though they may be applaiuded by bemused Party Conferences, effectively denied voters any say in government because, by its methods and definition, no one could have voted for it.

    Sean Davey has done us all a good service by his article: but trying to get (alas! carefully selected) mass support organisations on board may prove no more than a last-gasp attempt of “Political Parties” to offset the current widespread public contempt, and as such would, I think, fail. Parties are now no more than tiny minority groups organised as election-fixers, nominating placemen at the behest of money-power, of the UK oligarchy of which they are part. As such they function to block the General Will, they are a public hindrance to democracy. Their “elections” are dominated unavoidably by influence and Big Money. Hence the current gagging law attempt by Commons to stop mass-organisations, with their crowd-funded £10 a go donations, from influencing outcomes or setting agendas at election time.

    We need to be far more radical to achieve democracy here: Selecting a few thousand by lot from the Jury List each year to review parliamentary actions and overturn them in ten days if a good case is brought against them would be a start. And similar Watch Committees (chosen annually by lot and subject to review on retirement) to correct Local Government blunders might be more useful to the People than a thousand demonstrations, marches and letters of protest, yes? When it comes to today’s traditional remedies you might as well genuflect to a lampost.

  • Simon Banks 26th Sep '13 - 8:54pm

    It’s perfectly possible to build on “people power” and relations with some pressure groups. After all, in the past, not a few people got involved in such groups first and then in political parties. Pressure groups value relations with friendly “mainstream” politicians and recognise those politicians won’t go all the way with them even if they’d like to. But they must see themselves getting something in return, That must mean that while confronting the realities of power (nothing new for us, since we’ve held or shared power in many local authorities on and off for a long time) we must be prepared to make brave and distinctive decisions and not worry about whether they take us off the precise point where the “centre ground” currently is.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '13 - 9:33pm

    Michael Parsons

    He has destroyed not just the democratic liberal movement but the very notion of Political Parties as a meaningful instrument of the Popular Will. The agreements and conduct of the Coalition, though they may be applauded by bemused Party Conferences, effectively denied voters any say in government because, by its methods and definition, no one could have voted for it.

    Sorry, it looks like I’m just going to have to repeat myself. In 2011 the people of this country voted by two-to-one to support the idea that whichever party got the most votes should have complete power even if it got well short of a full majority. They voted in favour of distorting representation in order to achieve that. They voted to prop up the Tories – Labour and Tory areas voted, by large majorities mostly, for the principle that the biggest party i.e. in 2010 the Tories, should be given all the power.

    By your very argument that coalitions are bad because “no one could gave voted” for them, you too are arguing we should have a purely Tory government. What else could we have when the line you used rules out anything but a government by one of the political parties, which surely must be the one that got the most vote i.e. the Tories?

    Since this is the logic of your argument, it follows that you must applaud Nick Clegg in all he has done to make sure tjs government is as close to your ideal as it can get i.e. putting forward purely Tory policies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '13 - 10:23pm

    Michael Parsons

    Selecting a few thousand by lot from the Jury List each year to review parliamentary actions and overturn them in ten days if a good case is brought against them would be a start.

    I have seen how Citizens Juries were used as an instrument of control by New Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham, and from that experience am not in favour of them.

    The problem is, we political types think everyone is like us, fascinated by politics, willing to talk about it for ages, knowledgeable and opinionated. I’m afraid it’s not like that. Most people aren’t like that, put them on a Citizens Jury, and all they’d want is to get it over with as soon as possible and get their expenses. What I saw in LB Lewisham was that the council leadership presented a plausible case, and so most people on the jury agreed with whatever it was the leadership wanted, because they made it sound ok. Do you think the Leader of the Opposition (which was me) was ever invited to contribute to put the other side? No.

    The one which appalled me most was the one they used to get the idea of a directly elected executive mayor in place. They gave a w hole load of very misleading propaganda to the Citizens Jury, all this stuff about how bad it was that the leader was elected by these shadowy people called councillors, and how so much better it would be to have the leader elected by all the people. What they did not say was that it was an elected dictator, the abolition of councillors having a vote to decide things collectively and instead all power put in the hands of one person. And then after that, whenever I tried in the council to argue against this thing it was thrown at me “But the people agreed to it, how can you go against the people’s will?”. It was used to silence opposition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '13 - 10:37pm

    Sean Davey

    Membership organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International have seen a significant increase in grassroots membership as well as penetration into popular culture through brand recognition, publicity stunts and a general ability to make themselves relevant to young people.

    Yes, and the rise of pressure groups has gone along with a shift to the political right. Pressure groups for left-wing causes can mount as many fancy publicity stunts as they like, but in the end what counts is votes. If people who could be out campaigning for political parties of the left are instead spending their time putting in these stunts, the political right wins.

    The pressure group idea is that we should be like peasants living under an aristocracy, begging and pleading with them, tugging at their heartstrings, in the hope that just occasionally they might feel pity on us and give in on something. It is based on the idea that we can’t change the politicians, that politicians are just imposed on us. Sorry, I believe the idea that getting together and forming political parties who actually get rid of the politicians and put better ones in their place is a far more radical thing to do. No wonder the business powers in this country have worked tirelessly to convince the people that politics is all bad, that they should not get involved in politics, that “I never vote” is a thing to boast about rather than a thing to be ashamed about. They would much rather the people be reduced to these begging peasants, because they know if there are few involved in electoral politics, the power of money will always win out.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '13 - 10:49pm

    Ian Hurdley

    However, if we want to reconnect effectively with voters I believe that the actual selection of candidates – certainly for Westminster and EU elections – should be at open primaries, with al who attend entitled to vote for the individual of their choice.

    A political party is a free association of people with common aims and objectives, coming together to select from amongst their members people they trust to act to forward those aims and objectives, put forward as candidates in elections. Primaries destroy this.

    The primary idea is an attack on the very basis of democracy – free association. It is saying that no association of people should have the freedom to form a common set of aims and objectives, instead the state should muscle in and order them through this “primary” system, to accept among their number in choosing who they put forward people who may be opposed to those aims and objectives. See how in the USA primaries have been so successful in forwarding the power of money and in destroying the politics of the left.

  • @Matthew Huntbach: “See how in the USA primaries have been so successful in forwarding the power of money and in destroying the politics of the left.”

    I’m not sure where this notion comes from, but I certainly cannot think of any evidence to justify it. First of all, there is no single primary law in the United States; the form and type of primary, or whether there are primaries at all, differs from election to election and from state to state. Second, there is no legal obligation to choose candidates via primary; any party can, and most smaller parties do, pick their candidates in small, closed, conventions. Third, primary elections are as likely to skew candidates to the left as to the right, as no one is obliged to vote and so passionate activists tend to have an outsized effect. Fourth, primary elections only became common a few decades ago, and yet the American rightward drift in politics was evident far back into the 19th century; it is owing to a variety of factors, among which are the conservative influence of religious organisations, the ability of conservative rural and suburban areas to outvote liberal urban areas (at least until relatively recently), and an FPTP system that systemically discriminates against smaller parties. No equivalent of Labour ever appeared in American politics; socialist parties remained splintered and small; and from the ‘thirties onward, left-wing movements tended to get swept up into that ideologically unplaceable chimæra, the Democratic Party. None of this had anything to do with primaries.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '13 - 7:32am

    David-1

    I’m not sure where this notion comes from, but I certainly cannot think of any evidence to justify it.

    So most US politicians are people from modest backgrounds, it doesn’t have a large number of politicians who have come from a very wealthy background and whose ability to fund their own campaign in primaries has helped then get where they are? What planet do you live on? It isn’t the one I live on.

  • Michael Parsons 27th Sep '13 - 11:27am

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    I rather think you have missed the point’: the State is not some ferocious creature kept in a cage to be guarded by so-called “elected representatives” on our behalf. The Hobbesian notion stems from monarchy, tyrrany etc – such a State needs dissolving. In a democracy, we rule, we are equal, all of us: you quote how Councils wangle the Citizen’s Forums etc – precisely the point to make againstnsuch “representatives” and their subordination (along with your precious Parties) to money-power . In a democracy there can be no”elected representatives”, God forbid opinionated voluntary ones! That is why we need sortition, as I wrote, and voting only for choice of an expert chosen for the time being to perform a particular task for the People,such as might be done by an annual parliament as a committee stripped of legislative powers, and subject to popular supervision and review to punish oligarchic tendencies.

    “A political party is a free association of people with common aims and objectives, coming together to select from amongst their members people they trust to act to forward those aims and objectives, put forward as candidates in elections” Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Huntbach! Clegg stuck to his electoral guns of course!! Utterly ytrustworthy!! We have descended to mere farce.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '13 - 10:02pm

    Michael Parsons

    “A political party is a free association of people with common aims and objectives, coming together to select from amongst their members people they trust to act to forward those aims and objectives, put forward as candidates in elections” Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Huntbach!

    What do you mean “Who do you think you are kidding”? I am simply stating what, in law, a political party is – a free association of people. If you believe that it is wrong for people to form free organisations to pursue their own aim, you are an enemy of freedom. I am not trying to kid anyone, in fact I am trying to remind people what political parties really are, because I would like political parties to be organised in a way that makes them much more like that, rather than in a top-down leader oriented way. Why would I want to kid anyone? Do you think I am some mad keen fan of Nick Clegg that I would say anything to promote his cause? I am in fact so disaffected by him that I have given up all activity within the Liberal Democrats except to pay the minimum membership fee.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '13 - 10:30pm

    Michael Parsons

    In a democracy, we rule, we are equal, all of us: you quote how Councils wangle the Citizen’s Forums etc – precisely the point to make against such “representatives” and their subordination (along with your precious Parties) to money-power . In a democracy there can be no”elected representatives”, God forbid opinionated voluntary ones!

    I am sure you mean well, Mr Parsons, but the anti-politics line you are pushing is the line that was used to argue the philosophy of Mussolini and other such dictators. They pushed the idea that representative democracy is all bad, so we needed some sort of direct rule, which was best done by an enlightened leader, who was the personification of the people, and above the pettiness of political parties.

    The reality is that most people are not interested in politics. Most people don’t want to spend their time going to meetings and trying to work through complicated issues. That is why the sort of direct democracy you are advocating so often turns into tyranny, because it ends up being run by the minority who can be bothered to put an effort into it. See how in almost any arena where anyone is free to turn up and take part, it tends to be a small minority of activists who do – tenants associations, trade unions, all these sort of things, the problem is they tend to be unrepresentative because most people can’t be bothered with them. In fact we see it in discussion forums like this – they tend to be dominated by obsessives like me, who can be bothered to spend hours and hours pushing their message in them. Most people can’t be bothered, they’ve got better things to do.

    Your idea of a legislature selected at random sounds nice, in fact I have in the past advocated that sort of thing myself. However, as most people aren’t interested in politics, such a legislature would very easily be controlled by the civil servants, or by a small number of loud-mouths within it who would make sure they dominated the agenda. You do actually need a sort of wiliness to be able to look through the paperwork and pick out the holes. That is why I would prefer a legislature which is made up of people chosen for their wiliness. I want someone with real skills speaking in my behalf, not someone who might be like me but isn’t interested in politics, because I know such a person would be very easily misled.

    Another way of thinking of this is to ask why would I employ a lawyer to speak for me if I were in a court case? Because I know the lawyer knows more about these things than I do – the lawyer is someone I can trust to think through them, have the knowledge and thus speak for me better than I could myself. If I had no lawyer, the other side could very easily run rings round me. So also in politics – I elect a politician to speak for me, because (well, ok not in my case, but in most people’s cases) I’m not interested or knowledgeable about politics, and don’t want to spend all my tie on it, so I employ someone to speak and think on my behalf.

    I say this not to defend the current political system, which is what you seem to be thinking, but rather to help push us towards a better political system. In that system I would like to see, yes, there would still be political parties and elections. However, I would like to see political parties run as networks, not in the top-down leader-oriented style which has become so entrenched that people now don’t even realise that political parties don’t have to be like that. I also would like to see an electoral system which closely resembles the ideal put forward by Thomas Hare, that is, a representative is simply someone who can find a quota of people willing to choose him or her to be their representative.

  • @Matthew Huntbach: Your response is so far off the mark that I have to question how familiar you are with the American political system, or whether you have an adequate understanding of how the primary election system works.

    Certainly there are some potential advantages for self-funded candidates, but these have nothing to do with primaries and exist in the general elections as well. (The chief advantage is *not* financial, but the candidate’s ability to claim that he is “independent”; which is, however, often countered by the contention that he is out of touch.) Most candidates, however, fund their campaigns through a combination of private donations and party funding, not from their own pockets, and there are many successful candidates (particularly in urban areas) from poor or lower middle-class backgrounds. Many of these candidates would have no means of accessing the political ladder if it were not for their ability to campaign for their party’s nomination in a primary election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '13 - 10:48pm

    Michael Parsons

    Clegg stuck to his electoral guns of course!! Utterly ytrustworthy!! We have descended to mere farce.

    Well, you say that, but what if he did what you seem to be suggesting he should do? And what if every other politician did the same – refused to compromise, voted against everything that was not 100% their ideal? We would not have a workable government. Clegg is painted as a bad man for “giving in to the Tories”, but if the Tories were to give up their ideals and move more towards the Liberal Democrats’ ideals, would they not also be abandoning their principles, and so be open to the accusation of being “Utterly untrustworthy”?

    If the Liberal Democrat ideal of a complete subsidy for all higher education were achieved, it would have to be at the cost of higher taxation, or cuts to other government services. Do you say the Liberal Democrats should have forced the other parties to do that? But what about the promises of the other parties to keep taxes down or not to cut services? In a fantasy world we can vote against all tax rises and vote against all service cuts and all are happy. In the real world, this is not possible – something must give. Real politics is about finding an acceptable compromise. That means some of us must give up our ideals if they conflict with others’ ideals, and those others’ ideals are more popular. The sort of democracy you say you want would have to work just like that. I’ve already told you what the alternative is, the one that does not involve any compromise – it is the philosophy put forward by Mussolini in the 1920s in Italy, and it used anti-political lines very much like yours.

  • Matthew Huntbach
    If you re-read what I wrote you will see that I said that the party (a) sets policy and (b) endorses individual party members as meeting the requirements to put themselves forward for selection as a party candidate – just like now and in the past. The change I propose is that thereafter selection from the list of approved candidates should be by the votes of all those who have a vote in the constituency, who attend the selection meeting, whether they be party members or not. In what way is this un democratic?

  • “Well, you say that, but what if he did what you seem to be suggesting he should do? And what if every other politician did the same – refused to compromise, voted against everything that was not 100% their ideal?”

    I’m only guessing, but perhaps the idea is that if someone makes a written promise to do something, then they are honour-bound to do it.

    Conversely, if they may not be able to do something, then they shouldn’t make a written promise to do it.

    As for the wider question about compromises in coalitions – we aren’t stupid; we know they have to happen. But that fact isn’t a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for politicians. They’ll be judged on the quality of their compromises. Clegg has done abysmally – particularly on all the fundamentally illiberal stuff he agreed to after the coalition agreement.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Sep '13 - 11:07pm

    Ian Hurdley

    The change I propose is that thereafter selection from the list of approved candidates should be by the votes of all those who have a vote in the constituency, who attend the selection meeting, whether they be party members or not. In what way is this un democratic?

    Approval of someone as a candidate should not mean that person represents the central aims and purposes of the party. Of course we ought to allow people whose views are not mainstream in the party the chance to put themselves forward as candidates. I would hope that only those whose views are grossly different from the party’s aims and objectives should be actually banned from putting themselves forward as a potential public candidate. However, it should then be up to the party’s members to decide whether someone who wished to be a candidate becomes one.
    The candidate defines what the party is locally. To say that anyone who turns up to a public meeting can choose the candidate is to deny the right of a free association of people – the local party – to decide for itself how it wants to be seen.

    If you feel the problem is that political parties are putting forward candidates who their voters don’t like, and denying their voters candidates who would be more to their preference, then the solution is to have an electoral system which does not place such a premium on being the official party candidate. Under the first-past-the-post system, people feel forced to vote for the official candidate for fear of “splitting the vote” and “letting in” a candidate of another party. If we had the Alternative Vote system, someone who was sympathetic to the views of a party but felt that party made an unpopular choice of candidate could stand as an independent, and voters for the party would not fear “splitting the vote” if they voted for her or him, because they could give their second preference to the official candidate if it turns out the independent wasn’t so popular after all. This is the solution you should be calling for, rather than in effect banning free association by denying the right of an association of people to do what they collectively wish to do.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Sep '13 - 11:18pm

    Chris

    I’m only guessing, but perhaps the idea is that if someone makes a written promise to do something, then they are honour-bound to do it.

    Conversely, if they may not be able to do something, then they shouldn’t make a written promise to do it.

    Indeed. However, I think this whole idea of party manifestos being “promises” as a sort of contract is part of the top-down Leninist approach to politics we need to get rid of. I don’t think politics should be about parties producing rigid five-year plans, which are then put forward to the electorate, with the chamber of representatives being just an electoral college choosing one of them. To me, the point of a chamber of representatives is that it should represent. That is, IT should be making the policy, by its members actively working out the most acceptable compromise.

    I quite agree that this whole pledge thing on tuition fees was appalling – it is another example of Clegg’s poor leadership. If he wasn’t absolutely sure he could have kept to this “pledge” whatever the outcome of the general election, he should not have made it. One can express a desire – and I believe it was right for the Liberal Democrats to express a desire that university tuition should be fully subsidised by the state. However, one has to accept that implementing that desire will not be possible if one is in a minority, and no-one else supports it.

    I do not accept, however, that just because Clegg has poor leadership skills that means the whole concept of political parties is wrong, so we should abandon representative government and bring in the sort of pseudo-democratic mechanisms that dictators often find helpful to put a supposedly democratic figleaf over what they are really about.

  • Some people support Sean Davey’s idea that some pressure groups or single issue organisations should be allowed to affiliate to the Liberal Democrats. At the moment many of these groups do attend conference and try to influence our policies which is fine. However they can only be affiliated to us if they share all our values and principles. Greenpeace clearly doesn’t. Liberty and Amnesty International have some principles in common with us but not all.

    I wonder if these pressure groups and single issue groups would sell their membership list so we could buy them and distribute them to our local parties for us to contact to try to get them to join individually.

    Primaries sound like a good idea but who do you allow to vote in them? You can’t just allow anyone who turns up especially if only a few people turn up. It wouldn’t be a good idea to allow a large group of Labour or Conservative supporters to vote. Would we need to change the way people register so they can be identified as a supporter of a particular party? Personally I think that would be a bad idea especially as voters often vote for different parties in different elections (in the past Lib Dem in locals and recently UKIP in Euros).

    Matthew Huntbach makes a convincing case that as people don’t like coalitions and didn’t support AV that they should be happy that the Coalition government is implementing lots of Conservative policies. This of course makes a huge assumption that people’s beliefs are rational. The explanation is likely to be that the majority of the electorate voted for either the Conservatives or Labour and so wanted them in sole government and so voted no in the AV referendum in the belief that the party they mainly support will get in next time. Of course there were others that believe that a democratic decision does not need a majority but just the largest vote.

    Citizen juries are appealing. From the evidence of some experiments carried out by TV companies these can be very successful. However from what Matthew Huntbach wrote they don’t seem to have been practiced in the way they are meant to be practiced in Lewisham as they are meant to take evidence from experts not just the ruling group and officers. It is therefore a more expensive option. Also I don’t believe you could get people to serve a year. You would really need it administered by an outside organisation and for each decision to be decided by a different group. Then over time it would become harder to find volunteers.

    I played a political game on the internet and I always advocated direct democracy because I believed that everyone playing was interested in politics. However the majority felt it was right to elect representatives to make the “laws” and wanted political parties, manifestos and election campaigns. True direct democracy does not work in real life and I am not even sure it worked in history because those involved in the decision making process was always a sub-set of those living in the area concerned. Those involved in making decisions need to allocate the time to consider the reasons for the each choice and most people today do not wish to allocate the time.

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    “Approval of someone as a candidate should not mean that person represents the central aims and purposes of the party. Of course we ought to allow people whose views are not mainstream in the party the chance to put themselves forward as candidates. I would hope that only those whose views are grossly different from the party’s aims and objectives should be actually banned from putting themselves forward as a potential public candidate.”

    This is very likely what happens but it is a light touch approach and I think a harder approach is needed. However I recognise how difficult it would be to achieve especially for local elections. I recall that the main political question asked was why did you join the Liberal Democrats and I remember talking about Robert Owen and worker co-operatives while someone else talked about how Lib Dems help people. I have the impression that PPCs are asked about our policies but not about how they apply our principles. I would be interested in what policies of governmental intervention an economic liberal would support to relieve poverty. Are libertarians questioned on how they get the balance right between individual freedoms and how much the government should intervene?

  • Michael Parsons 29th Sep '13 - 11:10am

    @Amalric

    Perhaps the current failure and rejection of Party Politics is rooted in the pretence that one vote can solve all? which goes back to the false idea that democracy can operate through “representatives”; whereas in fact it needs the presence of the People at every turn and a deprofessionalisation of law and politics.
    The attitude of that strange tribe which feels it has a duty to order the rest of us about is what you show in the idea that political parties might purchase civil society membership lists and attempt to number those members among their own; whereas people in fact operate though voluntatary, non-party means preciselybecause they do not feel a “party” can or should “represent” them?

  • @ Michael Parsons
    You failed to engage with the idea that true direct democracy does not work because people have higher priorities in their lives and time is needed to make political decisions. It is not as if I reject the idea of direct democracy as a bad theory, it is just that I am not convinced it is practical.

    You may be correct that the reason people don’t join political parties is because they don’t support their values and principles and so join single issue groups. However it might be that they have never considered joining a political party and so just asking them may encourage them to join as they already care about society. I was clear that I had problems with the idea of including members of these organisations as affiliated members en block. I don’t understand why you think we shouldn’t ask these people who Sean Davey believes share some of our values to join the Liberal Democrats as individuals.

  • Amalric As someone who has both been an assessor for approval of PPCs, and has also been through the process and stood as a Parliamentary Candidate, I can say that you are asked about how you apply values and principles, and in fact it is always a key part of approval that an individual’s “values and principles” are fully compatible with those of the party. In regard to policies, it is considered unusual if someone cannot quote a Lib Dem policy or policies with which they disagree!

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '13 - 12:26am

    Amalric

    Matthew Huntbach makes a convincing case that as people don’t like coalitions and didn’t support AV that they should be happy that the Coalition government is implementing lots of Conservative policies. This of course makes a huge assumption that people’s beliefs are rational.

    No, I am not assuming that at all. I have been making the point you mention here very much because I know that people’s beliefs are NOT rational. What I am ACTUALLY doing here is attacking some of the arguments that have been used against us, by showing they are contradictory. That is why I am showing up that the logical consequence of so many people who throw out lines like “Clegg is bad for propping up the Tories, I don’t think we should have proportional representation because of what we have experienced here, coalitions are bad because no-one voted for them” is that they should be attacking Clegg for not propping up the Tories enough – that is the opposite of their starting point. If people can be shown that their belief are logically contradictory it might help them think a bit more, which I think would be good. In particular, I remain a strong supporter of electoral reform, and therefore I want to show up the irrational nature of the arguments used to vote “No” in the referendum in order to re-open the case for it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '13 - 12:32am

    Michael Parsons

    The attitude of that strange tribe which feels it has a duty to order the rest of us about

    “Politics is bad nah-nah-nah, so let’s abolish it”. The argument of the extreme right, now and in the past. In the 20th century, those who used this argument wanted to abolish it and replace it with rule by some charismatic dictator who was above all that nasty politics. Right now, the “politics is bad” line is being used to destroy democracy and place power in the hands of big finance.

    I don’t believe democratic politics has to be as you say it is, Michael Parsons, I have spent my life saying it shouldn’t be, and trying to push it away from that (admittedly, fruitlessly – I have been on the losing side in all the battles on this).

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '13 - 12:37am

    Amalric

    This is very likely what happens but it is a light touch approach and I think a harder approach is needed. However I recognise how difficult it would be to achieve especially for local elections.

    The argument was put that open primary systems don’t involve the destruction of the right of a group of people to come together and formulate their own aims and objectives, because that group still has the right to authorise candidates. So the point I am making is that if there was this sort of primary system, it would become necessary for much tighter controls on who becomes authorised as candidates in order that the party identity should not be stolen by people who disagree with it.

  • @ Tim13
    Thank you for your clarification that PPCs are asked about how they apply values and principles. I wonder if you could say how much non-overlap is allowed and how much disagreement with party policies are allowed?

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    Thank you for your clarifications. I did get the idea that you were pointing out that people are not rational and you were arguing that they hold contradictory positions. I don’t think your original post about the approval process was clear and your view is much clearer now.

  • daft ha'p'orth 30th Sep '13 - 4:39am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Three or four nasty little special-interest groups, none of which demonstrate any detectable integrity, is Hobson’s Choice at best. I don’t really see the outcome of the AV referendum as relevant to that judgement.

    “The pressure group idea is that we should be like peasants living under an aristocracy, begging and pleading with them, tugging at their heartstrings[…] Forming political parties who actually get rid of the politicians and put better ones in their place is a far more radical thing to do.”

    a) we thought we were voting for one of those political parties who put better politicians in their place, and in the end they were functionally indistinguishable from the last lot. Michael is right: false-flag politics really is hurtful, terribly so.
    b) you might see pressure groups as ‘begging and pleading’, but I’m fairly sure that the aristocrats view them as a threat. Which they should. Pressure groups control so many hearts and minds relative to any current political party that they are a threat to those parties in pretty much every possible sense.

    “However, I think this whole idea of party manifestos being “promises” as a sort of contract is part of the top-down Leninist approach to politics we need to get rid of. I don’t think politics should be about parties producing rigid five-year plans, which are then put forward to the electorate, with the chamber of representatives being just an electoral college choosing one of them. To me, the point of a chamber of representatives is that it should represent. ”

    That ‘Leninist’ stuff is something people cling to because they can’t trust politicians and they know it, so they try to make up the shortfall with contract law. This is an appalling state of affairs, all the more so because even when politicians are tied down with text they still find some implausible excuse to worm their way out of sticking to it. Yes, it is desperately sad to feel the need to require politicians to commit in writing, but it’s also very understandable. As such I see it as a positive that anybody bothers to try to tie politicians into anything: it means they’re still trying to engage with the process, and for that they have my deepest admiration (and sympathy, because it won’t work).

    I’m always hoping someone’ll start a national political party I would feel able to actively support. At the local level my area already did just that, with surprising levels of success. So far, fingers crossed, it’s worked out pretty well. Maybe it can be done on the national level too. Maybe someone will do it soon. The Stuff You Always Believed Everybody Accepted As Basic Tenets of British Society party.

    In the meantime, I note that the Telegraph is reporting that George Osborne reckons he can get the long-term unemployed to do 30 hours a week of work in return for their dole money. I am assuming that this means that they will be awarded a minimum-wage-level pay settlement, but somehow I doubt it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '13 - 11:45pm

    daft ha’p’orth

    you might see pressure groups as ‘begging and pleading’, but I’m fairly sure that the aristocrats view them as a threat. Which they should.

    Why? What are the pressure groups going to do to the aristocrats?

    Pressure groups control so many hearts and minds relative to any current political party that they are a threat to those parties in pretty much every possible sense.

    Why? What are they going to do to the political parties? So far as I can see, all they do is take away people who could be doing active work in bringing down unrepresentative politicians and getting them instead to indulge in silly protest stunts which makes them feel good but achieve nothing.

    daft ha’p’orth, it is very obvious to me that the rise of pressure groups has coincided with the rise in the political right. I think the connection is direct – the sort of people who once would have been actively engaged in winning votes for the left are now engaged in this silly stunts stuff, which the right can ignore because they know it isn’t actually threatening the electorally. The only pressure groups the political right are REALLY interested in are all those financed by big business which are pushing the idea of maniac extreme free market policies on us.

    Perhaps the idea behind this “pressure groups are a threat to the establishment” argument is that eventually there will be some sort of socialist revolution which comes about because people have become so disengaged with politics. Well, I think in the highly unlikely event of this happening, the result would not be pleasant, it never has been when that sort of thing has happened.

    To me, pressure groups are about easy-peasy politics lite. It’s easy to go on about one particular policy and forget everything else, as pressure groups do. The hard bit, which is what real politicians have to do, is to balance competing demands, that is to deal with the reality that there may be one group of people asking for one thing, and another group asking for something mutually contradictory. Every pressure group wants government money spent on THEIR thing, and thinks politicians are bad people because they won’t do it, well that’s apart from the right-wing pressure groups whose thing is for less government money to be spent so taxes can be cut, especially taxes on rich people. But governments can’t just give every pressure group what they want. If you’re in a pressure group you don’t have to think about this, all you think about is that one thing your group is about. Well, it’s easy to adopt a “Holier than thou” attitude if you’re not the one having to make the real choices about priority.

  • daft ha'p'orth 4th Oct '13 - 11:27am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Lol, socialist revolutions, as if.

    You know what, I will be fascinated to see how it does play out. The pressures currently at play are very interesting indeed and it is non-obvious to me how the anger that has been generated will be directed, if indeed it will be directed at all.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to view pressure groups as a tool of the right-wing media or whatever; frankly that sounds like utter nonsense. I do think it’s fair to view them as reasonably toothless at present, but that’s mostly because nobody has stumbled upon an appropriately ingenious use for that energy yet.

  • Michael Parsons 5th Oct '13 - 10:12am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Why assume that a distaste for current party trickery is a rejection of “politics” in favour of dictatorship ? (though given the attitude you expressed it may be drivento that finally).In fact it is in favour of democracy: a rejection of the UK oligarchy, because it rules trough the finacing of Parties, using them as the catspaws of therich. – see for example how democracy can break away from that control in the current Swiss vote now proposed on a guaranteed citizen income.
    As to people “not having any interest” in fact (a) there is a large participation in opinion-forming groups that dwarfs the present Partries, because the issues are live (b) the Athenian People came up with numerous ways of establishing active citizen participation (c) with modern communication it is not ne cessary for all the citizens to meet in one place so the size-limitation has become less of a restraint. (thoughI would agree that Iceland, forexampke, is democratic in a way Ireland is not in dealng with decriminalised bankers, byt that isnt just crowd-size)
    For a fuller appreciationof these points, any Liberal interested can Google “deliberative democracy” and reviewthe work already done on these ideas.

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