Wednesday 19 November 2014

Meanwhile, deep in the Tory bubble...

In a break from what is turning out to be the norm on this blog, I'm turning my guns on Johnny C. Lately (Mark Wallace) of Conservative Home on the subject of rebuilding party grassroots. Lately's navel-gazing article is a fascinating insight into how a bubble dweller thinks. It's bone-marrow dissovlingly wide of the mark.

If there's one thing Ukip can say, it is that it is a grass roots organisation. Or was for a long time. It has in recent years proven that it is happy to budge aside local candidates in favour of their own drinking buddies, but much is left in the hands of local party branches. But in the main it's activists are enthused by a sense it is going somewhere and achieving something. It isn't and it's not, but so long as your activists believe, that's half the battle won. But even Ukip has a pretty poor showing. Democratic participation on the whole is in trouble. It's less to do with the state of political parities as it is to do with the state of democracy.

The view that all parties are the same is not an uncommon one. Nor is the view that one's vote makes no difference. There are subtle differences to the parties, but the outcomes are nearly always the same. Taxes going up, spending going up and borrowing going up while services progressively get worse and more expensive. You can vote out your MP or councillor but it won't make any substantive difference. Voters don't engage because they're not stupid.

The main participants in democracy are mainly in it for themselves. The main reason to join a party is to have an organisation behind you in promoting your own agenda. It's easy done too. I'm quite sure I would be doing quite well if I joined Ukip, changed my name and started writing the sort of toss that Ukipists want to hear. When you're without an organisation and saying things people don't want to hear, you might as well not exist - so you have to play the game.

Parties are a ladder to climb for self-serving social climbers. They are no longer value based or objective driven and unless there is a personal incentive for joining a party, you just wouldn't bother. Councillors don't have any real power so what the hell is the point in trying to get one elected?

Mark Wallace has it arse end up. You can't revitalise political parties without first revitalising democracy. Ask yourself when you last saw a truly radical proposal from a political party. Just looking at Ukip's "policies" they are fairly pedestrian, procedural tinkering with no big vision and no big ideas. Similarly, the Tories notion of devolution for Manchester is essentially a bland rearrangement of the political furniture. And what makes Manchester worthy of more self-governance than anybody else?

Not that they are actually proposing devolution. This is power to a regional authority and for once I am actually in full agreement with the Ukipists. Regionalisation is the exact opposite of devolution in that it sucks decision making powers away from councils, further away from where the effects of bad decisions are felt, and the power is on license from central government - rather than a recognition that the people themselves are the source of all power.

We get stunted, timid, unimaginative ideas dressed up as radicalism from the Tories, but to call them radical is an abuse of language. Until we get to such a place where people's votes matter, rather than the present model where councils like Birmingham stay Labour run rotten boroughs whichever way you vote, we will continue to see a decline in participation and an increase in voter apathy.

That the Tory party is having to bus activists around the country is a symptom, not a cure. But Wallace thinks they are part of the answer. Put simply, if you cannot enthuse activists locally then something more fundamental is broken. Moreover, it's a bit of a nerve having a Tory blitzkreig squad from London coming to town to tell you who you should have representing you in your local affairs.

The rise of Ukip tells you most of what you need to know. It is a protest vote against unresponsive government. Voters are tired of being taken for granted, overtaxed and not consulted. Fix that. Let's have proper local democracy rather than these mega councils and mega police authorities. Let's have direct democracy over tax rises and borrowing. Why not have a referendum on HS2 since we're being asked to cough up eighty billion quid? Let's have a constitution, let's have separation of powers and let's have meaningful local politics.

Give us local democracy that matters and soon you will have local media that matters and then you'll be able to take your pick from grassroots activists. While power is centered in London, so is the media, and so is the culture. Consequently the concerns of government are divorced from ours and the "democratic" voting rituals become meaningless. Why exactly should we go leafleting in the rain for that? What's in it for us?

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