Saturday, June 13, 2009

Withered compliant local constituency parties

If Salford Constituency Labour Party let Hazel Blears off the hook, surely someone living in that constituency with Facebook account could find a hundred-or-so like minds?

Have you seen? She's added to her ludicrous cheque-waving apology with another one - this time in the Manchester Evening News.

Again, before I continue, by way of mitigation, let me invite you to use the search box on this site to confirm that I've been one of the blogosphere's few cheerleaders for Ms Blears.

Where were we? Oh yes. Hazel has said 'sorry', and her senior constituency party officials have urged everyone to 'move on'.

Nothing illustrates the problem more than this does.

Her wider CLP may not be so tame, but this is a high profile case, so the exception kinda proves the rule here: Constituency parties have given MPs a soft ride for far too long, allowing them to conduct their constituency business without much scrutiny, and allowing them to put the need for 'party unity' (trans: a easy life and a promising career) above their need to be independent-minded representatives.

It is the job of the constituency party to keep the MP decent - a job that hasbeen all-but abandoned in a lot of cases.

Most CLPs have been diminished in number over the past twenty years. Party reforms have reduced all means of challenging the orthodoxy on matters of policy and direction down to nothing.

Now, I'd argue that there is a strong case for MPs to be the main channels for policymaking, and that there are good reasons why members should only have a limited ability to intervene forcefully and directly on specific policy matters.

But local parties need to have a more adversarial relationship with their MPs than they do. They should be demanding that MPs account for the tame way that they have conducted their parliamentary business - and the kind of people who would have given Ms Blears a hard time have long-since left the party.

Being able to conduct a debate among party members while asserting one's independence and (Parliamentary) privileges is - as far as I can see - one of the baseline skills needed to be a good MP. 

But many local parties have been reduced to being a couple of dozen nodding dogs, with a slightly larger group of members who haven't seen the point of getting directly involved in their CLP for years.

The current crisis of representation underlines the need for every CLP to pull their candidate over the coals in the next couple of months. It also underlines the need for more new members - and this doesn't just apply to Labour either.

Oh, have I mentioned 'reselect.org' yet? 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that it wasn't intended, but this post reads like an invitation to bully. MPs and their parties have all manner of functional and dysfunctional relationships. Members have no more business bullying their MP than the MP has bullying the constituency.

In reality, the party has the bullies and the MP has the privileges to be dispensed or withheld: tours of Parliament, events in the Jubilee Room, parties, signed bottles of whisky, support at local elections and material support.

I have also come across a party where the members smiled at the MP (while hating him) and took all their ire out on the MP's staff. Other scapegoats include spouses, agents and active volunteers. In other words, anyone not in a position to answer back or not wanting to show disloyalty.

Whatever the reasons local parties stand by their MP in moments of difficulty, I wouldn't rule out a scenario where they can't decide between themselves who would replace him/her due to factionalism or personal vendettas.

Paulie said...

I understand that MPs can have a petty squabbling relationship with their constituency parties Anon - I've seen a fair bit of it myself.

I'm saying that local parties need to understand what representation really means and demand it from their MPs - a lot of the other petty personal stuff is what happens instead.

I suppose it's all a microcosm of the way that politics is reduced down to how cheaply you do the job rather than how well.

mikeovswinton said...

It may be relevent to note that her prospective seat next time round will, due to boundary changes, from her seat in the current parliament. I think there will be some overlap. Assuming nothing changes, of course.