The problems with the Party Machine…
I do have some experience of how the Labour Party machine works and can claim to have had half-a-foot inside it. Sadly, I am skeptical as to whether the recent bureaucratic changes will do much to resolve the deeply ingrained problems the Party has. It’s worth noting at this stage that Labour is not totally exceptional in this regard, that every Party has similar problems, however, this is largely due to the alienation that is common place between political parties and their natural supporter bases. This in turn, is part of the same process that is seeing Westminster becoming increasingly alienated from the electorate, slowly but surely, our democracy is ossifying before our very eyes.
Our internal culture is extremely cliquey and advancing up the Party greasy poll is usually about who you know and who likes you as opposed to any actual meritocratic principles. This is one reason why I don’t think that the answer is the creation of a new ‘Executive Board’. It may well, as Mark points out in his piece, make relations between Party HQ and the leaders office better but that is scarcely the principle problem with this Party. It is this culture that is leading to new members finding the Party ‘cold and unwelcoming’ as detailed here because frequently this culture of mutual back-slapping is replicated on a local level. The same people play musical positions within CLP’s and this is partially because there are no other people but the reason their are no other people is because the CLP is run, however ably, by the same people, year in and year out.
One of the core problems with Refounding Labour is it assumed, wrongly, the remedy for these ills was to promote more ‘flexible structures’. Yes, that is positive, but I would tend to think it leaves deep-seated cultural issues unaddressed. The creation of a Members and Supporters Directorate, despite being titled a bit too much like a Stalinist bureau, shows some promise in that it recognises these issues exist. However, filling it with another functionary, unaccountable and unelected by the wider membership won’t change anything. It clearly should be an elected, not appointed, post. Whoever is in this position needs a mandate from the membership to represent them and their concerns.
The real problem with the Party machine is that its a alien and unaccountable force, out of the control of the wider membership and it behaves accordingly. Until we have a more democratic Party at all levels there is little hope of the problems with the Party machine being solved. Another layer of bureaucracy simply wont cut the mustard and nor will organisational solutions to deep-seated cultural problems.