Thursday, 31 July 2008

Political activism...preserve of the freakish few??

. Liberal Democrat Voice asks this question based on a piece in today's Daily Telegraph which says that the Labour Party's membership has hit record lows. Stephen Tall notes the high watermark of 400,000 at the height of Blair's power in 1997. Obviously there is a problem peculiar to the Labour Party here; at the time Blair did represent to many the kind of Obama-like figure that Stephen laments the lack of and the Labour Party was seen as a the torchbearer of the countries desire to throw out the hated Conservative government. However, it is worth noting from my own personal experience that 400,000 still did not convert into swarms of activists although there was obviously more then than there is now; Labour has disappointed so many of those hopes and dreams that the decline of it's activist base is to be expected and it whispers of impending electoral doom.

Moving on Stephen notes a similar decline in our own party and speculates that the same has happened to Conservatives. The growth of apathy and in some terms active antipathy to the three main parties and apathy is indeed alarming. If you want a stark warning about the potential consequences then you need look no further about the success that parties like the British National Party achieve by presenting themselves as the 'non-political' party. Stephen cites a decline in respect for politics, "emasculation of local decision-making" and lack of party democracy as the main factors in this decline.

However, I think there are other factors that need addressing and I think one of the main ones is that we as activists have lost the ability to talk as rounded human beings who do other things beside politics. Speaking personally, politics and activism is part of my life, not just a hobby like stamp-collecting or train spotting. I think there is a definite tendency amoung activists to isolate ourselves and almost see ourselves as freakish and politics that is something best kept quiet about; in that way the decline is as much the fault of activists as the parties or other factors. Political life needs to reflect the world around it and be part of it in it's totality, that way we will draw more people into activism and make it relevant to their lives. Why should we wait for an Obama figure to do it for us (talented though he is), why can't we make it happen for ourselves.

1 comment:

Aaron Trevena (liberal provocateur) said...

Spot on.

How many times have I been chastised for wanting something from the party (i.e. finding out what a policy is, suggesting improvements, general grumbles about lack of radical policies, etc) without putting in the time and money, subscribing to and reading every issue of LDN, Liberator, sacrificing a weekend break with my family to go to the conference, cold call at least a hundred poor sods who had the bad luck to live in a marginal seat with a by-election and deliver a thousand leaflets.

I am prepared to, and have been a non-partisan activist on liberal issues that matter to me, and one of the main reasons I joined the party was to be able to do this better. I've been pretty sadly disappointed.

From what I've seen as a normal voter and party member is a lot of party political activism and almost no activism on liberal and democratic issues (ID Cards campaign was disjointed and mostly failed to coordinate with other parties and organisations, nobody made a squeak about biometric passports, etc).

On several occasions I've come close to tearing up my membership card and cancelling the direct debit, I've already stopped shelling out for MEP and Council election campaigns, because it's all about bums on seats - and I don't like being taken for granted either as a party member or a voter, and in safe lib dem heartlands like cornwall, its usually a case of both (Although our MP and PPCs have been really good and made an effort, and I know a couple of councillors who look pretty good, shame they aren't in my ward though).