Thursday, 20 November 2008

Holding a General Election

The discussions of whether there will be a general election would benefit from being viewed through the prism of an election held in, for instance, the German Democratic Republic.

The Executive commands the Party completely and all policy and administrative decisions rest with the Executive. The numbers of alterations to internal Party democracy pushed through since the beginning of the 1990s have all concentrated policy, administrative and disciplinary powers in Executive hands - to the point now when even in Conference no vote may be taken that could be binding on the Executive, even were an unacceptable vote able to be forced, which it cannot as agendas are in the hands of the Executive.

The Party is quite small. Many are members of the Labour Movement but there is decoupling of the Movement from the Party itself. With this in mind the state of unreadiness of the Constituency Labour Parties, cited as evidence that no election is planned, becomes irrelevant. An election will not be fought that relies upon the mobilisation of CLPs as has been the case invariably up to now. We know this from the poverty of information and updated local party canvass returns in Glasgow East and in Glenrothes which was a source of wonder to the SNP, who are still campaigning in the standard way with close contacts with constituency members by candidates and a policy of soft canvassing and information-gathering at all times.

When the self identification of the New Labour Executive with the state itself, rather than as the government in office, is borne in mind, then state data bases, now extensive and far more invasive than political canvass returns, obviate the need for local party structures, and sophisticated analyses and targetting of local areas can be completed centrally. This will be a rolling programme so that there is a complete political picture of important local issues and threats, that can be dealt with in a co-ordinated and timely fashion using state resources available to a sitting government.

Poor Party funding status becomes irrelevant too as state resouces are made available to candidates, ostensibly to enhance 'communication' with constituents for instance.

Candidates can be profiled to fit local conditions and then imposed from the centre; they are, we know this from Glenrothes. Sitting candidates who cannot conform to the election strategy and profiles will be removed; grounds will be various and apparently reasonable - age for old mavericks, quango and other state-gift financial inducements for inappropriately profiled or ill-disciplined other candidates, a few straightforward bootings-out pour encourager les autres.

Mass inducements to a local electorate can be offered by the state. Want a call centre? Regional development funds? A good transport connection? How about a nice new school? Votes don't have to be bought one by one, though that will be on offer too. Local planning permissions, no health and safety hassle, 'grants for individual development of disadvantaged (enter category of your choosing)'. House, anyone? Frighteners can be applied too; would you like to be constantly reassessed for whatever claims you have been awarded? Some local services closed down?

As for getting out the vote, proxy, postal and perhaps electronic voting will all be used. There were voters in the Glenrothes by-election who had not voted for 15 years and more in general elections; moved to play their part in democracy in a by-election?

If the disaffection is too great all of this will come into play but may not be enough to get home. If the polls can be 'tailored' and publicised to demonstrate that the gap is narrow, so voting the 'wrong way' may lead to direct and personal loss and gain, then an election is viewed more favourably. The lack of any fixed term for a parliament or even the constitutional requirement for an election at all should be remembered too. It is not true, for well-rehearsed reasons, that there must be an election in 2010. Thsi choice of timing confers great advantage on the Executive in power.

The mass disaffection statements put together by the fuel protesters, the Countryside Movement, the Anti-War demonstrations, are important in building non-political networks that embolden voters in their opposition to government-as-state policies and practices. In eastern Germany they used the churches and non-religious cultural institutions' networks to build levels of personal resistance. But there the people had suffered democratic centralism and its absurd pretensions for nearly half a century - we have only had it since the beginning of this century and the crushing of democratic life and hopes and choice has not got everywhere yet.

The Opposition must energise its voters and enable them to support one another in facing this regime. The old political practices of our democracy are gone, as is shown so graphically by the empty Associations and CLPs. It is not just a matter of a clear and attractive set of policies, a manifesto that sets out what is to be done, though that is lacking too, and by this stage in the old game it ought to be being promulgated loud and clear.

The Opposition is at the enormous disadvantage of facing and opposing the state. And the state is developing a nasty capacity to tar effective opposition as irresponsible through to terrorist, and its practioners as renegades.


Sackerson said...

Changing our generous government is like killing Santa, isn't it?

RobW said...

Very interesting post. Thanks.

hatfield girl said...

Haven't even mentioned the myriad ways of illegally intervening in an election,S. There's an excellent Wikipedia entry. Very dispiriting.

hatfield girl said...

The East Lothian CLP has just been disbanded by the Party Executive for trying to deselect the Executive's choice of candidate (currently the sitting MP who has faced extensive queries over use of parliamentary allowances). East Lothian is one of the most thriving and successful CLPs and one of the best funded. It is the CLP of the leader of the Scottish parliament Labour group. And it is being taken apart.