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Friday, October 15, 2010


Lord Tebbits blog is one well worth following. Apart from being the "greatest Prime Minister we never had" I regard him as the ablest electoral tactician in politics (not excluding Mandelson). He also spends about half of each post answering his numerous commenters which shows old fashioned courtesy & answers them well which shows competence.

Back when I was a Lib Dem I was annoyed at his calling the LDs "a dustbin for wasted votes" which seemed to show a greater appreciation of the tactical advantage of an electoral system which could be fiddled in the Tory interest (as I still see it) than for the damage to democracy & political honesty & general limitation on choice a disproportionate representation system produces.

So when he said this on his blog
It rather reminded me of my first conference as Party Chairman in 1985, when in the car on the way home, I observed to my political adviser Michael Dobbs: “Phew! We got away with that, but only just. Next year we will make sure that the only possible story the press can write is the one we want.”

I made the not entirely supportive comment
I realise the problem with finessing conferences, for all parties, to prevent the media pulling up some delegate's off the wall remark & making it a headline.

Nonetheless I regret that conferences no longer discuss policy or are anything but razzamatazz. I think this is part of the long term problem that ordinary members, correctly*, feel they have no influence. No wonder the membership of all formerly mass parties is being hollowed out. If there is something worse for the long term future of democracy I don't know what it is.

*eg Cameron's disastrous decision, clearly against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of members & probably MPs, to break the "cast iron" promise that the Conservatives would hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It became official policy purely because he said it. There is no other real mechanism to decide or even maintain policy. 10/11/2010 11:54 AM
To which he responded positively
Sadly, neilcraig was right about party conferences. They no longer discuss policy. The centralisation of control particularly in Labour and Conservative Parties, has led to a massive loss of grass roots membership (despite Labour’s slight increase in recent weeks). In my day as Chairman we had a live political discussion organised through “the two way movement of ideas” in which activists could contribute to policy formation. I fear Big Brother has replaced the Big Party.
If Lord Tebbit is convinced that the way back to mass membership parties is through there being a genuine role for members in deciding policy I think others should take his advice seriously.


The nadir of this phenomena came a few years ago when Clinton (Clinton!) was invited to address the Labour conference and they all clapped and cheered.

Chritopher Hitchens biography of the Clintons "No-one left to lie to" should perhaps have been available to the shrieking audience fodder and they may have thought their adulation, misplaced.
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