A political football ( club ) ?
[ I had a good idea with this one but got a bit bogged down - remember I'm an ordinary bloke not a journalist - I tidied off the worst of the rough edges and decided to publish anyway, maybe I'll come back to this theme later ]
Listening to the debate at Progress’s event last Monday Would primaries save or kill the Labour party? I naturally did a lot of thinking about the pro’s & cons of primary elections. As I’ve blogged previously Thoughts on primaries and electoral reform – and Monday’s debate did nothing to change my mind – I can’t help but feel that although I tend to be in support of primaries, I think that they would be best employed as part of a wider range of electoral and political reform.
I’m not especially well versed in this subject area though and I feel that those issues are likely to be covered elsewhere with a little more subject specific knowledge than I can muster The Progress campaign for Labour primaries page is as good a place as any to find more information – so instead I’d like to turn my attention to something slightly different – but very much related I feel.
A strong theme that arose in the debate on Monday was that on the one hand it was slightly unfair that people who had taken the trouble to join the party, and indeed pay their subscriptions would in effect have very little more say in the selection of candidates, than an ordinary member of the public who may not eventually go on to vote for the candidate (or party) at the election. Against this it was pointed out that in many cases Parliamentary candidates are effectively selected by as few as 50 people, which raises some interesting questions about the true nature of democracy.
The answer which seemed to arise to these questions was essentially this : that political parties as they are now, and have been for many years will not continue to exist if they cling to the models of membership that they had in the past. Labour has dwindled to a fraction of its former size, and the Tories similarly have seen a haemorrhaging of members even in what is seen to be a time of renewed enthusiasm for them among the general public. New approaches to membership must develop if parties as we now recognise them are to continue.
As a football supporter, I was (and am) struck by the similarities between “the beautiful game” and the state of politics in this country
(and yes I know I turn every conversation round to football – that’s just me OK !)
In the 60′s & 70′s and before, supporting a football team meant turning up at the matches and standing in the cold to watch. That was really the only way of doing it.The particularly keen became season ticket holders which made them part of the core customer base – if we’re looking for an analogy with a political party, a season ticket holder was like a “member” of the party.
I held a season ticket until the mid eighties, at which time I moved away from home. I haven’t been to many games since – so have I stopped being a supporter ?
Well in the old sense I have – someone who manged 3 games over to 2 seasons would have been thought a pretty poor supporter in the old days, but times have most definitely changed.
For one thing, the geographical limits have changed. When I grew up in West Yorkshire, there was very little choice about football teams. It had to be Leeds or Huddersfield really. Few people travelled much further afield – or really expected to in their life time.
Now it’s more or less expected that people will move around as they progress through life – to different parts of the country and to different parts of the world. You’re as likely to be able to buy a Manchester United shirt in Oxford Street as in Manchester, and it’s become recognised that the people who sit in the stands aren’t necessarily the only “lifeblood” a team has.
Millions watch football on TV – and money from the television deals essentially provides the biggest part of the finance within the game.
I can’t imagine Sky TV ever paying millions of pounds for the right to televise CLP meetings live though – so perhaps that’s not the right part of the analogy to use.
Where I think politics can learn, is from the myriad of different ways in which it’s not possible to support a football team :
You can join “Patron’s” societies – to have access to the hierarchy within the club – and pay for the privilege.
You can join Travel clubs – and just go to the away games – Did you know that Huddersfield coaches sometimes pick up passengers in Milton Keynes ?
You can be part of online communities – email lists, and web forums – which are often joined by players and staff as well
You can buy a shirt and never go to a game or do anything else – but some of the money still goes to the club
You can open a bank account or get a credit card which provides funds to your team
You can vote for “player of the year” on the club’s website.
Which sort of brings us back to primaries. But back in the Labour Party – it’s still in the main a “put your card in your wallet and turn up at the meetings” kind of deal (and please, I am aware of the irony of a member of less than 6 months standing waxing lyrical on membership – I’ve no wish to knock those hardy stalwarts who’ve done just that for so many years)
What I’m saying is that just as changes in technology, and society changed how we support our football teams then it will also change the way in which we support our political parties – and I’d hazard a guess that the parties that get their heads around this the quickest, will be the ones best placed to survive the the coming decades.
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