Into the village
UPDATE : I’m endebted to Jessica Asato at Progress for linking back to this article via Progress’s Newsletter e-mail – Many Thanks. Subscribe to it on the Progress website at http://www.progressonline.org.uk
Last night I attended the Progress debate ‘Would primaries save or kill the Labour party?’ at Portcullis House, Westrminster and heard a wide range of Labour people – including David Lammy MP, Luciana Berger (Prospective Council candidate, London Borough of Camden & excellent blogger), Chris McLaughlin
(Editor, Tribune), Will Straw (Editor Left Foot Forward & well known Labour activist) as speakers, and Sion Simon MP, Alex Smith (editor of Labour List), Jessica Asato (acting Chair of Progress), in the audience, to name but a few whose names will be familiar to any Labour twitterers.
A very lively and entertaining debate and one which I enjoyed immensely.
Actually I have to confess that this is the only event of this nature that I’ve ever attended. Much as I truly did enjoy it, I have to say that the very act of being there – not even considering the debate that took place – spoke volumes about the need for electoral reform, and a remodelling of political parties and the political system – which may well involve the introduction of primary elections for selection of candidates.
But why ?
Sitting in the debate, and catching the view across to the Palace of Westminster, I couldn’t help but think that this was a long long way from the life which I was born to.
I spent my childhood living on a council estate in the Heavy Woollen district, the son of a factory chargehand and a nursing auxiliary. I went to a state grammar school and eventually gained a first class honours degree at Newcastle Polytechnic. My career as a teacher in special schools has left precious little time for any interest in politics, and my current position as a Headteacher in an inner London borough even less.
So I’m not in any way part of the Westminster Village – I went along to this event purely on interest gathered via the web and via twitter (actually via Luciana Bergers tweeting of the event – Luciana’s blog is listed on my ‘blog roll’ on the right)
As some one who joined the Labour Party just in June I have to admit I was slightly daunted by the prospect of visiting his event. For a start I didn’t know of the existence of Portcullis House – which for those who don’t know, is the building directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, bang on top of Westminster tube station. It’s quite an imposing venue, and the security checks complete with armed guards, and body searches only add to the sense of exclusivity.
Inside the debate there were lots of men in suits (which was commented on by David Lammy actually) (although it meant I fitted in !). Many of the people there seemed to know each other. I didn’t, well only one, but did know a few (lots actually) via twitter – and was made to feel very welcome. A truly open event – open to everyone, free of charge – a debate with top class speakers, in a first class venue. Anyone who wanted to go could do – free of charge.
I wonder would my father have ever attended though ? Or any of the staff he supervised at the British Belting and Asbestos factory in Cleckheaton for all those years ?
Well I’m sure that many of them voted Labour – I know at least one that was a Labour member, (and a very militant one at that), but you know what ? I don’t think any of them would have. They’d have been put off of course by the distance – a long way to go for a bit of a debate, and they’d have been put off by the venue (despite the fact that the venue was for me a huge plus point for the event), and yes, to be honest they’d have been put off by all the men in suits (like me). And lets not forget that many of the people on my Dad’s team were women, Pakistani and Carribean workers – certainly not all blokes with flat caps (although one or two were).
Most of them would have thought it was not for them, and in fact would have thought anyone who did go was possibly a little eccentric.
So my first reaction on entering the “village” is this : I think it’s fantastic that Labour Party organisations such as Progress can facilitate events which provide such a high level of honest, open and intelligent debate, and better still that they can make it available to everyone from whatever background.
It hits me immediately though that if Labour (or indeed any other party are to connect with the whole range of the electorate – as they must – then they (we) must find ways in which to replicate the quality and sincerity of debate that I saw last night, right across the country.
Of course I’m sure that there are a great many activities that Labour activists engage in around the country that do just that, but as the figures given last night regarding the declining membership of Labour and all parties show, there will need to be more imaginative approaches to the way things are done in future, if the general public are to be truly engaged in politics once more.
An OFSTED inspector said to me once : It’s not enough that the school makes the offer, the school must work to ensure that the offer is fully taken up.
I thnk it’s the same for political parties
I’ll try and ensure I blog something on the content of the debate in due course. Meanwhile I’d like to thank Progress for all their efforts in facilitating the event, and all the Twitter friends that I have now verified as real people – thank you !
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