Broadening Participation: Thinking Beyond Party Membership

Guest Blogger: Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP is Labour member for Makerfield. He is Minister without Portfolio and Chair of the Labour Party

Political Parties have to think of new ways of engaging the public if we are to represent our communities effectively. In doing so we will need to be prepared to rethink our party structures, rules and some of our traditions to draw in new generations of people who wouldn't otherwise go anywhere near political parties.

In recent years, for example, the Labour Party has developed its policymaking process through the Partnership in Power process. Before Partnership in Power, only a handful of members engaged in sticking together policy composites at conference. Today, thousands of members (and non-members) in hundreds of constituency Labour parties are helping to construct our manifesto for the future.

But just because Partnership in Power is important, it doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. We have changed a lot over the past two years – more engagement in local Labour parties, documents more open and accessible, policy commissions with clearer work programmes – but there is much more for us to do. It is vital that we continue to bring more investment into the process of engaging our members in policy making, seeking out new ideas, reinvigorating our values. This is a real challenge. 

It is vital that we can transform our political structures – too often Party politics are perceived as monolithic, bureaucratic, a one-size-fits-all model. Our challenge is to move from servicing a bureaucracy with a decreasing number of activists, to servicing a community with an increasing number of members. If we fail the danger is that we are left marooned on a political island where we talk to each other in a language which only we understand. While at the same time, in our communities, alienation is our biggest enemy and becomes a breeding ground for the Far Right.

I am determined that the Labour Party will find new ways of campaigning, new ways of building relationships, and new ways of putting across our values as the shared values of the communities we seek to represent.To achieve this, we need to assist our local parties to make generic changes in their structures and their way of working so that they reflect the local circumstances in which they operate. We need to invest in recruitment and the personal development of our members’ skills and capacities.

We also need to invest and find new ways of engaging our ethnic communities. And we must continue the process of providing increasing access for women and people from ethnic minorities in the public arena – as Members of Parliament, councillors or on public bodies. Furthermore we need to find better ways of engaging with youth and to have a policy platform which relates to their aspirations.

The challenges of facing out into our communities and reaching out beyond our members are huge. But if we fail to address these challenges and become irrelevant and obsolete, the challenges we face in the future will be greater still.