Guest Post- Restoring faith in Labour? – open up the technocratic regime

Labour activist and politics student at the University of Sheffield Nathan Tanswell has written this remarkable post just for us, hopefully we’ll coax him back to write a few more soon!

Party politics in the UK is becoming increasingly professionalised, and sadly the Labour Party has been far from immune from this phenomenon. MP’s are increasingly being ‘flown in’ to safe seats after climbing the greasy pole – a pole that becomes significantly more greasy if the aspiring candidate has little income and capital. This has created a semi-technocratic regime and the implications are devastating for the health of our democracy; how can MPs that have never even been to a constituency before being selected to stand as a candidate for it ever hope to relate to local people and local issues?

Both common sense and evidence suggests that the most successful MPs (in terms of democratic satisfaction) are likely to be those that were born and bred in the constituencies they represent.

Whilst I recognise that voter turnout doesn’t measure the concept of democratic satisfaction fully, information on it is easily accessible so I’ll use it here for examples. The Liberal Democrats have been highly successful in Cheltenham in recent years due to the candidate being local. In the 2010 General Election, Cheltenham had a turnout of 61% and Martin Horwood secured over 50% of the vote. In contrast, the Labour candidate in the constituency has changed every year in the past 20 years. Take the example of Chris Evans, the 2005 candidate. Born in Rhondda Valleys, he stood in Cheltenham in 2005 and lost, before being ‘flown in’ to Iswyn for the 2010 election; a safe seat which he won with a majority of 49%. It is of course highly unlikely that Labour would have won Cheltenham with a local candidate, but it is they probably would have done better as local candidates know the local issues and build up a rapport with constituents – a necessary aspiration if Labour is ever to succeed again in the south.

So, how to achieve more local representation in parliament? I believe the answer lies in extending working class representation. Working class individuals that have worked in the area for years often know its nuances well. There are political opportunities for such individuals, such as becoming local councillors, but the allowances are often meagre and possibilities for progression to national government poor. Local government used to be an important pathway for working class people, but as it was eroded in the 1980s under the Thatcherism it became an increasingly difficult path to tread.

Restoring more power to local government and bringing the local closer to the national is a key step towards restoring democratic satisfaction in the UK, especially in the Labour Party.

However, it would not be viable to source all MPs this way, and there will always be room for young politically enthused individuals with intelligence and expertise to become MPs through climbing the greasy pole and entering the Westminster Bubble. Increasingly paid work in Westminster requires several years experience of working in Westminster – usually as an unpaid intern- as a necessary criteria for application. This restricts opportunities in Westminster to those that have rich parents that can fund the expensive living costs London is so notorious for, contributing to structured inequality, bolstering the technocratic regime. The cost of this is dear – political disaffection and inefficacy – a decline in the health of our democracy.

There are of course more routes than need to be opened up to diversify the intake of the parliamentary Labour Party, but these represent some of the most significant today.

These issues, whilst vital for the health of our democracy overall, are especially important for Labour. As a party that is rooted in the cooperative movement, trade unions and the working classes, Labour needs candidates that can relate to local issues, local people and indeed working class people – not privileged technocrats that treat politics as a middle class profession as opposed to what it really is; a public service.


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