Time was, long ago, when among the London parties a leader’s speech to conference was about how best to put the party’s purpose into action. Not now. Today the leader is there to explain what the party’s purpose is. Or is this week. Or until the polls suggest the nuance isn’t quite honed yet. What underlies the purpose isn’t principle but simply lust for the perks of office.
The truly fascinating thing is that the pundits can’t see anything wrong with this. The Labour Party ripped out its purpose – Clause 4 – in 1995 and threw it away. To be replaced with what Alex Salmond described at the time as ‘mush’. Labour’s concept of the common good was flawed by its French Revolutionary leanings – too distrusting of democracy, especially the endless variety that flourishes with local choice – but at least it existed. Labour believed in the common good, not ‘greed is good’. And now it doesn’t. So why does it still exist? Every one of those BBC and Guardian journalists who yearns for another ‘1997’ moment is missing the obvious. Labour was created to deliver a vision of a better society it has now rejected wholesale. What was a dynamic has become a ritual, designed to keep in being an organisation whose purpose has been hollowed out, leaving behind a shell party to be filled with any vacuous thought that passes through. Better by far it was put out of its misery.
At our policy meeting in May we considered how best to describe our Party’s own position on the political spectrum, concluding that we’re ‘radical decentralist’ rather than ‘Centre-Left’ or ‘progressive’. While there is sympathy with the latter positions, they are too vague to describe our own programme and are easily co-opted by hostile forces.
Radical decentralism is viewed as having three dimensions – a constitutional dimension (localism/regionalism), an economic dimension (co-operation/mutualism) and an environmental dimension (ecology). Unlike the Coalition parties, when we talk of localism we do really mean ‘power to the parishes’, power to decide whatever they like, without nanny setting limits. Unlike Labour, when we talk of a co-operative economy we want to see an end to corporate power, the introduction of a three-day working week and ultimately production, through voluntary association, for use and not for sale. Unlike any other party in Wessex, when we talk about protecting the environment we don’t qualify that goal by saying ‘but only so far as it doesn’t slow down economic or population growth’. For us, ‘decentralisation’ isn’t just a slogan to be betrayed. ‘Radical’ means what it says too. Someone has to say it because, increasingly, it needs to be said. And if no-one else will say it, we’re only too happy to oblige.