Whether or not you agree with Russell Brand's claim that politicians are 'frauds and liars', it is pretty obvious that large parts of our political system are becoming dysfunctional. It is no secret that political parties, in particular, are in crisis.
A cluster of statistics tell a very clear story - Labour's membership has declined from over 100,000,000 in the 1950s to below 200,000 today; the two big parties used to receive well over 90 per cent of the vote and now only get two thirds; 71 per cent of the population thinks that it does not matter which party is in power. British people are no less interested in politics than they have been in the past, they just don't see formal parties as the best way to express their commitment.
It has become commonplace to argue that this is about a supposed decline in the quality of politicians. If only we had better leaders, then our political system would somehow return to fully functioning order. Yes, we need leaders who are more representative, with real-life experiences and the courage to stand up for what they believe in. But the bigger truth is that the problems are systemic; we are grappling with a broken party political system that is beyond the ability of individuals to solve through better leadership alone.
In this article, I want to argue that the way to renew the Labour Party is to thoroughly modernise and do away with unnecessary rules and structures. A Labour Party that has shrunk to a semi-professional core needs to rediscover its original purpose as a movement. This means transforming the party from being primarily a means to secure national power into a vehicle that actively seeks to help groups in civil society to drive change outside the formal structures of government. It means growing the role of community organising as a key part of what Labour does, and using technology to support that process. Both require a leap of faith, because the power of what they can do rests in the hands of others.
Ed Miliband has opened up new terrain in politics by challenging poorly functioning markets, whether that be labour markets paying so little that the government effectively subsidises business through the tax credit and benefits system, or the uncompetitive energy market. We need to take this spirit out into the country, not just to persuade people to vote for us, but to create deep roots for Labour in civil society.
Increasing the capacity of civil society
The UK suffers from a toxic combination of...