By Dr Florence Faucher-King
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Extra resources for Changing Parties: An Anthropology of British Political Party Conferences
Societal demands for greater democratic participation and governmental responsiveness have coincided with a spiral of demobilisation that has particularly affected mainstream political parties. One of their responses to a perceived challenge to their legitimacy has been the introduction of organisational reforms that emphasise 24 Changing Parties deliberative democracy as a means to reconnect politicians with the grassroots. Chapter 8 analyses how the multiplication of small-group discussions affects the patterns of vertical communication within parties and critically examines the claim that conference seminars and policy forums make party leaderships more responsive to their members’ preoccupations.
The “party machine is not as powerful as they think they are”, argues a former New Labour staff member, reflecting on their inability to prevent the elections of “independents”. Bonding with friends Instrumental motives partly explain conference participation but do not give us the full picture. One only needs to consider the sheer enthusiasm of many regular participants who have attended conference, sometimes for over 30 or 40 years in one capacity or another, some of whom describe themselves as “conference junkies”.
Following a movement that simultaneously happened in continental Europe, British political parties have adopted procedures inspired by an individualist model of democracy. All have granted their members new individual rights to vote for the selection of candidates, leaders and internal officers. Members have been balloted on draft manifestos and party organisation and supporters are also increasingly consulted. What are the implications of the introduction of “direct democracy” procedures on activism since it is clear that party leaderships have also intended to use such reforms to bypass activists?
Changing Parties: An Anthropology of British Political Party Conferences by Dr Florence Faucher-King