Whatever happened to the PLP?

The PLP has changed dramatically over the long years of my political experience.   It used to be the forum where policy differences were thrashed out, the front bench was held vigorously to account, and ideological debate provided the lifeblood for political activism. No more.   It must be the most placid in modern times.   Good of course in terms of maintaining unity, which is an important objective, but less good in terms of political inspiration and campaigning drive.

The PLP is not unique in this respect.   The same process of dumbing down has smothered party conference which once was the heaving soul of the Labour Movement, but now has shrunken to become merely a showpiece for the Leader’s speech.
There are three main reasons for this.   One is that Tony Blair wanted the PLP to be a stage-managed army to secure his political base in Parliament and to that end the Left was squeezed out of parliamentary selections and the PLP was systematically colonised by those of Blairite/Progress persuasion.   The culture changed too.    Loyalty and compliance were rated over integrity and participation, and such habits, though they have somewhat ebbed since his time, die hard and still inform much of the mindset of the PLP.
Second, not unrelated, is the decline in ideology.   The Labour party, or at least certain lead elements within it, have all too readily accepted the Thatcherite dictates of deregulated finance, market fundamentalism, ever more privatisation, and keeping the unions on a short leash.   With those objectives it’s difficult to see how a radical vision of a very different economy and society can gain traction.
Third, where ideology is downplayed, careerism and image and presentation gain the upper hand.   Ed Miliband’s brave speech denouncing this tendency and asserting that what matters is what politicians do, not what they look like, needs to be taken to heart by every single member of the PLP.
Clearly a transformation of the PLP is needed, at several different levels.   It needs to be far more representative of the electorate it purports to serve.   That means far less drawn from the Progress route of middle class, university, student union, PA, special adviser to an MP, and thence eased access to a seat from the inside (just like the Tories).   Instead it means far more with real experience of the working class who still represent some 40% of the population at large, but only about 5% even of Labour MPs.
There has to be more debate about controversial issues in the PLP, more expression of genuine views, more consultation of Labour MPs before difficult decisions are reached.   In a real democratic party the policy discussion should flow both ways between the leadership and the led, yet at present it is invariably top-down.   Above all the PLP needs to get out of the constricting distortions of the Westminster bubble.   Regular weekly campaigning on the big political issues of the day, which was the life and soul of the Labour Party decades ago and without which political education will never flourish against the relentless propaganda of the Tory tabloids, needs to be urgently re-introduced.

One thought on “Whatever happened to the PLP?

  1. Yet in the last moth Milliband and chums have waved through 2 pernicious pieces of legislation, (one deeply and one trivial,) without any real debate or consultation?

    The new laws that amount to the casual abolition of personal privacy has been discussed at length here previously, but a further addition to the already draconian, hysterical and punitive laws regarding knife crime, which further erodes the power of our judiciary to set appropriate sentences on a case by case basis, was was also waved through almost without comment, (which is a pity because the American experience is that these needlessly escalating penalties are proving largely counterproductive and are gradually being discarded.)

    But the other issue is that so much executive power was devolved from Parliament, by Blair, onto various, (largely rotten and commercially oriented statutory bodies and quangos and partners,) often by the statutory instruments attached to various bills, that bypass both Parliamentary scrutiny and the established democratic processes, (and that without the supra national powers wielded by the EU,) that about the only thing Parliament still can legislate for anymore is yet more laws on dangerous dogs, pedophiles, terrorism, rape, (is set be latest cause célèbre,) whilst millimeter by millimeter we continue to be quietly relieved of all our rights, basic and fundamental, as British citizens.

    Labour did all this, no one else, and the great Charlatan’s best trick was carping on about inclusion and accountability, (he is said to have come to regard even the limited and impotent freedom of information act as his only real mistake,)whilst doing the exact opposite. so with Milliband as with Blair, once again it’s no so much what he says as what he does.

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