08 Jul 2013
July 8, 2013

Falkirk Labour; a couple of facts

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Worth commenting, I think, on John Harris’ and Owen Jones’ pieces in, respectively, the Guardian and Independent, today.

Harris’ thoughtful Guardian piece refers to declining membership in Constituency Labour Parties like Falkirk across the UK. I don’t know about elsewhere, but in 1999 when I was CLP Secretary in Falkirk West paid-up membership was around 170. In February last year, paid-up membership was around 210 (NB. Falkirk West now makes up around 70% of the UK Constituency of Falkirk).  No decline there.

Elsewhere, a significant variable often missed out of stories of ‘declining party membership’ is that cut-price membership drives lead to a quick fillip in the first year but are invariably followed by rapid decline the following year as those folk fail to pay for themselves when renewals come up.  Such declines are almost always referred to by journos as evidence for disillusionment – in fact they’re simply evidence that if someone’s (waged) decision to join a political party is strongly influenced by the fact it’s free, they’re probably not going to be in it for long.

Owen Jones’ piece for the independent is not the rounded piece Harris’ is, though.  It’s entirely personalised – more like the kind of hate letter usually found on the comments beneath articles.  That’s a shame.

Jones’ article contains a specific attack on Gregor Poynton based on what he believes is in a report we’ve not seen yet. Well, the cops can see it all now so we’ll have to wait, I guess.  However, commentators like Jones have been quick to flag that Poynton works, like Jones, in the private sector, and for a company with a contract with the Labour Party.

No-one I’ve read has pointed out that Poynton was born and bred in Camelon, Falkirk, where his family still lives.  He was a member of Falkirk West CLP as a schoolboy then student and has been involved in every campaign (Council, European, Scottish, UK) since when I was CLP Secretary in 1999.  Moreover, as Poynton knew, he was still always a long-shot for selection against a very well-known local councillor, rather than being a ‘parachutist’ from nowhere as implied by Jones et al.

On the other hand, Unite’s candidate, who worked for a senior MP at Westminster, appeared especially for the coming selection.  Nothing wrong with that at all, quite the reverse.  The only thing wrong in Falkirk was the recruitment by Unite of some people who didn’t know about it.  There really is no getting away from that, however much Jones et al would like to move the story elsewhere.

Jones’ piece reflects a wider, and strange, feature of the whole Falkirk/Unite affair.  He’s a former parliamentary researcher taking a prominent part in a public debate about Labour, arguing how terrible it is that former researchers should be so prominent in Labour.  This mirrors the actuality of policy professionals and Unite officials arguing for more of their type (i.e. middle class, full-time political professionals) in parliament while bemoaning that there are too many of their type there already.