Saturday, 16 August 2014

It's not about me, and it's not about you.....

Over the past year I have spent quite a lot of time visiting other Associations to help with training and best practice. One of the things which has struck me is how Associations, even those in close proximity, can develop very different personalities and cultures. I have given this a lot of consideration, as whilst this "individualism" can ensure a degree of vibrancy it can too often be the source of cronyism and introspection, albeit often unwittingly. By way of example...

A man has just found himself elected Chairman of a moderately sized but somewhat moribund Constituency Association or Constituency Labour Party (I have no doubt that every party has them). After his election, he takes stock and comes to the conclusion that he needs new blood and some loyal lieutenants to help him revamp the local organisation. Unable to find anyone internally (they've all been there too long or are too busy) he asks around his friends and colleagues. Now (let's avoid anything too controversial), our newly elected Chairman is also Hon Secretary of the Barchester Bird and Wildfowl Spotters Club (most volunteers have multiple interests). It is therefore natural that he will ask around his fellow Bird and Wildfowl enthusiasts and hopefully recruit a handful to help him in his political endeavours, and being good friends many might be willing to support him.

After a few years the bird spotters also get elected to positions of seniority, and it's only natural that the Chairman will support them as he wants people around him he knows and trusts. Everyone is happy to vote for a willing volunteer (especially if it means they don't have to volunteer themselves!).

Now, out of the blue, someone new appears. He/she might have just moved in, or perhaps has suddenly been inspired to get involved and help. He/she will be invited to a meeting and will be welcomed. However, it won't be quite right - most of the people there will appear to know each other and share more than politics. Most will be cut from the same cloth. It will be obvious than many have met outside and decisions reached (or at least a consensus sought) before the meeting even started. In the pub afterwards they will share private jokes and stories about non-political issues. No-one will make the newcomer unwelcome, but it will be painfully obvious that they are an outsider - not part of the 'club'. The chances are they will never come back. This, in turn, leads the bird spotters to worry about no-one new getting involved, which will encourage them to bring along more of their own kind to make up the numbers. And so it continues.  No doubt they see themselves as a group of bird spotters who are kindly giving their time to help run the local political party. To an outsider, it probably looks like the local bird spotters have "taken control" of the Association. In such cases, perception is reality.

Now - swap bird spotters with Trades Unionists or Freemasons or Evangelical Christians or Anti Globalisationists or .........

Wherever I go I always make a point of saying that politics is not about me and it's not about you. It's about a shared endeavour towards a common goal. That common goal is not the re-election of Fred Jones or the doubling of Dorothy Jenkins' majority, or the fact that Elaine Ross has managed to halve the LibDems majority in their safest ward. As nice as any of these outcomes are, they are nothing more than a vanity. Our only purpose is to ensure the election of the largest possible number of Conservative candidates.  If candidates in unwinnable seats have to be scarified on the altar of electoral reality and councillors with 2000 majorities have to take a hit and see their mountains reduced to foothills - then so be it. If that's the price of redirecting resources to ensure the 10 marginal wards are won it's a price worth paying.

Sadly this is often not the case. Too often I have witnessed internal party groups (CF, CWO / LGBTory and others) putting resources into seats where there are other CF / CWO / LGBT candidates, regardless of the electoral realities and sometimes to the detriment of the real party's true priorities.  And if our own internal groups who must know and understand the importance of targeting fall into this trap, it is no wonder that groups of friends who have shared outside interests should do so, too.

That is why the most successful Associations are those which draw their membership and more importantly their activists from the widest possible field, with no group or vested interest having too much influence.

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