Sunday, 10 July 2011

Democracy gives way to Management

Ed Miliband has a achieved a minor "clause four" moment by persuading the Labour Parliamentary Party to let him rather than them choose the members of the Shadow Cabinet. True the Shadow Cabinet elections were messy, to some extent divisive, and to some extent emphasised personalities rather than policies, but they were honest in that they revealed the true nature of the Labour Party, as, like all parties, a coalition of opinions. The Miliband move is an attempt to present the party as a streamlined, obedient and homogeneous entity, which it isn't and shouldn't be.

The move also enhances the power of the party leader above the other senior members at a time when I believe we need a return to collective leadership and collective responsibility. It was for this reason that I opposed the idea of "leaders only" debates before the last election. We should have had a series of debates between the principal spokespersons of the parties, culminating in a debate between the leaders.

Rather than the Labour party falling into line with the others in giving the leader the right to appoint the cabinet or shadow cabinet unfettered by the demands of democracy, for the other parties to adopt elections would do more for the health of our democracy. This is a further step towards a presidential system and away from a parliamentary system and is to be regretted.

On page 198 of his Liberty in the age of reason the philosopher A C Grayling describes the thesis that:

...the enlightenment philosophers sought to rescue people from the arbitrariness of royal or priestly power and to replace it with rule by reason....All that happened was an increase in influence of technical elites. The world, in short, became the fiefdom of managers (his emphasis.

Miliband's moment is a victory of the managers and presentation gurus over the rough and tumble of healthy democratic debate.