Saturday, 1 July 2017

Paddy Ashdown: stranger than fiction

Paddy Ashdown's been at it again.

He has reportedly embarked on a new career writing fiction.  This, however, proves the old adage that truth is often stranger.  Not the reports of involvement in plotting to depose Tim Farron as leader (for more of that, subscribe to Liberator and read Radical Bulletin in the forthcoming issue).

The Federal Board was, to say the least, surprised to receive a paper from the former leader which had to be seen to be believed.  Putting aside his frequent Mark Twain quotation of not interfering - "don't speak to the helmsman, don't spit at the floor", the noble Lord railed at the party's democratic structures and its now one-member, one-vote Conference.  Scrap it all, he says - and replace it with a 38 Degrees-style direct democracy organisation, free of values in which anyone can join, free of charge, vote on a key matter and then not so much leave as merely log out.

In the interests of transparency, Liberator is publishing the text here, in full.

Unfortunately for Paddy, the Board did not like his proposal much.  Following the fiasco of his tenure of the 2015 "Wheelhouse" and his current stint as local party chair in Yeovil - seeing the return of a 15,000 Tory majority, last seen in 1979 - it may be that he heeds the advice of one member that "the Board thought a pile of horse manure would be a more cogent and realistic statement", and presses 'Delete'.  Or he might just send it to his friend Tony Blair instead.

Here is Ashdown’s second rule for the internet age: “If you see a business model that takes no account of the new technologies, you see a business model which is failing”.

This applies to most newspapers, some old fashioned businesses and nearly all political parties.

Conventional political parties remain immovably stuck in the 1870s.

They are vertical hierarchies, when the paradigm structure of our time is the network.

They are high overhead, narrow membership, high cost of entry, limited participation organisations, while successful social and commercial structures are based on a low overhead, mass membership, low (or no) cost of entry and instant participation model.

They are festooned with lumbering committees and a tangle of elections which pretend to provide accountability and transparency, but actually obscure both, when direct instant democratic participation is the rule for the most successful modern civil society movements and political structures (think Cinque Stella, Momentum, More United and En Marche).

In order to play a full part, today’s conventional political party requires its members to be obsessives prepared to spend evenings in damp village halls and bright September days when they could be on the beach, in stuffy conclaves at faded seaside resorts, passing obscure amendments to policies no-one will ever hear of again. But most ordinary people nowadays conduct their internet lives, not through consuming singular obsessions, but through multiple daily transactions which mix what they believe in, with earning a living and having fun.

Political Parties, as institutions are dying (except those who have in some form or another adopted the internet in their internal structures, like Momentum and Labour). This is one of the reasons why our politics seems so bewildering and senseless to ordinary people and voters.

Our Party is in an extremely hazardous condition. Unless we do something radical and different soon, our old members will become disheartened and our new members will fade away.

Here is my proposition. The Party Board should commission a study which would report in short order (but before the end of July) to investigate whether and if so how and in what time frame, the Lib Dems could be converted into a modern, internet based political organisation (, structured around a low overhead, low cost of entry, mass movement model in which a one person one vote internet enabled democracy, was the normal way of taking all our key decisions.