Saturday, January 10, 2009

Political Education

A Group of Yorkshire Miners at Sheffield University 25 years ago. They were part of a day-release course run by the Division of Continuing Education. The course ran for three years and studied Industrial Relations, Economics and Politics.


Yesterday a set of proposals on "Integrated Transport" were presented on this blog arising from ideas debated at the December Meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. At that meeting we went on to discuss and support a further set of ideas on "Political Education". These are presented here in draft form and have yet to be finalised. When completed, these ideas are intended for submission to the independent left pressure group Compass, as explained here. They appear in the format required by Compass.

Comments are welcome on this draft. They will help the Group in determining the exact nature of its final submission.

Policy Name : Political Education, Political Education, Political Education.

Policy Explanation

A vibrant and intelligent political culture requires issues to be debated openly (but not violently) within the context of widespread commitments to civil liberties, including those of free expression. In the modern Labour Party and often in the wider Labour Movement, a past tradition of considering practical political alternatives in the light of the concepts of social equality, collectivism and democratic participation has tended to be sidelined. This is not an argument for the adoption of a political dogma by today's movement; for core values themselves need to be under continual testing and re-examination and to be attuned to changing circumstances. But unfortunately in today's movement too often core values tend to have withered away, rather than being re-assessed and updated.

The Labour Party in particular needs to encourage and facilitate internal debate and discussion about our times. A key avenue to achieve such an approach is the establishment of a political education programme to stimulate debate and discussion amongst what could then become a growing and active membership.

Such an approach is likely to require a serious publications' avenue which the Labour Party membership could contribute to. This would require moves towards a weekly Labour Party newspaper, the establishment of a theoretical journal, the publication of discussion pamphlets, the running of discussion groups and study courses; plus the use of web-sites and other avenues of more modern technology. The Labour Party itself should aim at running such provisions, building upon the efforts (amongst others) of Tribune, Chartist, the Fabian Society and Compass. (Note: these proposals are an add-on to the work of such groups and not a replacement.)

Such forms of Political Education will, however, only achieve a living impact when the internal structure of the Labour Party is openly democratised - yet political education could also encourage such a development.

The TUC, individual Trade Unions and the Co-operative Movement form essential parts of our Movement. They have their own traditions of providing their own internal educational programmes. The focus of such activities are often centred around the practical needs of health and safety representatives, shop stewards and equivalents. These programmes need to be leavened with fuller investigations around the historical, political and core values of the Labour Movement.

Ways and means of re-establishing a pre-Thatcherite tradition of working class education centred on the earlier practices of Colleges such as Ruskin, Coleg Harlech, the Northern College and Newbattle Abbey need to be explored.

Arguments In Favour

(1) An intelligent, questioning and democratic labour movement operating in the above ways would help to raise the whole level of political debate in the country and tackle the general limitations of the ya-boo debates now taking place across the main media avenues.

(2) It would help to make clearer and more coherent political choices for the electorate.

(3) The British Labour Movement has many links with the international labour movement. The importance of these would begin to be more widely understood (and used) by the movements rank and file. This would improve the Movements image, especially amongst young people.

Arguments Against

(1) If it took the wrong turn, an expanded political debate within the Labour Movement could lead to disruption and public turmoil which could alienate wide sections of the electorate.

(2) It could encourage entrist techniques into the Labour Party by Trotskyist and other groups.

(3) Unless concerns about political theory are related to practical political concerns, it could turn the Labour Party into a debating society rather than an organisation seeking to provide personnel for our democratically elected institutions.

How Does The Policy Relate To The Core Beliefs Of Compass? (i.e. equality, collectivism, sustainability, democracy.)

This programme essentially caters for the extension of Compass style understandings into the wider labour movement, whilst guarding against any tendency of these to become dogmas.

How Does This Build The Institutions Of Social Democracy?

It will help to develop a labour movement which will press for (a) an internally democratic Labour Party, (b) the opening up of the democratisation of governmental, parliamentary and local authority institutions and (c) will encourage serious political debate within the popular media.

What Are The Cost Implications?

The start of a political education programme throughout the labour movement could initially be done at minimal cost. What is needed is encouragement from labour leaders and Labour's head office to participate in a range of voluntary political educational activities. This would begin to set up the structure for summer schools, courses and publications which would often be financed by those encouraged to participate in what they saw as meaningful political activities. Costs would mainly be related to scholarships and staff payments when voluntary course directors and tutors could not be attracted.

Who Wins And Loses Amongst The Electorate?

If political education within the labour movement operates in ways which encourages questioning and debate, it is likely to help develop a relevant and appealing political perspective for the Labour Party. This would provide clear and intelligent choices for the electorate. In such circumstances, it would be vested interests that would lose out. If, however, political dogma distorted the uses of such avenues, then this would alienate wide sectors of the electorate.

A Sound Bite For The Public?

In seeking to build a society which involves its people within the decision-making process, we recognise that this has to start within our own institutions.

Where Has This Worked Before?

Although what has been suggested has never worked fully within the labour movement, aspects of this approach can be seen in the work of people such as the Webbs, the Coles and R.H. Tawney as well as in the past work of Workers' Educational Association, University Extension Courses and the residential Colleges for working people mentioned earlier. Given modern technology, use of Computer communication systems can now be employed.


  1. Thinking of possible sound bites for PE, PE,PE
    How about:
    "Informing and understanding political decision making"
    "Understanding the political dimension of everyday life"

  2. Blogger Brader:
    I thought my bit was rather weak. Whatever we go for needs to be limited to 25 words in total.

  3. Well done on the new Blog site.

    It’s good to see open informative debate.

    Will any local suggestions make any impression on the Regional or National Party? It seems there maybe a glass ceiling preventing local voices from being heard in Government. Why are Policy Forums separate; report directly to the NEC and not within local party set up?

    Does it seem like a one party state run by business / financial institutions?

    Political Education: if there were more, perhaps we would get better thought out Labour policies.

    Integrated Transport: bring back bus services under council control and make rail 100% state owned.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Anonymous : Pleased you like the blog which we owe to the work and initiative of Blogger Brader.

    Of the six national policy forum documents adopted at the last Annual Conference of the Labour Party, within Derbyshire only the Bolsover Constituency Labour Party sent in regular proposals. They contributed to 5 out of 6 of the documents. Additionally only Mid Derbyshire and South Derbyshire added to this, but they only made a single submission each to a document entitled "Creating Sustainable Communities". Bolsover's greater imput is essentially due to the work and commitment of Gary Ransford from their CLP who has twice addressed the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group since it was set-up less than 3 years ago.

    But the failure of others to make submissions
    (despite unsuccessful efforts in cases I know about), reflects that the work of the forums is either viewed as being too difficult to understand or it is seen as something of a democratic sham.

    The only chance of change is for the active rank and file to keep nibbling away in order to enhance the challenges of ideas and democracy.

  5. This thread starts with a photo of South Yorkshire Miners who attended a Day Release Class on Industrial Relations and Economics at Sheffield University 25 years ago. It should be noted that Ken Turton who wrote one of our recent threads (see the link below) attended a parallel course for Railwaymen 37 years ago. Those were the days. A pity that these classes were killed off and have not remerged after almost 12 years of New Labour. The links is -

  6. Harry: picking up the Political Education thread.

    A better overall understanding of politics at a local level hopefully will encourage more people to get involved. Therefore, as previously mentioned, it’s a shame that the grass roots of the party don’t seem or perceive to be able to make a connection with the ultimate decision making bodies (I assume the NEC and or Conference), either through a lack of understanding or maybe not seen to be a democratic process.

    Upon investigating a little bit, a lack of understanding of the process is a more likely reason for not submitting proposals. If my understanding of the Labour Party policy process below is correct, I can see why it would be rather difficult for a local party member to see how or where their input makes a difference. So from what I can gather:

    Policy Development is via the NPF (National Policy Forum), which operates a rolling process called the PIP (Partnership in Power - consisting of various party, unions and societies) and there is also a Steering Group for the NPF (consisting of the NEC, Government and NPF representatives). The PIP consists of six Policy Commissions, which meet yearly to discuss policy – which I assume Local Policy Forums submit proposals to. Again I assume these are received from local branch parties via CLP’s.

    I also believe there is a JPC (Joint Policy Committee) and JLG (Joint Local Government Committee) that receive submissions from the NPF before going to the NEC?

    All rather confusing – perhaps some Labour Party Education would also be worth exploring along with the Political Education.

  7. Anonymous: Six National Policy Forum Documents were adopted at the 2008 Annual Conference of the Labour Party (they are seen as "the foundation stone of our manifesto"). The organisations who submitted representations to these at national level were listed in the publication sent to Conference. Only around 20 to 30 CLPs made submissions to any one document. Many of those who did tended to make representations to a majority of the documents. This illustrates that the proceedure only touches the few and not the many.