The future of the political party

I do not support any of the ‘usual’ political parties. At least, not the big five — Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP or the Greens. I sometimes agree with what they say, but never enough to warrant me supporting them. The same applies to Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. I do, however, support a political party.

Which? Something New. As James Smith, the party founder likes to say, “That’s our name, and it’s what we stand for.” Something New is a breath of fresh air, though not the only one as my last post pointed out. I think there are a lot of problems in this country, and on this planet, and, quite frankly, I could never put my name to a political party that has happily played a part in causing them.

Something New is the party I chose for one specific reason: the open source manifesto. With Something New, their manifesto can be altered by anyone. Anyone can go and edit a policy to make it better, or add their own that need inclusion. I, personally, agree with a lot of what is already in the manifesto, but so far I have added two of my own with a couple more in the voting queue. I added one on repatriating the Chagossians and revoking the Chagos MPA, and another on examining the local economic effects of the Beeching Cuts. Both sound policies, in my opinion, and the pre-existing contributors obviously agreed.

But there’s something else I find significant about Something New, another reason, besides the party its self, that I support it. Two significant organisations — the Electoral Reform Society and Nesta, have both predicted the political party of the future. And the fascinating thing is — Something New fits the bill.

In the Electoral Reform Society’s Open Up: The Future of the Political Party, they outline what parties are for, their changing environment, how not to adapt to changes, and the encouraging signs of change. But what is most interesting is the final section of the paper, “Conclusion: Tomorrow’s Party”. The Electoral Reform Society provide four central recommendations for the political parties of the future.

Increased role for non-members — Parties’ experiments with involving non fee-paying supporters should be accelerated
More member- and supporter-led policymaking — People want to see an end to top-down, command-and-control politics
Party funding reform — Parties’ reliance on big donors is undermining people’s trust in them
Electoral reform — A fairer voting system would help meet people’s expectations of having a greater choice of parties and more consensual policymaking

Allow me to assess each recommendation, point by point. An increased role for non fee-paying members is a no brainer. Something New has no fee-paying members and instead asks for people to get involved straight away with the manifesto and contributing policies. This leads straight on to the second point, which I have effectively covered already. Something New only has “supporter-led policymaking”, that is the entire premise of the party!

Party funding reform is another element Something New have come out strong on. As it says on the party’s About page, “All of our spending and donations are published as open data, so that anyone can see them. The spending schema was design with Spend Network, and can be used by any party, so we would like to encourage others to publish in the same way.” Everything is set out in the open for all to see, with every supplier have a unique URI and every product using its own unique UNSPSC code. It could not be more transparent. James Smith delved further into party finances at his Open Data Institute Friday Lunchtime Lecture “Data for Democracy”, which can be watched here and the transcript is here.

Finally, electoral reform. Something New is pushing for an agenda of reforming the electoral system completely. They propose removing FPTP and replacing it with 3 member STV. They propose a “none of the above” option on ballot papers, replacing the House of Lords with a house of randomly selected citizens and they also want the right to recall members. Not only that, but they state some of their long terms goals as gradually switching to complete direct democracy, and the abolition of the monarchy.

One very interesting point I noticed on their website was their complete self-vilification: “We don’t believe that the party system is fundamentally necessary. We are a registered party, because it’s necessary at the moment, but we want to create a future where our party doesn’t need to exist any more.”

So it is clear that Something New already goes above and beyond what the Electoral Reform Society have called for. But what exactly do Nesta think? Writing on the Nesta blog, Geoff Mulgan set out his prediction for 2015 in British politics.

My prediction is that the aftermath of the UK election will see the first internet-age parties emerge in the UK, our own versions of Podemos or Democracy OS. My hope is that they will help to engage millions of people currently detached from politics, and to provide them with ways to directly influence ideas and decisions.”
If new parties do spring up, the old ones will have to respond. Before long open primaries, deliberations on the internet, and crowdsourced policy processes could become the norm. As that happens politics will become messier and more interesting. Leaders will have to be adept at responding to contradictory currents of opinion, with more conversation and fewer bland speeches. The huge power once wielded by newspaper owners, commentators and editors will almost certainly continue to decline.
The hope, in short, is that democracy could be re-energised. There are other possible futures, of course. A sullen anti-political mood could fuel populist demagogues. But there is at least a good chance that those with their eyes on the future rather than the past will have the edge.”

Good news for Something New, that’s for sure. I would love to see Something New evolve into Britain’s Podemos, leading the way for radical digital change. But we’ll see. Mulgan’s view is much in line with what James Smith has been saying:

I’m not interested in my deposit; I doubt I’ll ever see it again. However, what I do care about is growing a wider movement for a better democracy, and every single vote helps in that mission.

The Electoral Reform Society and Nesta need not look any further — the future of the political party is already here, in the form of Something New. And it is just what we need.

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