So you are a reasonably successful business person with an interest in politics, but you lack the elementary ideological commitment actually to take out a Labour Party membership card. Well, you’re in luck. Ed Miliband will today unveil his plans to make you a Labour councillor, or even an MP.
The news comes just one day after a proposal to encourage greater numbers of working class candidates was rather timidly trailed in the Murdoch press, a story I picked up on in a post on this blog yesterday.
The timing indicates either one heck of a cock up on somebody’s part, or is purposely designed to deflect traditionalist criticism of the latter move by leaking the former 24 hours in advance.
It remains to be seen which of the initiatives is prioritised, but I suspect my earlier observations could turn out to be rather optimistic, and perhaps even slightly foolish.
I am particularly intrigued by the FT’s observation that:
potential applicants will not even have to be Labour members to apply to the ‘special stream’ of the party’s future candidates programme, although they will be expected to ‘share Labour values’.
Share Labour values? Well, thank goodness for that, although those particular parameters have been stretched somewhat in recent decades, to the point where the stipulation is next to meaningless.
It is unusual but not unknown for a successful entrepreneur or FTSE 100 executive to be a socialist or a social democrat, of course. There is a long tradition of working class boys and girls made good who have genuinely backed Labour – and even the Communist Party, for that matter – on account of their upbringing.
But the obvious question is, if someone’s sympathies lie with the left, why wouldn’t they demonstrate their belief by actually signing up to a party they sudden seek to represent?
There is also the obvious risk of bias in favour of those in a position to write a generous cheque to the local CLP, a factor that has influenced many a Conservative constituency association when it comes to the selection of parliamentary hopefuls.
Let’s hope we never reach the point where safe seats are auctioned as openly and as surely as peerages were sold off in the Blair years.
And yes, a demonstrable ability to get things is a useful quality for any politician to possess, and the ability to read a balance sheet is a vital knack for councillors these days.
But not all business skills are equally commendable. There is a world of difference between a guy who has built a worthwhile local social enterprise and the union bashers and asset strippers of the business world.
And finally, let us not conflate the two schemes announced this week. There are a lot working class people – women in particular – who could benefit from positive discrimination in the Labour Party.
I suspect most Harvard MBAs, who tend to lack neither the most flagrant self-confidence nor excellent networking abilities – can entirely manage without it.