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Coming out

Nobody tells me how to think.

That’s important. A core value.

Influence me, by all means. Educate me as much as you can. Push me to see something from a different angle. Lend me your shoes and let me walk a few miles in them.

But don’t try and control me.

And that, in a nutshell, is a big problem I’ve had with organised politics. I wrote a smuggish piece last year about why I was oh-so-special–why I remained above and outside any formal political machinery–because…well, because of what, really? (I didn’t even post it on this blog, such was my trepidation about the subject.)

Maybe it has some parallels with religion. Having an (intermittent) sense of faith is one thing. Becoming a card-carrying, incense-swinging, habit-wearing adherent is quite another. Boundaries spring up. Positions are taken. There’s only so far you can go before those boundaries are hit.

In short, I wasn’t sure there was a church broad enough to fit me in. And I didn’t know how to react if I didn’t like parts of the sermon.

I had some interesting feedback from braver, political friends about that post. Was I really being honest about my reasons? Was I actually evading responsibility? Actively shunning ways in which I might make some difference? Thinking that politics was something that other people got involved in…what sort of stance was that?

And then I took a hard look at some of my own writing and thinking. How I would robustly challenge any cherry-picking of a particular bit of policy that wasn’t seen in its wider context… And I’m the one that’s been banging on about things being interconnected, and needing to be tackled as wholes, not parts.

And I looked around me. I realised that the party system, whether at local or national level, does a job. Not perfectly, of course (and I still don’t fully understand its relevance at local authority level, but that’s another post).

Nevertheless, it’s a huge part of how we make these things called society, and government, work. Whatever imperfections it may have, it’s there, and I wasn’t engaging with it.

So: a choice.

To stay on the sidelines hoping to shape things a little through acerbic blogposts and a few pointed questions in think-tank debates? Well, ok. But is that enough? I’m not sure.

Or, my other option: to give it a go, and pull my wagon up to the campfire.

And I looked a little harder at the current state of our democracy, and the way we’ve allowed politics to depart from the things I hold very dear: rationality, honesty, liberality, inclusion.

And putting all that together, I made my choice.

Some fears, of course: that I’ll lose friends, that I’ll lose respect, that I’ll lose work (I’ve traded on political neutrality to some extent, in my work on public information projects, and in the access that I get as a photographer). My decision may not be without some disadvantages.

And that dodgy sermon thing? What do you do when your friends are dicks? One of the perpetual dilemmas I’ve found in a networked world is the issue of tribalism. When a friend screws up, perhaps even conflicting with another friend, how do you react? How do you maintain your own integrity when the actions of others inevitably challenge it?

I may not accept, or even understand, a party line on everything. That’s a reality. The easy crutch that party membership presents–of having someone else’s opinion available, on a matter I haven’t properly researched for myself–is problematic.

However, I propose to put my energies into the things I really do know a bit about. The relationship between technology and society. What liberty will come to mean in a networked world. Access to democracy. Fairness. And a few more. There’s enough there to chew on without me feeling I have to take on the whole lot all at once.

So, what was my choice of party?

Easy, really. What all my experience and thinking leads to, time and time again, is the importance of the societal consequences of everything we do and permit.

Society? I mean people, really. Real people. Not the privileged, the articulate, the ones that some choose to populate the little fictional worlds they create in their heads.

No, the full, gritty reality of what it’s really like. And there’s only one party that has a hope of doing that, as far as I can see.

So I joined the Labour Party.

It’s not perfect. There are some, but not many, areas on which I find the accepted line challenging. But I propose to bring my energies to respond to that challenge: to debating and understanding from inside the tent. To helping in the areas in which I can, and learning in the areas that I can’t yet.

(By complete coincidence, as I was finishing this post, a friend tweeted me this link. It raised a wry smile.)

So, I’m absolutely thrilled to be heading to my first party conference tomorrow. As a member, not just an observer.

Bring. It. On.

Category: Other

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15 Responses

  1. Francesca says:

    (1) Still love you

    (2) Lots

    (3) Well done

    (4) Let’s talk

  2. Francesca says:

    Placeholder reply because I forgot to tell the other one to notify me of follow-up comments. Sorry.

  3. Great post. Enjoy the conference.

    As Stephen Fry said, I’ve got nowhere to put my hi-fi, and there comes a time when a man has to make a stand.

  4. Loved you before. Still love you now.

  5. Patrick says:

    It’s ok, Paul, some of my best friends are Labour Party members…

    I joined the Lib Dems before the last general election (and before the debates which brought a lot new Lib Dem members), largely because, after thirty years of voting Liberal or Lib Dem, it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

    I think this was in part because of my increasing politicisation, including the influence of social media. (I think I souks think about that more, and maybe write my own post…) I felt it was time to stop siting on the fence. As a result, I campaigned in the General Election and, more vigourously, in the AV campaign. It made sense to actually get on and do something.

    There are caveats, though. Party practices can be infuriating. At a local level, it is easy to see things could be done differently: a lot of energy and time is wasted; there is a lot of irritating faffing about.

    More importantly though, could one be more effective outside a party model? For me, the answer was a clear “no”: I had been barely active politically. Could YOU have more influence outside a party? It’s irrelevant now, since you’ve taken the plunge, but a question worth asking, perhaps.

  6. Neil Mackib says:

    Well done good sir.

    for somewhat dissimilar reasons I joined the Norwegian Labour Party a few months back

  7. Michael Mooney says:

    Join the club… I joined up before the Scottish Elections, little good though it did, and was happy enough to be part of one of the constituencies with the highest “yes” vote for AV. Missed out on the conference, but next year…

  8. Dana Kidson says:

    Noone tells you how to think, but you want to be one of those who uses the legal monopoly on force to make others act?

    What party you choose is as irrelevant as which gun you plan to execute me with.

  9. Mil says:

    I’d been a member of Greenpeace and CND at uni, without ever entirely agreeing with everything they stood for. Then I went to live in Spain and generally supported the PSOE without putting my money where my mouth was. Later, in 2003, I returned to Britain. Shortly after, a local Labour member called Nick Dixon turned up on my doorstep and asked me if I wanted to join. Since that time, I’ve always been critical of both orthodox Labour thought and actions. I don’t agree with many policies the hierarchy believe in. I don’t get on with important people in my local party. But I do believe the Labour Party – in its totality (history, trajectory, actual membership and political profile) – is the nearest thing to a virtuous cauldron of ideas that England offers up to the voting public. Since I live and work in England, and as far as I can see, and since that’s what I usually look for in organisations I pay to join, my only choice in a political context *is* Labour.

    I’m glad to see you’ve made a choice too – not because it’s Labour but, simply, because you’ve taken that step. It doesn’t mean dogma and imposition must follow. Rather, it’s a question of flavouring free thought with pragmatism – and also never allowing that pragmatism to dilute or diminish the free thought!

    My son once had a humongous argument with my wife about her Catholicism – which is very mix-and-match in its approach to what she lives with and what she doesn’t. He thought she had no right to give and take as she does: it was very black and white for him; either all or nothing. He couldn’t see how you could profess a religion and still choose in some way what to believe in. A political party is very like my son’s idea of Catholicism, I think, for people who aren’t members of political parties.

    You can only reserve yourself the right to pick and choose when you start to believe. And now you’ll find out you have every right to do so!

  10. Jon Hyde says:

    Great post Paul. I’ve been resisting throwing myself into party politics for years because:

    a) Most of my work is in local government. I was worried that revealing my political colours would harm my career.

    b) I was worried what my friends would think.

    c) The leadership of the party has been hopeless.

    These don’t look like great reasons to not get involved when you write them down.

    So I’m also going to take the plunge. Thanks for helping to nudge me into action.

    p.s. I too will be joining the Labour Party. There, I said it. Publicly.

    Jon.

  11. Mike Marcus says:

    The problem is that there are only slight idealogical deviations between the three major parties. They all occupy a small segment of a vast political landscape.

    They all hold and economic position approximately half way between moderate and extreme right wing. They all hold the traditional position of social authoritarianism while each spins it’s own false promise of libertarianism (big society, rolling back the state, no more broken promises).

    To buy into this system is to accept that you are a subject – ruled by the greedy for their own gain – every 5 years being thrown a morsel of hope in the shape of a vote within a fictional democracy. However, whatever the outcome, the rich win, the poor loose and our social reality continues to decline.

    I was alerted to this post by @Nero on Twitter. For him there is some sense in taking a stance. For someone who is selfish and antisocial, the most noble party is the one who’s self-interests most closely align with their own. For the rest of us – those who care about society and the future, there simply isn’t a valid choice.

  12. Terence Eden says:

    I’m pleased you’ve found a party who fits you.

    Too many people think that you have to agree with everything a party stands for. I think that’s clearly nonsense. But I do think you have to believe in the majority of its aims.

    For me, it’s like the Pareto principle – 80% of the action comes from 20% of the causes. You don’t have to agree with Labour’s position on, say, farming – but you do have to agree with their position on, say, extraordinary rendition, or tuition fees, or PFI.

    For me, the Labour party has exhausted all of its moral currency. I’ve explained why in my letter to the Labour party before the last election. I also spelled out my reasons for joining the LibDems.

    Here’s the thing. I agree with the Labour Party in principle – I disagree with them in practice.

    I hope you can change the party so it reflects its origins – a broadly socialist, evidence lead, anti-war party dedicated to peace, stability, and prosperity for all. At the moment, they’re Tory-lite.

  13. Janet E Davis says:

    About time.
    It always seemed just a matter of time before you did this.
    I’ve listened to historical recordings of politicians in the North of England, during the earliest days of the Labour Party, talking about how they wanted to change society. They were so very determined to create a fair, compassionate society. Even I thought that it was inspiring to hear them talk about changing society, bringing in health services and educational opportunities for all.
    I hope you’ll be a member who has that spirit, influences others and helps to change the Labour Party.
    Until I see more evidence of more politicians able to listen to, understand and think about real people, I will remain an unbeliever.

  14. D. Patrick says:

    I just happened to stumble upon this post while doing a Google search (for what, I already forget…lol), but had to take a moment to tell you how BRILLIANT I feel your post is.

    I resonate completely, and I admire the thought process you went through — and shared — to come to your conclusion. I’m in the States, but the same sentiments apply, to both politics and religion.

    Bravo! :)

  15. […] has – for those of us who are Labour Party members – a cheering story over at honestlyreal this evening.  He’s just joined the Party and will be going to his first Conference tomorrow.  A […]

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