In the next month or so, Labour will publish their 2007/2008 accounts and we will see whether the trend that is losing them 20,000 members a year is continuing. It's not that we've given up 'joining' as a nation, more that we've given up joining political parties. Excluding members more than six months in arrears with their subs, I doubt that Labour's voting membership now exceeds 150,000. Compare this with our membership of other groups:
National Trust - 3,500,000Yes, the WI has more members than Labour. So why shouldn't we give £20m of tax money a year to the WI?
Royal Horticultural Society - 370,000
Women's Institute - 215,000
Labour Party - 150,000
Royal Yachting Association - 103,000
RSPCA - 31,000
You'll have to bear with me on this. I haven't yet mentioned the capping proposals in Straw's white paper, but if we get the issue of parties straight first all will become clear. Straw's whole argument is based on the premise that the mass membership parties that thrived from the mid fifties to the mid seventies are a necessary part of our democracy and need preserving. This is untrue.
The smoke and mirrors trick he is attempting is to confuse the groupings and alliances of MPs within Parliament that makes parliamentary democracy effective (who sits on which benches) with the need for taxes to pay for private clubs that sell a national brand and which develop law and policy outside parliament without any accountability to electors. The latter, I believe, are profoundly anti-democratic.
Finally, here is an excerpt from a speech that David Cameron made back in March of this year. Cameron at least realises that trying to resurrect a dead phase in our national political evolution is not the solution.
Public faith in our political institutions is draining away.
According to MORI, the proportion of people trusting politicians to put the needs of the country before the needs of party halved between 1974 and 1999.
Trust in Parliament fell from 54 per cent in 1983 to 14 per cent in 2000.
Since then it's got even worse.
Our Parliament is scorned.
Our parties are shrinking.
Our membership is ageing.
It's getting harder to find candidates willing to stand in council elections.
As far as the public is concerned, politicians are all the same.
Not because they all say the same thing, but because they all do the same thing.
Let's be clear what they think of us: "you lie and you spin, you fiddle your expenses and you break your promises."
To describe this disengagement and cynicism as a 'mood' is to underestimate both the depth and the intensity of the breakdown in relations between the government and the governed.
To be continued