Recently I ran Bond’s UK Corridors of Power course. I always enjoy this course as it combines a lot of theory around government and parliament in the UK with meetings with MPs, officials and NGO staff. At the end of the last course, one of the delegates said to me that even with a degree in politics that they had struggled to understand how the British UK system worked and that this practical course had helped.
This comment made me reflect on the importance of political education for campaigners. This is an issue I know that Titus Alexander at Democracy Matters has been pushing for a long time – see http://www.democracymatters.org.uk
Where do campaigners get their knowledge of politics from? In my younger days I was very involved in party politics and learnt a lot by doing roles such as a constituency chair, council candidate and parliamentary candidate. It was a great way to learn about the realities of British politics by actually getting involved myself.
Yet from all of the training that I do across the UK on campaigning, I am struck at the degree of dislocation that there is between NGO people and party political people. Twenty or so years ago there was I think a stronger cross over between NGOs and different parties, which does not seem to be the case so much now.
I sense a great dissatisfaction with party politics. And I can sympathise with this feeling. But if you are not involved where do you get your political education from?
I was hearing about a colleague recently working for an NGO who had been encouraging the NGO to lobby government and parliament on an issue. The response to this pitch was a somewhat frosty – ‘we lobby government…. we don’t lobby parliament.’ I thought this was a great response revealing a lack of knowledge that the UK does not have a rigid separation of powers’ doctrine between the legislature and executive. In the UK government is drawn from parliament. You cannot talk to a government minister without talking to a parliamentarian.
But with the huge array of fascinating political biographies and diaries available, you do not need to engage with party politics, you can read all about it. Just starting with the superb diaries from Chris Mullin should be enough to really get you going.
So as campaigners all of us should be questioning how we are continuing our learning as part of our political education to make us more effective campaigners and to play a vibrant part in our democratic structures.