It's a matter of weeks until a knife-edge General Election. Everyone in the Labour Party is focussed on the imminent task of defeating a right-wing Tory opposition.
Imagine you are Gavin Hayes, self-styled "General Secretary" of soft left faction Compass. You control a remarkable political asset, an email mailing list that you claim has 40,000 people on it. What to do at this critical political juncture?
a) have a chat with Labour Gen Sec Ray Collins about how you can help, then email the 40,000 people on your list urging them to join Labour if they are not members, to donate to Labour's campaign, and giving them contact details of marginal Labour seats so they can get out and campaign for a Labour victory?
or do you
b) act as though the General Election is someone else's problem, and instead email the 40,000 people on your list with a 29 question survey about internal reforms of Labour's structures, including such bright ideas as mandatory reselection of MPs (copyright Tony Benn, 1980), forcing Labour's leader to face annual re-election, smashing the union link by electing the leader in a primary, and refocusing Labour away from being a "political machine for elections" (elections, power, actually doing things for people, how dull!) and turning it into a cross between a debating society and a student union campaign committee? Oops sorry I forgot, another burning question asked by Compass is whether the Chair of Young Labour should be a "full-time sabbatical Support Officer". Voters talk of little else when I canvass them.
Guess which one Gav did: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/10/compass-rebuilding-labour-questionnaire. That was a tough one to predict wasn't it.
Aside from being possibly the dumbest timed initiative ever, even by Compass standards, and a grotesque distraction from the task in hand, the document must have been written by someone with no personal interaction with Labour's local structures. It says "Labour could learn a lot from the way London Citizens allow their key activists in a local area to democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities". Ahem. Labour's key activists in a local area do democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities at things called branches, CLP general committees, and local government committees. Dear Compass, please try removing yourselves from the Westminster think-tank bubble and getting involved in your local Labour Party, campaigning for a Labour victory or running for local public office. You might learn a bit about why a "political machine for elections" is essential for the emancipation and betterment of the working class, about what ordinary voters actually think of the Guardianista policy pap you peddle, and about the reality of taking political decisions in the teeth of a recession.