Battles rage all around us in political parties, in councils, in Trade Unions and special interest groups. Often, the passion of the battle is a membership infuriated by the discovery that the organisation that holds their loyalty is acting against their beliefs.
What’s really strange is that those organisations are generally acting according to democratically arrived at policies. One of the things that made the last General Election unusually lively was that the Labour Manifesto was not the result of hundreds of motions on everything under the sun. Of course those motions played a part, but the main force of the manifesto came from notes taken at discussion events and policy forums.
In other words, it really was put together by the many. With a few glaring exceptions caused by the short-notice election (the equalities section, for example, which many women believe disadvantages them, was hastily shovelled in by the NEC*) – with those few glaring exceptions, that manifesto was truly stuffed with what people know they want, and say they want, when asked.
By contrast, I’ve watched some very odd motions passed, both in the party I am a member of, and in my trades union – and the strangest idea has filtered into my mind along the way. Words spoken by people we know carry far, far more weight than words written in (often cack-handed attempts at) formal style. Sometimes, spoken words eclipse the written and quietly turn them on their heads.
To parody what I’m seeing, imagine you want to pass a motion outlawing raspberry jam. You’d put that line in the middle of a stuffed-shirt paragraph with lots of references and source material, then you’d stand up and speak to your motion, extolling the wonders of strawberry jam – with scones and cream for example, on a summer’s afternoon by the river.
Most of us would have glanced at the motion when the agenda and docs for the meeting arrived in our email boxes. Most of us would really enjoy the speech about summer and rivers and cream teas, and cheerfully vote through the motion.
And then we’d be really cross the next time we attempted to buy a jar of raspberry jam and got told we couldn’t have it.
So please read motions carefully before going to meetings, look at any sources, and if there’s anything there you don’t understand, or that you think might have unintended (or sneakily intended) consequences, ask around, do some research, and at the meeting, stick your hand up and say “but what about…” – it could save a heck of a lot of grief later on.
*That is, Labour’s National Executive and related committees, who built the equalities section from the recommendations in the 2015 Women and Equalities Select Committee enquiry – the one that didn’t take evidence from any women and was heavily influenced by Stonewall policy.