A Monologue on Labour’s Dialogue Rewards

O rose thou art sick...

JVL Introduction

You couldn’t make it up!

We used to be politically active out of conviction. No need any more!

A simple incentive scheme will do the trick.

Why have an alternative vision of the future when a chat with Angela or Keir will set you up for the duration?

This article was originally published by All That Is Solid ... on Tue 22 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

A Monologue on Labour's Dialogue Rewards

Even the dogs in the street have seen Labour’s ‘Dialogue Rewards’ scheme by now, but I reproduce it here for the most sought-after commodity in the attention economy: opinionated commentary:

This has upset a few Labour people, and quite understandably. This is right up there with the blessed EdStone. This is what I’d expect from the galaxy brain genius of David Evans, an apparatchik who put in the hard yards during the Blair years. First is the crass assumption that competition is the best motivator, straight out from the New Labour public sector reform school of thought. Dangle some juicy carrots in front of the membership’s noses and they’ll be “incentivised” to hit the phones and rack up the voter ID. The second, which is a bit of a self-own if we’re honest, is the idea the troops can only be rallied this way. I know Keir Starmer is yet to unveil his exciting vision for the future and so we’re left with reading the tea leaves. Yet offering members the most gaudy of baubles suggests one might have difficulty supplying the necessary enthusiasm by conventional means. Say what you like about Jeremy Corbyn and his policies, there were plenty of hands when they were needed on deck. And they didn’t need a phone call from Barry Gardinder to motivate them.

Anyone with a passing aquaintance with rational choice-influenced approaches to parties and social movements knows would spot the similarities between it and the assumptions informing this scheme: people get involved in politics because it appeals to their interests. Typically conceptualised in utilitarian/economist terms, variations on rational choice have emphasised the particular benefits accruing to one as an activist above and beyond saving the library from closure, or getting the boss to backdown on compulsory unpaid overtime. For some it’s a sense of purpose, of belonging to something bigger than them. Others might be motivated by office-seeking behaviour, be it standing as a candidate or graduating to a position of leadership and/or trust in a movement. Either way, all voluntary political organisations beat out pathways for advancement, introduce internal stakes and, dare I say it, their own forms of cultural capital. For example, in Labour being known as a “campaigner” (of the conventional kind), having the ear of influential people, being a source of gossip, knowing how to produce leaflets, and factional affiliations are all markers of one’s position in the local pecking order. Accumulating standing, if this is what a particular member wants, is fairly easy provided they have the time to invest and a modicum of cunning.

The production of this circular shows the top brass know this about their party. After all, if any lesson has been drawn from the Corbyn years it’s how the threat to seats, career aspirations, and lay officer positions at constituency level held the Labour right together and gave them the cohesion no amount of Fabian pamphlets or Tom Watson diet books could. And, in the interests of accuracy, this circular is only putting into print what has been going on in the party since its inception. Think about the Christmas fundraisers with “celebrity guests” (ah, those heady Stoke dinners with Alastair Campbell, Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson, Mike Cashman), or special events with the stars (curries with Caroline Flint and Stella Creasy, Labour First meals with a Rachel Reeves stand-up routine), you get the overall picture. I remember not long after joining how miffed locals were because Roy Hattersley failed to show for a scheduled nosh. For some, party membership means special access or, for most, the illusion of special access. Likewise, regional offices have long operated schemes where councillors or MPs meeting their contact rate targets (or exceeding them by a certain margin) would receive extra literature or a centrally-paid mail shot. Not something volunteers are going to give much of a fig about as free literature means more trudging around, but enough for politicians ever eager to keep a high profile. This was also useful from the standpoint of the party machine. Voter ID/pieces delivered are fine and dandy, but who meets targets and who doesn’t helps the local regional office and constituency offices, where they exist, sort between “their people” and the wastrels. It’s a yardstick for determining who’s clubbable and dependable and, mostly, who’ll do as they’re told in that particular patch.

In other words, the appearance of our “reward scheme” is a symptom of an unwelcome return. The old bureaucratic culture of manipulation and distrust is not just on its way back, it’s getting pushed right from the top. Perhaps something worth getting awkward about if anyone reading this is invited to the thankyou Zoom event with Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner.

Comments (4)

  • dave says:

    Easy to fix:

    1st place: No call from Keir Starmer
    2nd place: One call from Keir Starmer
    3rd place: Two calls from Keir Starmer

  • goldbach says:

    But surely the greatest prize can be won by the least effort.
    Make zero calls and you are guaranteed not to get even a telephone call from Starmer or Rayner.

  • Paul says:

    Wrong analysis. I’m going to join the Party and make those 3000 calls because it will be the only opportunity I’d ever get to tell Angela Rayner exactly how much I appreciate her. And her wonderful ‘thousands and thousands more’ speech to JLM.

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    They seem to forget that we have free will, and cannot be forced to do anything we do not want to do or do not feel comfortable doing, ie acting against our values and principles. And in my view this whole ‘incentive scheme’ is just soooo cringeworthy. I’ll be giving that a miss.

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