I was wrong about Labour Live.
If you look back through my social media, you’ll find a bit of snark about Labour’s struggle first to sell tickets and then to pack the venue with free tickets.
I wasn’t wrong because it turned out in the end to be a rip-roaring success. I was wrong because trying something new and failing – especially when it comes to rejuvenating the format of political events intended to involve large numbers of people – is just what we need more of, in politics in general and in the Liberal Democrats.
Trying something new and succeeding is definitely better than trying something new and failing – but you can’t have successful innovation without also sometimes getting the unsuccessful flavour too. Demanding that the only new things done should be those which are definitely going to be successful is a demand for cautious, conservative inertia.
What’s more, if your reaction to any failure is to ridicule, the risk is that you put people off trying out more new things in the future. That’s why, to take a Liberal Democrat example, although my view of the recent Ashdown Prize competition is that it rather reinforces my scepticism of demands that ‘we must be radical!’, I very much prefer the sort of reaction of Caron Lindsay who set out a serious of possible improvement for next time.
I would also add to Caron’s ideas the lessons for (federal) party conference. In one go, I make it, the Ashdown Prize secured as many policy submissions as the last decade or so of federal conferences received all put together. That to me suggests that the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) could most usefully look at the Ashdown Prize not through the guise of ‘see, our policy process is all fine’ but rather through the guise of ‘crikey, there’s a lot of policy interest out there we haven’t yet found a good way to tap’.
Returning to the more general point: there’s a reason why if you search for a phrase such as ’embracing failure’ you’ll find a huge volume of material about how businesses should be willing to try and fail. The principle applies to political parties too.
Especially large-scale events to involve people. Political parties really only have two of these at the moment: mass rallies, which so far only rarely work when you have a leader temporarily fresh and exciting, and political party conferences, whose basic look and structure have been unchanged for decades. A bit more speechifying, a few more videos and a little less suspension of standing orders – a modification of event style away from procedural to showcasing seen in many mass membership voluntary organisations too, such as Amnesty International AGMs.
Is that really all we, in any party, can manage? No, we could and should do better than that. Depending on which political party you’re a fan of, you may well have one or two examples of attempts to do better that have been tried in the last few years.
We need more of them, and more of them to be successful. Which also means we need more failures.
So sorry about my Labour Live snark. It was part of the problem, not the solution.