By Jay Stoll, Public Affairs Director for the London Jewish Forum
As the Public Affairs Director for the London Jewish Forum, I work to provide the platform for the Capital’s Jewish community to engage with the politicians and political issues of their preference.
Whether through over-subscribed election hustings, or through discussion groups with MPs in Westminster, it is clear to me that the cliché of our community having several opinions per person holds firm.
Yet, a major point of confusion arises when attendees explain that they are not members of a political party. In the aftermath of what could be the most significant general election in a generation, I hope to explain why this is a nonsensical position to take, and that members of the community should be joining a party – any party – as soon as possible.
To begin with a very simple reality: policies are formulated by the parties, so if you want to influence those decisions, becoming a member is the best way to do so.
Of course, policies are created in exclusive settings such as a Cabinet Meeting, but as a member you quickly learn of the ample opportunities for input at events such as Party Conferences and various other policy fora.
It soon becomes apparent that the purpose of activists knocking on your door is not to adopt policy concerns you may have, but to secure your vote based on preordained conclusions.
They’re pitching as any other salesman would, with the product being their party manifesto for which they want your buy-in.
Similar to a Shabbat meal at your grandparents, this process is no ‘pick and mix’. You will have to swallow all four courses, in this case a starter of promises with a side of statistics, whether they are to your taste or not. Only through engaging with the formulation of this glossy document, ergo by becoming a party member, can one have a real say.
So that’s the practical purpose of joining, but what about on an individual level?
It is possible to see the benefits of joining a political party through a shopping list of qualities the process can provide, regardless of what stage of your life you may be at.
I know of many people that give more outspoken contemporaries a thorough schooling on current affairs, but they are incredibly shy public speakers. Party membership can change that. I know many people my own age who believe their interests, ranging from transport to pensions, are too niche to be aired even amongst friends.
Party membership can change that. I certainly know of people belonging to the marginalised groups of society, such as in minority ethnic, LGBT, disabled, and women’s groups, who feel there are no genuine spaces to discuss their concerns in the community. Party membership can change that.
You will hear politicians churning out the phrase ‘every day, common, working people’, as if they are perpetually stuck in a mid-90s Pulp record. Focus grouping and polling has become a substitute for genuine engagement, yet the expense poured into this activity shows how party leaders recognise that the public has major sway in plans they wish to impose.
Politicians are literally desperate for you to get involved.
Of course, we have schools, synagogues and community centres to have the kinds of discussions that are inherently political, and long may those institutions prosper.
However, it is only by joining a political party – any political party – that will cause those governing us to really heed our voice.
I could go on for pages talking about the benefits of party membership in actualising the principles we hold dearest, both as a collective and as individuals, but I wish to finish with an apt metaphor from Parliament itself.
If MPs speak out of turn, especially from a sedentary (seated) position, they are given short shrift by the Speaker of the House. They will be told off for unparliamentary (naughty) behaviour and are unlikely to be picked to speak again in the same debate. This largely reflects the experience of the non-party member of the public. You may be audible, but unless you stand up and engage properly, you aren’t being listened to.
Join a political party, any political party, today.