Party politics

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Gary Younge writes about Barack Obama's historic victory (Socialist Review, December 2008). I believe it was a report by him in the Guardian that noted that, in the "open caucus" version of Democratic "Party" primaries, Republicans could participate.

Not only do nebulous platforms replace the admittedly vague British manifestos in US politics, but balloon-fest congresses replace European-style party conferences.

There are nearly 50 million Americans who have no health facilities other than charity - no wonder the more progressive of the 56 US unions are perennially seeking to create their own version of the (theoretically) collegiate Labour Party. In Britain 15 TUC trade unions still remain in affiliation with Labour. John McDonnell chairs a dozen British unions' parliamentary lobbies and there are some 500 MPs and peers who have been, or are currently, union members. Yet even this has been incapable of forcing the repeal of Thatcherite anti-union legislation.

One major population segment not organised in Labour Party affiliation is the pensioners. James Purnell, when appointing ex CBI chief Lord Turner to chair the 2006 Pension Commission, explained the absence of any National Pensioners' Convention panel members (the NPC is the largest, most democratic and most representative campaigning pensioners' body, I believe) in terms of wanting to "see consensus emerge, not a rehearsal of interest-groups' arguments".

Now Gordon Brown has appointed Joan Bakewell as the "pensioners' voice". How patronising! It reveals that the Labour leadership fears the organisation and experience of campaigning pensioners' bodies and the fact that they are (gradually) focusing on a common programme.

D Shepherd