In the last few weeks many of those I work and campaign alongside have joined the Labour Party. So for readers who aren’t members of the Labour Party (or interested in party politics), please forgive me as I go ‘off topic’.
For those who have joined. Welcome.
I’m glad to be on the same team as you. I hope these notes will be of use, because I was like you just 7 years ago and have had the most amazing time being involved over the last few years. Like you want to see a Labour Government in 2020 because I believe we achieve more in power in one day than we do in a 100 days in opposition.
1 – Remember we are one party – You won’t agree with everything that everybody says all the time, and not everyone voted for Jeremy Corbyn (I didn’t but that doesn’t meant we can’t be friends!). But 99% of people I’ve met within the Party are members for the right reasons (and many of them are still exhausted from an General Election campaign followed by the Leadership election). Like you they have a passion for social justice and a fairer world. More unites us than divides us. So look for the good in everyone you meet.
2 – Get involved now – Don’t leave it until 2019. The media are looking for a story about how Labour is unelectable and the 2016 elections in London, Scotland and in councils across the country will be the first time they get to write that story. It’s easy to join interest groups within the Labour Party, known as Socialist Societies. They can be great ways to meet people who share your interest, but please get involved in your local Constituency Labour Party (CLP) as well.
Bring your skills, energy and experience as a campaigner and get stuck in. I can’t promise that it’ll always be easy, but CLPs are the basic organising unit for Labour and they need people like you in them. It’ll also help you get to know your community, its only through my involvement in Tooting Labour that I’ve had the pleasure to make friends from across my community.
3 – Knock on some doors – Firstly it’ll make you a better campaigner, but it’s also the most effective way we have as a party of getting out . The person who’s taught me the most in the Labour Party has a phrase that is so true ‘friends do things for friends’ and talking to people all year round is a way of doing this.
Sure we need to change the way we run our canvassing, engage in more of a conversations, find ways of empowering local people to take action so we’re doing it with people rather than for them, but disappearing from our communities won’t help people think that the Labour Party is a ‘friend’.
4 – Find the people who inspire you – Some of the people you’re going to meet in your local party aren’t going to be the people you’ll want to bound down to the pub with, but at meetings and events you’re bound to spot people who interest (and perhaps even inspire) you.
Get to know them, as my guess is that they’re the type of person who’ll want to change things, but perhaps because they’re now a Councillor or a CLP Officer they don’t have the time or energy to do that (I remember bounding into my local party in 2010 full of ideas but if I’m honest by 2015 I’d run out of some of that energy to get things done as the pressures of life and helping keeping my local party going got to me). Get to know them, ask them how you can help to change the culture of your CLP, make plans, share ideas, work together. These people want to pass the baton onto you.
5 – Stand for office – Within the next 12 months each CLP will hold elections for its officers – the volunteers who make things happen. Consider standing for office to bring your skills and ideas to help run your local party. If you want to really change things this can be a great place to do it, and if you are successful get to know others in the same position in other constituencies to share ideas.
6 – Change the ways meetings happen – There are some cliches about parts of Labour Party meetings which are fair, but you can help to change the way meetings are held.
Suggest changes to the venue to make it more welcoming, think about the set up – do you have to sit in rows, change the agenda – we used to have the speaker/policy discussion first followed by the business later – it’s amazing how many people don’t complain about the minutes of the last meeting when they want to get home at 9.30pm! Ensure that you find ways for more people, find speakers who’ll be interesting, helping to facilitate discussions in small groups, etc, etc.
Every time you walk away from a meeting because you found it dull those who are happy with the status quo win! Don’t just complain, go with suggestions to change things.
7 – Help outside of London – Historically local parties in London and a few other large cities have been much bigger than in many other areas of the country, so if you’re interested in helping the party win in 2016, go on a road trip to help the party in those marginal seats in the Midlands, Kent, and beyond we need to win in 2020 to form a government.
8 – Believe we can win everywhere – I grew up in Surrey Heath, its an area unlikely to elect a Labour MP anytime soon, but there is a ward that does have 2 Labour Councillors. If you’re in a safe Conservative seat ask around to understand if there are similar wards we used to be active in, and if there are think about getting involved. In the 1990s, the party ran a brilliant programme called ‘Operation Toehold’ which helped the party to start winning in seats that they eventually took in 1997. We need the same now, to show that Labour can win up and down the country.
9 – Get to know your organiser – As my local MP never tires of reminding our meetings, we’re a volunteer party, we don’t have lots of paid campaigners, and most Councillors and Officer do this alongside the ‘day job’, but many CLPs do employee an organiser. They’re often brilliant young campaigners, who are asked to work miracles week-in, week-out for little pay. Get to know your organiser, offer to share your campaigning advice, encourage them, and ask how you can help.
10 – Always have some loose change in your pocket – You’ll soon find that the Labour Party loves a good raffle. It’s because most local parties don’t have huge reserves, so every opportunity to raise a few pounds will help to fund the next newsletter or the organisers salary.
PS – Get in touch if I can help offer any advice. Together we’ll win again.