On a campaign footing

Ian Lavery MP

The general election of June 2017 marked a turning point in British politics and saw one of the most dramatic results in electoral history. The Labour party defied all expectations increasing our share of the vote on the previous election by the biggest percentage since the 1945 landslide under Clement Attlee.

Only a month earlier the Conservative party had been riding high in the opinion polls, with leads of 20 points not uncommon and we saw this translate into scores of new council seats across the country. June’s election, according to almost all political pundits, was going to be extremely tough for Labour. Indeed, many expected seats with Labour majorities of up to 10,000 to go blue.

The turnaround was unprecedented and only a Scottish revival for the Tories saw them turn a potentially cataclysmic evening into a disastrous one. In England, Labour lost six seats to the Conservatives but gained a further twenty eight from them, also taking two seats from the Lib Dems. In Scotland, Labour gained six seats from the SNP, which only two years ago would have been an almost impossible thought. Perhaps most importantly, with Tory majorities slashed right across the country, Labour now has a path to victory whenever the next election is called.

There are many theories as to why the general election panned out the way it did, many of which have merit. There is no doubt, however, that following two years of squabbling over its future direction, the party unified behind a radical and realistic manifesto, and the election result was shaped by the ever-growing popularity of Jeremy Corbyn among a widening constituency of people.

The election result shattered a long established order in politics and showed that millions of people in Britain will not only vote for a vision of hope for the future but are inspired by politics as a route to changing their lives in a way not seen for a generation.

The message of hope embodied by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has inspired people not only to get out and vote for, but to join the Labour party.

Our membership grows on a daily basis, now making us the biggest left of centre political party in Europe and a model for those on the continent to follow. Whilst dwarfing the membership of Conservative party is both a psychological and financial boost, we now have the opportunity to harness the talents and passion of our members in a coordinated way that will mean the party’s recent success is only the beginning. We must harness the energy, aims and aspirations of our communities, the trade union movement and most importantly our members. Investing in the training of community activists and candidates up and down the country will bring untold rewards politically for Labour.

In order to project our values into the daily lives of every village, town and city across our country we need to unlock the talents of our burgeoning membership, creating a movement for a fairer society. Doing so will give Labour the platform to build and strengthen links across communities both in areas the party has traditionally had strength, but – importantly – also in those where we have not.

Putting the party on a permanent campaign footing is a welcome first step in ensuring we continue to engage members in getting out a Labour message of fairness and equality.

Community organising has long been recognised as a hugely important facet of Labour’s future as a major electoral force. We must aim to have a community organiser in every constituency, tasked with developing and strengthening links between local parties, their members, trade unions and their communities. This is a hugely ambitious feat but one that will be key to the future development of our membership in becoming a movement that can positively affect change in their communities.

Labour will always be primarily a political party which aims to achieve change through electing candidates at all levels. But on occasion the necessity of electoral campaigning has seen us in competition with our own community organising activities. The needs of our local communities always need to take precedent and both strains of campaigning need to be mutually beneficial to end the issue of short-term gains being wiped out in the next electoral cycle.

There should be no conflict between these two strands of campaigning but to make a success of it will require careful coordination and nurturing. The job of community organisers will be to tie together these strands of campaigning and to further empower members to drive positive change in their communities.

Labour’s membership has always been our greatest asset. Following the exponential growth our membership over the past few years we need to ensure that our training and development of campaigners and candidates can keep pace, reaching as many members as possible. Delivering an army of community organisers could be a game changer, delivering Labour the mandate to shape Britain’s future.

1 comment:

  1. David Beere

    We await real evidence that an increased membership had much of an influence on the result. LP membership in the late forties and fifties was higher than now,even allowing for a minimum no pr CLP.It was also pretty high before 1997.Unless I am much mistaken 90% of members are still completely inactive.It is quite true that a lot of people came out on the day to help but it is canvassing and so on year in and year out that helps. It was also the case that there were enormous swings in seats with precious little organisation or activity.

    It would be fascinating to know where the increase in membership has been ,by CLP , and to see if there was any correlation between that and electoral success.I don’t think the LP publishes CLP memberships any more-although it used to ,years ago, in its annual reports.

    I have heard of CLPs in rank tory seats where the membership has tripled but this will not change the outcome in such seats.I have also heard of membership not going up on white working class Leave territory .But this is just based on a few anecdotes from friends.

    It is quite ‘traditional’ for some senior figures in the party to say that the membership has been the party’s greatest asset or words to that effect. I am afraid flattery does get some unscrupulous people somewhere. But it doesn’t con me and many other long time members ,In gloomy moments I sometimes wonder if I have been mad to have been a member for 48 years under 8 leaders, through 10 general elections a and having voted for Labour 83 times at various elections. Such loyalty is not rewarded and it is patently obvious that in some places at least loyal members have been defenestrated.

    The fact of the matter is that Labour had swings of 7% in seats with Remain votes of 55%. This tended to be in the south or London , not in the post -industrial towns . It was asserted that the ‘kinder gentler’ politics would attract those who do not normally vote. Sadly the increased turnout in the Referendum produced the
    Leave result. This ,put to put it mildly , does not fit with the pseudo Marxist rhetoric beloved of some. Society is changes. Class always matters but the classes are different .

    ‘Community organisers’ is phrase that means almost nothing to me .Mr Lavery’s contribution could have been written by almost anybody. Training ‘community activists’ sounds distinctly bizarre. I I cannot see that thousands of LP Members and councillors needed to be trained over the last 117 years.

    It is clearly the case that many more young people, registered and this clearly helped in ,e.g.Canterbury .

    But that didn’t need community activism.

    I have a horrible feeling I know what Mr Lavery means by Community Organisers but a Fabian blog is certainly not the place to reveal my suspicions. But ,as it stands, Mr Lavery’s proposals are very vague and I fear scepticism is in order.

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