Monday, 24 October 2011

My idea for the Labour Party - An open letter to the leadership


Thanks for letting me write to you.

I’m going to finish this letter with my IDEA, but you’ll have to read to the end of the letter to find out what it is, because I’m going to start off by first telling you who I am, and why I came by my idea.
It’s a good idea, which could have a galvanising effect on the Labour Party; although I expect that nobody will listen.
Will you even read to the end of the letter?

I am a Branch member of the Labour Party
I am not famous or influential – I have all of 40 followers on twitter. I am Deputy Leader of the local Town Council. I am an active Labour supporter at Branch level.
I wonder if people at your level have ever heard of ‘Branches’. They are meetings of local party members at grassroots membership level. About 15-20 of us attend my local Branch, which makes us relatively successful. Most of us are older (50+) but we are the local campaign workforce which posts your manifestos, knocks doors, fills your envelopes, mans the phonelines etc.

What do we Branch Members Feel about our Labour Party?
Generally, we are really a bit disappointed in you.
It’s not that we don’t SUPPORT Ed Milliband – we’re Labour so we’ll do our bit – but what POLICIES does he have?

Under Tony Blair, we all had a little credit-card sized bit of plastic with ‘5 things Labour was fighting for’. We knew that was what we were campaigning for, and we could leave the plastic card with everyone we talked to.
Nowadays I’d be hard put to tell you a single Labour policy on anything, apart from maybe that it would be exactly the same as the Tories only not as fast.
Which isn’t going to get anyone elected.

And whilst I watch the Labour leadership failing to lead, I cannot help seeing that much of the crusading campaigning against the Tories (which LABOUR ought to be leading) is in fact being organised by different bodies – 38 Degrees, Occupy Wall Street etc. – or arising spontaneously as student marches or mindless rioting.

At my own local level, I have basically been left to my own devices trying to organise campaigns against the Draft Planning Framework, the Renewable Energy Strategy and the Boundaries Commission reorganisation. I would have thought that the Labour Party would surely have been campaigning vigorously against this last measure, which threatens to eliminate it altogether, but, No! The online petition against it only has 400-some signatures, and the messages which seem to be coming out of the Labour leadership are that they would do the same as the Tories, only not quite as brutally.

The Labour Party is Ignoring its Roots
Recently, I read an article on the different coloured books which were being produced in the Labour Party – blue, purple, red.
Apparently, the Labour Party was considering its future direction.

I wish they’d told me when they were doing all this reconsidering.
Apparently, the blue and the purple books were discussed and absorbed without me ever getting to see anything that was in either of them or even know that a discussion was taking place.
I tried to get a bit more involved following the ‘red book’, and even joined their facebook page, but I hadn’t made more than a couple of posts there before I was well and truly blocked and ignored. If there is a discussion of ‘red book’ ideas going on anywhere, it isn’t for the likes of me!

It is symptomatic that, when I wrote to the Labour campaign team asking for the name of the person I should speak to about my idea, I was initially fobbed off and referred to my Regional Office.

Nobody wants to know what we feel at Branch rank-and-file level.
Nobody gives a damn.

A Depressed and Disillusioned Membership
Recently, I was involved CLP membership review, which gave me the opportunity to go round a number of other Branches and talk to the Branch members there – people who were ‘Branch members’ like me.

What struck me most forcefully was the complete lack of involvement they felt.
They felt utterly removed from any decision-making … at CLP level, never mind regional or national level!

Everybody ‘further up’ the food chain cannot wait to slag off the Branches. They are boring. They are moribund. They are consumed with ‘reports’ and trivia…

But when do they ever get asked to do any more?
How do they know what to do more?
Who asked them what they think about the purple book, or the DNPPF, or the EU, or the war in Libya, or the NHS reforms etc.?
Who briefed them so that – if they discussed these things – their discussions and opinions could be informed?
And – most to the point – who gave a damn WHAT they thought?

An Opportunity to Contribute
I suppose there are some members out there who just cannot wait to follow blindly and worship unquestioningly, but we don’t have many of those in my branch.
Most of us got involved in political activism because we cared about what was happening in the world, because we wanted to make a difference, and because we wanted our voice to be heard.

After two decades of New Labour, we are rarely asked for anything other than money. We are not even told what to believe any more – we are just ignored.

And thus we have a Labour leadership which has lost all contact with its rank-and-file membership, and a rank-and-file membership which has lost hope of ever affecting anything meaningful in any meaningful way.

But ‘yous lot up there’ in London – you Labour campaign leaders at national level – could so easily change this around with almost zero cost.
You could so easily create a motivated and enthusiastic grassroots membership which was committed to the Party.
And you could so easily find out what your rank-and-file wanted you to be saying.

My Idea
Here’s the way you do it.

Most branches meet once a month.
So, every month, you publish a consultation paper.
You’d only need a dozen – 10, actually, since many branches don’t meet in August and the December meeting is a Christmas Party – and you’d be providing a discussion topic for every Branch for every meeting.

Topics for that consultation paper might be an aspect of Labour policy, or a topical issue (e.g. the EU referendum), or a government green paper.
YOU know what is coming up in a way that the poor Branch Secretary doesn’t – by the time your average Branch Secretary has found out what is going on, it’s usually done and dusted!
But YOU can get out stuff for discussion which will mean that Branch members will be considering things before they read it in the Guardian!

Of course, you’d have to put out a briefing paper, with some questions for discussion/response
two sides of A4 would be more than enough (one side would be better).
But this would be SO useful for your Branch Secretary, who might be able to do it himself, but probably has a family, a job, Council meetings and a role in some voluntary organisation to cope with as well.

And then you’d need to identify a place to send the responses to – Labour head office, the relevant Secretary of State etc.
So those Branch members can not only have a good discussion about a topic that matters, based on a summary of information which means that their discussions are informed opinion, but they can actually propose a motion, agree a response, and then post it off AND HELP TO CHANGE SOMETHING … which is why they got involved in politics in the first place.

You will not need to spend huge amounts on paper and postage. Most Branch Secretaries will be able to get it by email, but perhaps you could offer a print-and-post service at a cost to Branches who weren’t so digital?

This is not rocket science. All it needs is someone with their ear to the ground in high places, and the ability to knock up a discussion document.
And then you just email it out to all the Branch Secretaries every month for inclusion on their next agenda.
And you give the Branches the opportunity – the challenge – to spearhead a revival of energy at grassroots level.


  1. AT LAST!
    This begins to meet some of the suggestions I made. #feelingsmug
    But why-oh-why:
    1. have you brought out four documents all at once; it will take branches four months to get through them even to the exclusion of all other issues.
    2. have you not set a reply date and provided an address for responses; gives the impression you are not really serious about consultation/people's thoughts.
    3. have you not sent these directly to all branch secretaries with a suggestion that they use them for branch discussion-activities?
    But, nevertheless, this is a GREAT start to a more communicate Party; now we need a steady stream of these on a range of issues - half-a-dozen a year would be great.

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  3. This is revolutionary stuff mate !

    suggesting that ordinary members should have a say in the party, and be heard !

    whatever next !