One of the most significant initiatives to come out of the leadership campaign was David Miliband’s Movement for Change, which Ed has now agreed to take forward.
As many people know, the Movement for Change is based on the community organising model of Saul Alinsky, which in recent years has been made famous by Barack Obama. So what is community organising and how can it benefit the Labour party?
Modern community organising began in the US in the 1930s when Saul Alinsky, who is regarded as the founder of the movement, began working with the impoverished Back of the Yards neighbourhood in Chicago. After a hugely successful career, Alinsky went on to write Rules for Radicals, his cornerstone work which set out his theory and methods of organising, and drew largely on his own experiences. Alinsky’s work had a profound impact on the young Barack Obama, who spent three years as an organiser after graduating from Harvard.
Community organising was brought to the UK by Neal Jameson, founder of the influential Citizens UK, which helps communities across Britain to organise. The success of Citizens UK, most recently in helping to implement the living wage campaign, was one of the reasons David Miliband decided to dedicate a significant part of his leadership campaign to community organising.
David realised that the principles of community organising could be utilised to renew and invigorate the Labour movement. Indeed, many of the ideologies behind community organising are rooted in the history of the Labour Party, which shares a common ancestry. Labour’s first leader, Keir Hardie, recognised that the party should be a party for social change rooted in communities, and that only by bringing together like-minded individuals and organisations could it bring about positive change.
Despite the success of the Movement for Change, it is clear that there remains a degree of confusion around community organising and how it can benefit the Labour party. Therefore, educating the party is going to be a crucial step in both highlighting the merits of organising, as well as dispelling the myths and cynicism.
So how does it differ from ordinary campaigning? Campaigning is a fundamental part of politics, but community organising takes the level of engagement and accountability to a new level. Significantly, it is premised on building long-term relationships that transcend the normal constituency formula of canvassing and case studies. And in the long term, these relationships result in community leaders being developed that are able to hold politicians and institutions to account to enable change in their communities.
Dr Luke Bretherton, a lecturer at King’s College London, recently gave the following description of community organising:
‘…Yet what community organising shares with the roots of the labour movement is a commitment to the need to form a common life around shared values and the prioritising of social relationships rather than an emphasis on economic or political ones to the exclusion of all else. In short, the market and the state have a place, but they must know their place. Hence one of the key rules of community organising: people come before programme. And if you want to find out what people really value and build relationship with them, you have to listen first. Before you can work out what to do together and how to act together, you have to take time to hear their stories to discover their values and what motivates them.’
It’s this level of engagement that has seen 1,200 community leaders trained up around the UK as a result of the Movement for Change, a move that will provide a bedrock of broad-base support that the party will reap the rewards of at the next election.
In my community in Enfield alone, the Movement for Change has helped me to tackle housing security on one of the most deprived estates in the borough. But, more importantly, the movement has given the Labour party representation in a Conservative constituency and council ward.
And around the UK it will be this level of action and engagement that will help the Labour party recruit new members, reconnect with the grassroots and appeal to voters in the key battlegrounds which will take the fight to the coalition.
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