Labour is at its best when it is part of a broad-based, active and inclusive social movement. Yet each of us who have joined has a story about what happened the first time we went to a meeting that would make anyone wonder why we bothered. Most involve drowning in standing order questions and jargon, or, worse, being made an officer and delegate overnight.
Much is going to be made in the months ahead during the leadership debate about those at the top of the party – but for many people their first experience of Labour is the person who tells them when and where the next GC is. As this election proceeds, we must grab this opportunity for a proper debate not just about Westminster but also in our branches and constituency Labour parties and with the public about why we lost, what we need to do to win and who we want to lead us forward. And we must grab this opportunity to involve as many people as possible in it. To ask not will you come to one of our meetings, but how do we have a meeting of the minds about Britain’s future.
There was a lot of talk about the relaunched registered supporters scheme when it came out of the Refounding Labour process, but in truth there has not been a rush of people flocking to sign up. This may in part be due to the promotion of the scheme. Most local parties have understandably been focused on the elections. Centrally, few materials were provided to assist activists in signing people up. Yet this does not mean that the premise of the scheme is not worth pursuing – of how we can encourage this first spark in someone for social justice. The election of a leader and deputy leader offers a great way to do this if we are prepared to help our activists and members in using schemes such as this to open up discussion about the future of the Labour movement.
That is why, tempting though it may seem, we should embrace this opportunity to focus the debate beyond the party and not sit talking to ourselves in draughty rooms at the back of the local Labour club or even internal Facebook groups. Alternatively, if we spent the next four months going out and talking to those who voted for us, and those who did not, to find out why and what they need from Labour and encouraging them to sign up as supporters to help make that decision, we could recruit tens or even hundreds of thousands of people to help shape the future of our party.
Such a process of engagement has to come from the grassroots up – each of us taking on the task of reaching out to those we met along the way who shared our vision of a better Britain even if they did not share our membership card. Rather than waiting for the next GC, let’s encourage the thousands of volunteers now sat at home feeling depressed and let’s extend the contracts of organisers and mobilisation assistants currently updating their CVs so that we can do this properly. Indeed, while we are at it, we could also use this same drive to encourage the public to register to vote given the huge drop off in enrolment after the disastrous individual voter registration programme.
Such a drive to give a voice and a vote to the grassroots could also be used to renew the strength of Labour’s relationship with trade unionists. Just as the registered supporters scheme would allow the public to have their say, so too can signing up political levy-payers as registered supporters.
With a bit of effort on the part of our amazing volunteers, backed up by proper resourcing and support from the party, we could turn what could otherwise be a summer of rancorous internal navel-gazing into a positive, open and forward-looking drive to get more people from across our country involved in a debate about the future of our party and bring in hundreds of thousands more people to make us a genuine movement.
The appetite is surely there – 30,000 people have actually joined the party in the last week alone without any drive to do this on our part. We need to seize this opportunity while we have it. We hope leadership contenders will agree and the whole party will rise to the challenge.
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