Much has been said in recent days about the need for Labour to listen, learn and reconnect with the voters. That is admirable, but does anyone know what it means in practice? As elections come and go meanwhile, and as Labour loses ever larger numbers of its traditional supporters, some commentators, and even members of the NEC, have started talking about the Labour brand being in meltdown. In that context, the challenge seems to be not only to figure out how Labour can best listen, but to find a whole new way of getting voters to listen to Labour. Perhaps the time has come to go beyond that too, to ask the voters not only to listen, but also to observe.
Imagine a party that does not just oppose the Tories in parliament but that gets on with building the country we want to see outside parliament as well.
Imagine a party that recruits career mentors and makes them available to young people all over the country, advising them on how to fulfil their dreams and pursue their ambitions. If it is not just what you know, but who you know that counts then let Labour be the party that makes connections for young people, that opens doors and opportunities – not just from the vantage point of government in five years’ time but in communities up and down the country today.
Imagine a ‘Business for Labour’ network that helps take business leaders into schools and colleges to help young people dream bigger dreams, and talk to them about setting up businesses, becoming wealthy and employing others.
Imagine a party that creates an independent education trust to raise money and provide scholarships to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can engage in further education and develop the skills they need to pursue their dreams. Or a ‘Labour Internship Support Network’ that connects people willing to provide free or cheap accommodation to young people so they can take up internships in expensive parts of the country, like London, that would otherwise be beyond them.
Imagine a ‘Labour Bridging the Generations Programme’ that recruits young people to help keep an eye on older citizens who live alone and need help with tasks that some older people find difficult.
Today, the technology is available to facilitate all this relatively cheaply. Through a combination of that technology and the mobilisation of volunteers, Labour could help to coordinate people with skills and time they want to donate and connect them together with those in need. The only thing stopping the party doing it is a lack of imagination about what a political party can and should be in the twenty-first century, over and above being an organisation that seeks to win elections.
If the Labour brand is in meltdown, we need to reinvent what our party is and embed it in our communities, helping to meet unmet need and making lives better in the process. No Labour leader in future should rely only on words to demonstrate to the country who we are and what we believe in because our ambition should be for people to see it in their everyday lives.
Clause IV of our constitution says: ‘By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’. It does not say the only place in which to demonstrate our common endeavour is in government. Winning the power to govern must of course be a central focus for our party because in the right hands government can be an enormous force for good. But between government and individuals there is fraternity and community. Keir Hardie knew that, and lived it.
Inside parliament and government but also outside it, it is time for Labour to listen but also to act. The party can be the change it wants to see in the world. In the process it can grow its membership, not by offering people the chance to deliver leaflets and knock on doors – vital though those activities are – but by asking them to get involved in changing the country street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. By coming together to help each other, Labour can act as the facilitator and coordinator. Sometimes Labour community programmes will provide the missing rung on the ladder of aspiration, sometimes they will be the extra hand of companionship and compassion for those in need.
This extraordinary country is full of people who want things to be better and who are willing to do their bit to help. Labour’s task is to help them do it, to build a better country from the ground up, and to move from brand meltdown to brand renewal in the process.
Photo: Dominic Campbell
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