Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

To listen is to learn

Labour must be willing to listen to its leaders in local government, writes Jerome Neil ahead of the Governing of Britain conference

A little under two months ago, I won a by-election in my home ward of St Helier in Merton. The by-election had been called in tragic circumstances – the untimely death of a much-loved councillor who had served the ward for nearly two decades – and many of my Labour colleagues in Merton were running on empty after a campaign-heavy month or two in the run-up to the London mayoral poll. Despite that, we secured 71 per cent of the vote – up 13 points from 58 per cent – and secured a 11 per cent swing from the United Kingdom Independence party to Labour, pushing it into third place. We did so by focusing on the issues that mattered to people. That meant listening to them, even when those conversations held uncomfortable truths for our party – and they very often did.

In the days and week since, I have seen first hand the difference that Labour in local government makes. In Merton, we have taken a business-like approach at every turn, freezing council tax for six years running and finding efficiencies where we can that have allowed us to keep Merton’s libraries open. With central government reducing councils’ budgets by millions, Labour administrations in all corners of Britain have been tasked with finding innovative ways of delivering social justice with less money around. And they are doing exactly that.

With Britain’s economic future outside of the European Union looking increasingly uncertain, it is more important than ever before that we learn from these Labour administrations. After the financial crash, some predicted that the British public – motivated by righteous fury at the world’s financial institutions – would shift leftwards. The opposite has happened. Twice now the British public has deemed Labour unfit to govern in austere times. Only Labour’s leaders in local government have bucked that trend – and only Labour’s leaders in local government have the resumé to prove the party is capable of balancing the books.

It is paramount that our party listens to them and learns from their experiences. That is why I am glad that Progress has organised the Governing for Britain conference. For those of us in local government already or for those interested in entering local government, the Governing for Britain conference will provide a unique opportunity to learn from Labour figures with real experience in executive office.

St Helier is by no means a microcosm of Britain but Labour won there – and won big – by being willing to listen and learn. I believe that if a Labour leader is to walk through the doors of Downing Street any time soon, our party must be willing to do the same – and there is no better place to start than with our leaders in local government. I do hope you will join me on Saturday 9 July at the Governing for Britain conference.


Jerome Neil is events officer and editorial assistant at Progress. He is also a Labour councillor in the London borough of Merton He tweets @JeromeNeil


You can buy tickets for the Governing for Britain conference here. Discounted tickets of just £5 are available for sitting councillors and Progress members. Progress members who are also councillors can come for free.

You can see the agenda for the Governing for Britain conference here.



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Jerome Neil

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