Labour’s ‘mass membership’ must be more than a shield for Jeremy Corbyn to hide behind when criticised, writes Progress strategy board member Sheila Gilmore
Dissension in the Labour party is often portrayed as ‘members v the parliamentary Labour party’.
However ‘the members’ are by no means all of one view. There is a real and deep despair among many party members about the current leadership and the party’s performance. Here in Scotland we have all-out council elections in May. One keen new candidate phoned members, who had previously volunteered regularly, to offer to drop off leaflets for delivery. She was dismayed to find herself having to spend time persuading them to stay with the party, let alone be active. Out doorknocking we always make a special point of trying to touch base with members, and encourage them to get a bit more involved. In recent sessions we have spoken to several members who say they are only just ‘hanging on in’ by a thread. In a strongly Remain membership, the failure of the leadership to take a strong line during the European Union referendum and its aftermath has been one factor. We are seeing a number of resignations specifically stated to be ‘because of Jeremy Corbyn’.
We are also encountering members who appear to have little intention of voting for us, let alone getting more involved. We have an STV system for our council elections, but it is more than a bit disconcerting to have someone listed as a member saying they are going to first preference the Greens and second preference the Scottish National party and not vote Labour at all. Another couple of members said they were definitely voting Green and ‘might’ give us a second vote, but were perfectly open that they had only joined to vote for Corbyn. This is just in the last two weeks. It is frustrating for those who are out talking to voters, trying to persuade them to vote for us in a period where it is very hard for us in Scottish politics, to feel that those casual ‘joiners’ who are not even planning to vote for the party let alone work for us, had as much say in the leadership election as they did. This is not a recipe for a motivated membership. Closing our eyes to this is not helping.
As a constituency Labour party we keep all members informed (to the degree that some people complain of email fatigue)’ , we hold social events knowing that ‘meetings’ can be daunting if you have not been before, we have members phoning other members to talk about what we can do together. I know very well that there has never been a time when more than a small proportion of those joining the party got involved in meetings and campaigns. But the proportion getting involved seems to shrink as the overall membership rises.
Corbyn uses the ‘mass membership’ as a shield when criticised. Jeremy – please can you motivate this mass membership to help us reach out to those who will be voting in May and help us win their support. If we do not win council seats and end up in opposition everywhere we will not be able to protect the services which are of the greatest importance to the least well off members of society.
Sheila Gilmore is a member of the Progress strategy board. She tweets @SheilaGilmore49
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