You don’t have to be in government to be in power

Campaigns can achieve success despite Labour not being in government.

Mike Kane is the acting chief executive of Movement for Change

Over the past decade, a narrative has been developing in the UK that says people are disinterested in politics: they are apathetic; they don’t believe anything works, and they think all politicians are the same.

Though many have talked about the things that need to happen to change this, in many areas there has been a little action. Perhaps implicitly we really thought it was the people’s fault for not caring, rather than politics’ fault for not giving them a reason to care.

But in 2010 on the streets of Walthamstow a campaign – a movement – took its first steps. On those early days on Hoe Street and along Europe’s longest street market, people began to realise something was wrong. Our high streets, once bustling with customers in diverse shops and businesses, were being dotted more and more with high interest payday lenders. Lenders who would entice you into a small loan of around £100, and leave you with crippling four-figure debts before harassing you to pay them off.

It was excessive capitalism – capitalising not on innovation or demand, but on misery and recession. For the years that followed, anger and action on that issue have formed a new narrative about politics.

Stella Creasy was the MP who instigated those early Walthamstow actions. Organised by Movement for Change – where she is vice chair of – the strategic actions began building more and more power. Slowly others were seeing that this problem so often kept under wraps by shame was widespread and growing.

Other campaigns began. In Southampton actions got the local credit union to agree to offer small loans to people on lower incomes for every two savers on higher incomes that were recruited. In Swansea negotiations with the regional newspaper ended in an agreement to advertise fairer forms of credit for free, and negotiations with the council forced them into action.

Meanwhile MPs and Peers, bolstered by being side-by-side with campaigners, kept up the pressure in parliament and the government was forced into its first reaction. They agreed to give the new regulator, the FCA, the power to sanction and regulate payday lenders. It was, however, a power that showed little sign of being used.

Spurred by victories, more power was built and more change won. In Newcastle, as a response to Wonga’s sponsorship of the football club, campaigners got the fanzine to advertise the credit union in its match day edition. In Edinburgh a win ended up with the Scottish government agreeing to issue ‘wealth warnings‘, an idea that came directly from the campaign led by Kezia Dugdale MSP – national chair of Movement for Change – and her Debtbusters campaigners.

At Labour Party Conference, 300 people heard from two young, unemployed single mothers from Swansea. Serai and Trina told those gathered at the Movement for Change action their story of how debt and despair turned to anger and action. They also asked Rachel Reeves to commit Labour to capping the cost of credit should they come to power. It was agreed.

Action on the FCA got the campaigners around the table with the regulator. In the meantime, they even got Ed Miliband to join a credit union and pledge more policy on the issue.

Less than two months later, the government reacted. Cap on the cost of credit is something many campaigners thought was impossible under this government, but it is often the case that we do not realise how powerful we are.

This was a victory for the Labour movement. Organised by Movement for Change, this campaign was led by people across the country who showed that we can be a living, breathing movement if we want to be. People who have never voted before, have led this campaign. They were the characters of the apathy narrative.

Now they are the ones who made the government react and they’ll keep going, fighting to end harassment from money lenders, and fighting for fair credit across the UK.

This campaign is made up of people affected by an issue who took action, by Labour activists who took action alongside them and by parliamentarians who did exactly the thing that the first ever Labour MPs were elected to do. It is the Labour movement in action; agitated about injustice, organised in communities, acting for change.

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