We need to see civic action at a local level, giving voters practical examples of how Labour would govern
Is there a different way to do Labour Party politics, beyond simply asking people to pay £3 to vote in the occasional selection process?
I have been a member of the Labour Party for 41 years. Labour was like a religion in our household when I was growing up, but the truth is that Labour party membership has barely changed in that time.
You join, get some sort of introductory message then invitations to local meetings which are (mostly) male dominated, can be a bit cliquey and are run according to what appear like arcane procedural rules designed to deter all but the most intrepid.
The only significant difference in my lifetime has been the introduction of digital communication, although, as many commentators in the current leadership election have pointed out, relentless e-mails from candidates, interspersed with requests for money, can become irritating and yield diminishing returns.
Over the years I have remained an active Labour campaigner and sometime attendee at meetings. But I have also realised that I now get more satisfaction from different types of local activism, which I believe communicate and put Labour values into action in a more tangible way.
In my case this has been as a parent, school governor and campaigner, trying to ensure that my local schools remain at the heart of very mixed local communities, that they are responsive, inclusive and provide the best possible education for children from all backgrounds.
Other people I know are involved in tenants’ associations, with their local hospitals or finding new ways of delivering public services with the voluntary sector.
This was why an article by the deputy leadership candidate Stella Creasy caught my eye a few months ago. In it she wrote that the party’s methods of campaigning needed to be thoroughly overhauled so that we don’t appear like an impersonal machine that ‘turns up trying to harvest votes around election time’.
“We all know people in communities who are changing things,” she wrote.
“The issues they care about are issues we care about. Somehow along the way that has become separated from our political process. We wait for them to turn up, and join and then go to a meeting. Rather than waiting for them to come to us, we need to go to them.”
Stella Creasy’s successes with campaigning against payday lending, and ensuring that a prominent woman appeared on the five pound note are well known, but why not use the Labour Party to help many more people become community activists, as she has done in her own constituency, rather than expecting them to be supine recipients of instructions and policy statements from on high?
Why not harness the drive of people who share our values and are already making change in their local communities but may not necessarily feel party membership is for them? The party would benefit from a more diverse supporter base and from hearing new voices. It would also become rooted in different types of civic action at a local level that would give voters real practical examples of how we would govern.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the £3 supporter scheme, we now have a new potential body of enthusiastic activists whose energy and enthusiasm will need to be harnessed fast before it dissipates. Stella Creasy has shown that she can turn the slogans of campaigning into real community action and change. I would like to see her in charge of doing so at a national, not just constituency, level through a new form of politics that she best represents.
Many other MPs like Stella Creasy are engaged in innovative ways of working with their constituents. But we need someone in the party’s leadership who understands how to implement this sort of radical change across the board, from the bottom up, and why it matters.
There are other good reasons to vote for Stella Creasy. We need more women at the top of the party. I would like to see a woman leader and deputy leader. Ending up with a male leader and deputy leader would send a depressing and backward-looking message to the public.
But so too would continuing with the ways of working that have characterised political party membership for too long. Let’s make sure we get a deputy leader with radical ideas, who can use her own experience of grassroots campaigning to re-build our relationship with the public, our members and all our communities in a profoundly different way.
Fiona Millar is a writer and journalist specialising in education and parenting issues
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