A Local Action Network for community organisers

Political reform is about more than constitutional change, argues Liam Byrne MP. It also means street by street community organising.

Our guest writer is Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hodge Hill

There’s been a lot of debate in the Labour movement about political reform. A new House of Lords; a referendum on AV; votes at 16. All this is good, but I think we need to go further still. In short, we need to transform the Labour Party into an organization which brings about social change as well as political change.

This isn’t just about more local organizing – though that will remain an invaluable part of who we are and what we do. We need to recognise that in every community, we can do much more to help, guide and work alongside those community activists who are changing Britain street by street, not waiting for politicians to do it law by law. As Labour members and activists, we share the values of these people – social entrepreneurs, community organizers, neighbourhood activists. And it’s time we did more to help them bring about the changes they want to see on their own doorsteps.

As I’ve discussed this argument with activists up and down the country, I couldn’t but be struck by the echoes with Labour’s past. I mean the distant past. Before we were born as a political party, we started the movement of mutual help, self-organisation, getting things done for ourselves. I believe this is happening all over again in modern Britain. It’s time for Labour to lead this movement once more. That’s why some of us have got together to launch a new centre for social action for progressives – which we’re calling Local Action Network. Our aim is to get local Labour parties working much more closely with local activists and community organisers, sharing our know-how, connections, contacts and experience to help them to go further and faster in bringing change to their communities.

It’s a model we’ve tried in Hodge Hill. Not only have we seen results on the ground, we’ve also drawn a whole new section of activists into the Labour Party, bringing us closer to the community and helping us to serve them better. We’re setting the bar pretty high. But there’s a hell of a prize to win – nothing less than transformation of the Labour Party, into an organisation which helps to deliver change on the ground in every community throughout the land.

So I’m especially pleased that some excellent people have agreed to advise us – John Prescott MP; the PPC for Bethnal Green & Bow Rushanara Ali; Alun Michael MP; and Will Straw of this parish. We’ll be announcing others, from the world of social enterprise, soon.

And we want your input too. Log-on to www.localactionnetwork.co.uk to share your thoughts, hopes and ideas.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

3 Responses to “A Local Action Network for community organisers”

  1. El Sid

    OK, Liam – you want to encourage local groups to do things that benefit the community? How about looking at the mechanisms for paying recycling disposal credits? At present they’re voluntary, and a pioneering local recycling group is threatened with closure because a Kent council is refusing to pay £53.80/tonne for recycling, but would rather send waste to an incinerator at >£70/tonne. Bonkers.

    If anyone wants to pick up on this, the group is called Wyecycle, who have been recycling waste in the Kent village of Wye since 1989. They’ve carried out a lot of the original research on which UK recycling collections are now based, and to this day collect things like kitchen waste, green waste, paint and small electricals which are not collected elsewhere in the borough of Ashford. Not surprisingly Wye has the highest rate of recycling in the borough (and at one time, at least, in the whole of the UK); if Wyecycle folds then the borough will not collect any recycling in the village and everything will be incinerated. The suspicion is that the council are struggling to meet their minimum volumes at the incinerator, so they have a strong economic incentive to burn waste rather than recycle it and Wyecycle are being hung out to dry as a result. This should be a national scandal.

  2. Oli de Botton

    RT @leftfootfwd: A Local Action Network for community organisers http://bit.ly/96qsIM

  3. rayhan haque

    A powerful vision of activism Liam, and one I wholly support. I just have two quick questions:

    1. In what ways, if any, do you envisage the Labour party having to change institutionally and structurally to acomodate this new activist dimension? How do we channel this new localist and agitative spirit through the labour party, from the grassroots to the heights of the labour leadership?

    2. How can we differentiate our activist agenda from the Conservative one? It would be naive for us to simply dismiss their philosophical and practical approaches to this issues. How do we convince the public to support our vision?

Leave a Reply