David Miliband, through his Movement for Change, has identified people who are passionate to change their communities and then paid to train them in community organising.
Our guest writer is Jonathan Cox, of the College of Community Organising, part of David Miliband’s Movement for Change
Many senior figures in the Labour Party have responded to the election defeat by calling for reforms to our structure, for more local campaigning, and to make the Party a living, breathing movement, to complement the electoral machine. No-one doubts that Labour can learn from the success of the model of community organising that has been pioneered by London Citizens and CITIZENS UK.
But so far, only one candidate has understood that the most enduring legacy of community organising is not the winning of the campaign, but the development of people as local community leaders.
That is why David Miliband, through his Movement for Change, has not imposed an issue from above and then sent activists a campaign letter and press release with identikit instructions for action.
Instead, David has identified people who are passionate to change their communities and then paid to train them in community organising so that the 1,000 people enrolled in the Movement for Change’s Future Leaders programme are equipped to take action with their local Party on the most pressing issue in their area.
Having undergone the training himself, David understands one of the central tenets of community organising: that to build a movement you have to put the development of people before policies. So the answer to the rejuvenation of the Labour Party’s grassroots is not to adopt other organisations’ campaigns and turn them into Labour campaigns, but to invest in the development of our members and harness their desire to tackle local issues.
The Movement for Change is training people on a housing development on Tyneside to work with the local Labour Party to get the developer to tarmac their road after three years of delay and obfuscation.
We have trained young leaders in Manchester to work with a local councillor and residents and on their estate to identify worthwhile and winnable issues. And, we have developed leaders in Norwich to organise a campaign against the harsh Conservative Council cuts to street lighting. The Movement for Change is working with people right across the country to organise and win campaigns on local issues – people who will gain skills and experiences that will far outlast the length of the campaign.
And, if you are really to put people before policies in the Labour Party, then we must do more to move towards a less bureaucratic and more relational culture.
Over the past few months I have asked almost everyone I have trained why it is they joined the Labour Party. Not a single person has told me that they joined to pass resolutions at GC or approve the minutes of the last meeting. I have heard some amazing stories that really help to understand people’s motivation to be Labour and provided a basis for collective action – but precious little time is devoted to such relational activity in our Party meetings.
If we are to be a Movement for Change we have to be able to understand and relate to fellow members in our constituency. It is very difficult to do this unless we invest time in getting to know them – and the best way to do this is through the 1-2-1 meeting, which we train all our Future Leaders to do. Our Future Leaders are already seeing that taking the time to meet other individual members and understand their concerns can transform the ability of a local party to act effectively as well as ensuring that it meets the needs and desires of its members.
Putting people before policies is both radical and counter-cultural. It requires a party leadership that respects and trusts its membership to take autonomous action to address local injustices and make the Labour Party relevant to local communities, whether we are in government or opposition, either nationally or locally.
We rightly treasure our traditions and institutions, and a relational culture cannot spring up overnight, but unless we change to our focus from policies to people the Labour Party will not become the movement for change we know it needs to be.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.