Building a grassroots movement is the key test for Labour in 2011

Caroline Badley, Labour's campaign manager in Birmingham Edgbaston, looks at the challenges facing the party in 2011.

Caroline Badley is Labour’s campaign manager in Birmingham Edgbaston

There are some big political challenges facing the Labour party in 2011. The alternative vote referendum; the policy review process; local and devolved elections to name but three. The political classes will draw conclusions about how likely it is that Labour can form a government in 2015 based on the “results” of some of these tests. 2011 is a big year for Ed Miliband in terms of our “comeback”.

However not all the “comeback” tests are quite as traditional and as firmly rooted in the subconscious of the average politico. Organisational change within the party, for example, is unlikely to feature highly in the commentary of leading political columnists.

But make no bones about it: whether we as a party embrace organisational change will impact on our ability to win the next election as much as whether we get the policy review right.

And our choice is simple – do we begin the slow change towards movement based politics, towards a party which is rooted in communities and where community people are as much a part of us as we are of them? Or do we prolong the steady decline of activism, held back by the barrier of the £39 membership fee?

Because what 2010 showed many of us was that winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered. How we tried to win and what kind of organisation we wanted to be mattered too. And where we got it right we were able to have both. Movement based community organising builds on the brand-led turnout campaigning model which has dominated Labour party thinking since before the 1997 election.

Voter ID matters, fundraising matters, discipline matters. But in 2010 with political alignment on the wane and the argument ever more important, it is not enough. It is not enough for voters and arguably it is not enough for value driven Labour party members who join the party to help change things for the better, for the many, not the few.

There are already isolated pockets of community based activism across the Labour party and a great thirst for more information and support from many more people who want to delve into their communities but who are not quite sure how to do it. But as yet there is no structure to support them.

So, if we are going to invest scarce party resources in any big party reform in 2011 it should be in developing the structures and people required to proactively help turn local parties outward. And the test for that will not be how many voter ID contacts we make or even how well we do in the 2011 elections.

It will be about how many skilled up and trained activists and volunteers alongside them we have up and down the country engaging with the communities in which they live.

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