Putting time and effort into developing our local government base is about more than ensuring foot soldiers to fight the next General Election
Thirteen years ago, as a first time candidate, I worried that local government didn’t get the attention it deserved.
The last five years has put our councillors and the hard work they do front and centre of politics as they battle to protect their communities from this government’s brutal cuts – and rightly so. In the run up to the next election it is through the innovation they lead that we can show how we make a difference. We don’t have to wait to win in 2020 to prove Labour provides not just opposition to the Tories but an alternative – and in doing so why you want us in office nationally too.
In helping lead Labour’s renewal, our councillors need more than warm words from their party colleagues. Their expertise, experience and energy needs to channelled not as an afterthought but as equals. That means getting three things right – how we recruit and retain people at our grassroots, training and development of their skills to do this role and the networks, power and relationships they have throughout our movement to ensure their voice is heard.
Many talk of the narrow range of our PLP, but barriers to participation exist at a local level too. Lengthy evening meetings, expectations about time commitments and limited support for administration or caring responsibilities for candidates, makes ensuring our party looks like the communities it represents hard work. We need direct diversity funding to help overcome these obstacles for potential local leaders as part of not just a future candidates, but future members, programme.
The party could also match fund Labour Groups to run their own recruitment projects and community campaigns, giving them the freedom and flexibility to design schemes that work in their area.
These challenges point to how we advocate and develop not just the work of local councillors, but do this alongside the wider Labour movement. The LGA’s future leaders programme is a good example of a quality, structured training scheme but only open to a select few. Some councils like Manchester are now thinking about starting their own schemes.
Labour needs a national training academy linking in with our partners in the trade union movement and wider civic society that can give a wide range of people a taster for how local and national government works as well as supporting leadership and delivery skills.
Here the Association of Labour Councillors could play a key role – indeed a better resourced ALC could also arm our councillors and future candidates with a range of tools for their work on the ground, offering briefings and campaign materials to as well as forums for best practice and networking.
Getting selected or championing a local cause is one thing, feeling you can get things done is another. Like many when I was first elected as a councillor I was thrown in at the deep end, with little or no training and an expectation I would just ‘get on with it’ and figure out what the job entailed. Too many find themselves stuck in meetings at their town halls and stymied in leading the community work they want to do, going to LGA events to share stories of the frustrations of dealing with colleagues, neighbouring authorities or national government.
Getting the best out of our local leaders isn’t just about a compelling case for local communities for their support at the ballot box. It’s also about recognising and learning from the insight they can offer for effective governance and so the role they play at the heart of our national party too.
As a former councillor turned MP, the question of how this will work out on the ground is the first thing I ask of any policy. Having the leader of the LGA Labour Group in our shadow cabinet would be a start, but we also need to ensure Labour councillors and candidates – whether through greater representation on the NEC, NPF or regional forums – are embedded in our policy making too.
That shouldn’t just be through formal meetings – I’d like to encourage an expectation that councillors and future leaders are routinely brought in to work with MPs and shadow departmental teams helping tie up national ambition with practical delivery.
Putting time and effort into developing our local government base is about more than ensuring foot soldiers to fight the next General Election. It is to recognise and respect their role in leading social and political change for Britain alongside the rest of the Labour movement.
To make that happen is why I’m standing to be Deputy Leader. You cannot do this from a back office in Westminster – we don’t just need to give power to the grassroots, but create it by building a movement that once more capable of changing not just the communities we serve, but the country itself.
Stella Creasy is the Labour and Co-op MP for Walthamstow and is standing for the deputy leadership of the party. Follow her on TwitterLike 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.