door-knocking

Door Knocking Is Fantastic

There is a misconception among some people in politics that ‘door knocking’ is a chore.

This is mostly because the ‘conversation’ techniques that have commonly been used in the Labour Party have involved not having a conversation at all but simply asking people about their voting preference (voter identification (id)).

Voter id is certainly a useful tool in the last few weeks of an election campaign when we need to find out where are voters are, but it does nothing to increase our vote.

If we are simply interested in identifying our vote (and remember we last the last two general elections), then we will inevitably lose election after election. So, to coin the phrase of Danielle Grufferty’s ‘satirical’ CorbynSuperfan, voter id is ‘Horseshit’.

However, having a real conversation with people and asking people about their opinions is a great way to show we are listening and not just there for electioneering. 

In the new year, I was out doorknocking in my ward and I found that just asking people what their concerns were and actually listening to them was not only good for them (as they felt someone was interested), but it also gave me an insight into what issues are of interest and how Labour locally could frame policies.

I was invited into two houses for a cup of tea just for having this kind of conversation. I was also asked for information about how to get involved in local politics.

Having genuine conversations can be a great way of recruiting more supporters into the party and, they in turn, can inspire more people to do so.

My suggestion to all Labour supporters is to participate in door knocking when they can and to make sure that they don’t just get drawn into the ‘voter id’ conversation. If we actually engage with people a bit deeper and listen to them then door knocking is fantastic.

 

no-fear

What have we got to fear?

This may go against most people’s idea of a light read, but over the last few days I have been absorbed in Seumas Milne’s account of the miners’ strike, ‘The Enemy Within’. It not only exposes the deliberate plot to destroy the coal industry, but also shows how MI5 was involved in making false allegations against the National Union of Mineworkers. A similar plot was made against George Galloway after the Iraq War but was exposed by him in a court case in which he won substantial damages from the Telegraph.

On both occasions, the mainstream media regurgitated all the false allegations fed to them by the UK intelligence service. The idea was to discredit the NUM as being corrupt, just as it was to discredit George Galloway by accusing him of taking £375,000 in payments from Saddam Hussein.

‘The Enemy Within’ shows that the political establishment in this country will resort to any methods to undermine any challenge to its interests.

This is particularly appropriate when we consider Jeremy Corbyn’s position as a truly socialist Labour Party leader.

It’s obvious that Jeremy Corbyn being Labour Party leader doesn’t sit well with the establishment in this country – the super rich, the media, even some people in his own party.

These people have already put up resistance to his leadership by repeatedly running negative stories, publishing false allegations and, in the case of some Labour MPs, organising a series of resignations to give the impression he was losing support.

So what should we do about this opposition that seeks to undermine Labour’s leader through false propaganda?

Should we look for a compromise whereby we water down policies to curry favour with the establishment?

This isn’t really an option.

The thing that has led hundreds of thousands of people to join the Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn’s integrity. His opinions have been consistent. He doesn’t change them according to what is fashionable in media circles.

Apart from the fact that he wouldn’t compromise anyway, back-tracking would lose Jeremy Corbyn support just as fast as it lost the Lib Dems support when they joined the coalition in 2010.

So, with a radical set of policies put forward by a principled leader, it is certain that the establishment will use every plot and trick in the book to undermine the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

Should we give up our hopes because we have the whole establishment against us?

The pressure on Jeremy Corbyn – and those around him – has been relentless. And it is unlikely to ease up. Is it possible for Labour to win an election under such attack?

This is the fear. And, as with all fear, it begets fear and negativity. We need to stop worrying about the media and whether we can win an election or not. That kind of self-obsession gets us nowhere and also makes us unattractive.

We can get our ideas out on social media and through grassroots campaigns that do not rely on the mainstream media. And we need the Labour Party to do more to encourage these to happen. We cannot allow the MPs or the bureaucrats who are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn to hold this back.

We need to get back to where this campaign started. We need to rekindle that excitement about a new politics where we can open up discussion and be imaginative about how we do things.

Events are key

This means more events – big and small – that will give people things to talk about. I have seen from Stand up for Labour, the #JC4PM tour, Curry for Corbyn, public meetings I’ve organised and the Corbyn Christmas single that having an event to look forward to and be part of gives people a sense of belonging that social media ‘likes’ do not. We also need to work harder on making connections with people that are not just ‘on the doorstep’.

But, above all, when we have the whole political establishment doing all it can to undermine us, we need to encourage each other and keep faith in the new politics.

 

crowd

We must always look to inspire

There is no scientific, material reason why people get involved in politics. If it were this simple then surely we would not have the kind of unequal society we have. For many people the idea that we can change things seems like a dream or something that is too much work. It’s easier to deny it is possible and accept life as it is.

People need to be inspired to get involved in politics.

If we are to engage more people in politics and set up a mass membership Labour Party that will defeat the Tories, we must do our best to make sure we encourage people to get involved and don’t demoralise them.

I always prefer to talk from my own experience than hypothetically, so I will describe how important my spirit has been to my own political life and how this has shaped my activism in the Labour Party.

A personal journey

I first became interested in politics after long conversations with my dad about Margaret Thatcher and after hearing Tony Benn speaking about how it was possible to create a more just and decent society. This fired me up and I became a member of the Labour Party when I was 16.

However, when I went to a few party meetings, my spirit was dimmed by my experience of seeing bare-faced factionalism. I became aware that politics was being hijacked by egomaniacs who were less interested in changing anything than in keeping their positions in a clique. This turned me off getting active.

It wasn’t long before I was not involved in any political party. Instead I spent my time partying, listening to reggae music, supporting Fulham and, like all people who have lost hope, trying to become a stand-up comic. My time away from politics lasted sixteen years – except for demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq.

What inspired me to get back into politics was the death of Michael Foot in March 2010.

I was on the treadmill in the gym during my lunch hour at work when I saw tributes and clips of Michael Foot on the telly. I saw the pictures of him with his stick on Hampstead Heath and of the ‘donkey jacket’ at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. It made me think what a principled man he was – devoid of ego – and how he was not given a chance by the biased media. I thought about how a good man had been taken away from us and there was no-one like him in politics. This made me think of rejoining Labour and trying to promote the same type of politics.

Yet again I was not inspired to get involved in politics for any material reason. It was more like a spiritual decision.

When I started to attend local Labour Party meetings I found that there was often a tendency for some people to dominate (as I’d seen in the 1980s) and that ideas about encouraging other people to get involved were not popular with many office holders.

I was frustrated at the lack of opportunity I had to do anything locally. My plans to design and distribute regular newsletters to constituents were vetoed by a committee, my plan to increase party membership was also scuppered (I was actually told to ‘f*** off and leave the party’) and soon I was voted out as vice-chair membership – there was even an organised campaign to stop me doing anything.

However, these events did not break my spirit. I realised that there were other ways I could make a difference. If some people in my constituency were going to block me, then I would have to work outside that.

I set up Stand up for Labour and it has been a perfect vehicle for me to try to encourage more people to get involved in politics and to keep people inspired who are already active. The problem that I had for many years was that I felt isolated and that no-one else felt the same way as me. I’m sure that is the same for many other people. Now I have provided an affordable and entertaining way for Labour supporters and members to come out and feel connected. It didn’t exist before I started it.

The #JC4PM tour that was started this year took this to another level. We had over a thousand people in Kentish Town for the first event in February and it was magical when Jeremy Corbyn made a surprise appearance. Anyone who was in the room that night will have felt inspired by the music, the poetry, the comedy and the speeches. And we toured England, Scotland and Wales and the response from the audience was fantastic. These are the kind of events that make us stronger.

I combined politics with curry by putting on a few ‘Curry for Corbyn’ events in my local area. These were designed to give everyone a chance to talk about what is happening politically, get things off their chest and then eat heartily. The discussion was not set up in such a formal way as political meetings and everyone was given an opportunity to put their points across. I am sure these made people feel more connected with each other too.

At the end of this year I helped to produce a Christmas single once more aimed at raising morale. ‘JC4PM for me’ was a lot of fun. The cheesiness of the music and the video were an attempt to show humour and carry a message about Jeremy Corbyn that the media couldn’t sensor. We had plans to get it into the charts (well you have to aim high), but we didn’t really get the backing we needed to make this happen.

Fear and cynicism is our enemy

When Jeremy Corbyn stood to become leader of the Labour Party in 2015 he inspired hundreds of thousands of people to get active in politics again. The spirit of hope was clear for all to see at rallies across the country and on social media. People felt energised about a new form of straightforward, honest politics.

We always knew that the political establishment – and the establishment generally – would do all they could to undermine this spirit. We’ve seen daily attacks in the mainstream media on Jeremy Corbyn and his allies and we had the attempted coup in the summer plus the leadership challenge. These were all aimed at knocking us off course.

The main thing that the establishment wish to do is to produce fear and division in us.

They want us to be wary of what we do, to worry about what the media will say and to end up by bickering amongst ourselves. And it’s happening. I have no idea how to stop it but I would like to suggest that – instead of getting drawn into personality clashes – we all look at organising events that bring us together and raise our spirits.

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Events I helped organise in 2016

Stand up for Labour gigs

  • Eastbourne
  • Paddington
  • Coventry
  • Banbury
  • Camberley
  • Letchworth
  • Catford
  • Loughborough
  • Twickenham
  • Swadlincote
  • Camden
  • Nottingham
  • Hertford
  • Liverpool
  • Westminster
  • Chiswick
  • Bolton
  • Chesham
  • Hemel Hempstead
  • Ealing
  • Keele

#JC4PM gigs

  • Kentish Town
  • Bristol
  • Croydon
  • Newcastle
  • Edinburgh
  • Bournemouth
  • Sheffield
  • Cambridge
  • Manchester
  • Swansea (picured above)
  • Kentish Town
  • Cardiff
  • Manchester
  • Brighton
  • Newcastle
  • Doncaster
  • Liverpool (2)
  • Birmingham
  • Wakefield
  • Conway Hall

Three Curry for Corbyn events in Hounslow

cropped-number-one

The Top 5 download that didn’t make the charts

Before 4pm on Friday, I was optimistic that the Corbyn Christmas single, ‘JC4PM for me’ would make it into the top 40 of the pre-Christmas official charts (the Christmas chart is announced this coming Friday).

My positivity was based on the fact that it was in the top 5 downloads on Amazon for over four days and had even reached number two on that chart. This was fantastic not just for the fact it was high up the Amazon chart, but was also raising money for foodbanks via the Trussell Trust.

I had spoken to someone who had a Top 20 hit earlier in the week and they were confident it would get a good position in the charts.

However, having listened to the chart countdown from 4pm, it gradually dawned on me that we were not likely to appear.

As it turned out, ‘JC4PM for me’ didn’t make the top 40. In fact, it didn’t even reach the top 100.

The reason for this is streaming – mostly from Spotify and Deezer.

Since July 2014, 100 streams has counted as equivalent to one single (download or physical single) in the chart compilation process. I had imagined that this would make little difference, however, on reflection, it is clear that shops, hairdressers, cafes all over the country continually replaying a set playlist of Christmas singles and the top 40 chart hits has led to a dearth of any alternative singles reaching the charts.

It is highly unlikely that a single such as ‘Killing in the name of’ would ever make number one with these new rules for singles – how many cafes that play background music would play thrash metal. And, similarly, how many of hairdressers would play a song supporting the Labour leader? It might upset the customers!

As a result of this rather painful lesson, Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas are asking people if people can not only download from Amazon here, iTunes here and Google Play here, but that those with Spotify or Deezer accounts stream our song continually (they can even have the sound down). Perhaps, we could make it to the top 100? That would be an achievement bearing in mind the situation!

If you are on Spotify, you can find the song here.

If you are on Deezer, it is here.

We would also suggest adding Joe Solo and the Hatfield Brigade and the Jo Cox single to a looped playlist.

 

 

 

radio-1

Will ‘JC4pM for me’ get airplay if it hits the charts?

I’m writing this blog in a greasy spoon cafe in Brentford where the plasma TV is tuned into a music channel. The channel is churning out Christmas songs from the past, mixed with singles in the charts. I’ve just seen Slade, Band Aid, the X-Factor winner and Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’.

No one is watching the telly other than me and I’m only watching with a sense of incredulity: the Christmas single I put together with Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas could soon be above some of these songs in the charts.

This will not only show how strong the support is for Jeremy Corbyn, but will be a considerable help to foodbanks (via the Trussell Trust).

At the moment it is number four on the Amazon Best Sellers chart and is the number two ‘hot new release’. Calculating the chart involves totalling digital downloads, streaming data and sales of CDs and vinyl. I could have totally misjudged this but ‘JC4pM for me’ is highly likely to be in the top 40 if the Amazon download figure is high enough. (I’d like to add that I’m not keen to support Amazon in any way but many more people have an account with them than the other providers.)

But what is the chance that the radio or TV music channels will actually play ‘JC4PM for me’ if it makes the charts? Would the powers that be try to stop a song that includes the line ‘I’m voting Jeremy Corbyn’ and talks about political issues like austerity from being broadcast?

Most importantly, would the BBC include it on the radio show that announces the chart at 4pm on Friday? When ‘Ding Dong The Witch is Dead’ reached the charts they refused to play it and put a short excerpt on a news broadcast instead!

If you are interested in finding out what the BBC will do – and want to make it happen – you can download the single by clicking on the links below.

You can also download from more than one provider at a time to increase the chart position and each costs between 69p and £1:

Amazon

itunes

Deezer

Google Play

You can also stream it on Spotify.

 

 

What would you like for Christmas?

jc4pm-for-me-cover

This year has been tough for Labour Party members and supporters. There was no let-up in campaigning from January to September: first, with the local and mayoral elections; second, with the EU Referendum; and, finally, with an unnecessary leadership election. And then, we find that – after all that work – we are left with a post-Brexit culture of xenophobia and economic uncertainty, topped off with the election of Donald Trump as US President. It’s hard to take. Now that winter has arrived, we really need something to cheer us up.

The Jeremy Corbyn Christmas single, ‘JC4PM for me’ was thought up as a means of brightening up the end of the year and also raising money for foodbanks (through the Trussell Trust). Robb Johnson’s original lyrics had been a highlight of the ‘#KeepCorbyn’ tour dates in September. The chorus about voting Jeremy Corbyn was so catchy that I was singing it most of the way home from gigs. And it was at that time that I was thinking how a Christmas single would be a novel way of countering negative media about Jeremy Corbyn. It seemed incredible that Robb Johnson had written this song at a time I was thinking about it.

Robb was enthusiastic about the idea of putting together a Christmas single. I had no idea how this worked but I was willing to help with getting it off the ground. Robb adapted the lyrics to include a Yuletide theme and as many seasonal musical references as were palatable were added (sleigh bells, xylophone, children singing, a big chorus). We decided to make the single overly tacky as that is what the whole Christmas single genre is about. But, having said that, we also wanted to pass on a message of support for Jeremy Corbyn and include some policy references.

The most uplifting aspect of the past year has been Jeremy Corbyn’s courage in the face of the plot against him. He has shown great leadership in keeping the Labour Party together and everyone agrees that he has really found his feet with the media and in the House of Commons. His behaviour throughout has been inspirational. If anyone deserves a tribute single this year, it is the Labour Party leader.

We decided that the Christmas single should centre on Robb Johnson. That he should front it. He didn’t like the idea and he took some persuading as he thought it was a collective effort. That’s what makes Robb such a fantastic focal point: like JC himself, he’s a lovely man with no ego. We also needed to acknowledge the other people who contributed to the single (Attila the Stockbroker, Fae Simon, Joe Solo, Maxine Peake and about ten singers in the chorus) so we needed a band name. The word ‘Corbynista’ is often used as a kind of insult. However, if we adopt it, then it loses its power.

Along with the incredibly methodical graphic designer Jason Harris, I worked on the artwork. We decided we wouldn’t use a real image of Jeremy Corbyn but would show something that represented him instead. The Jeremy Corbyn Doll/Alternative Xmas tree topper by SnorkersImaginarium was perfect. We wanted to make it clear that the tackiness of the single was not related to the real Jeremy Corbyn. Jason also enjoyed finding an outlandish typeface!

We made the video about Robb. So the scenes are all shot in places that he is familiar with in Hove: his house, the roads around it and his local pub. We mobilised a group of Jeremy Corbyn supporters to appear in the final scene, shot in the Laines in Brighton and I was tasked with distributing santa hats and dropping the fake snow. Roland Denning has made an hilarious video that is due for release at the end of the month and Liam Scully filmed a video of the video being made and this was to be our teaser for when we announced that a single was to be released.

The reaction to the short teaser video for the single was unexpected. It had over 50,000 views on Facebook and 500 retweets within only a few days. This was greater than any video I had released for the ‘JC4PM tour’ (including exclusive footage of Jeremy Corbyn himself). Soon enough, BBC Radio 5 Live, The Wright Stuff, and The Daily Politics all asked for an interview with Robb.

The Daily Politics asked Robb to appear to discuss the single with former DJ Mike Read. Robb was against this and wanted to pull out as he wasn’t prepared to share the same studio as a man who had spoken up for the xenophobic policies of UKIP. I told the producer that he wouldn’t appear unless someone else replaced him and they agreed (Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick took his place).

There have been negative comments about the single. I expected that. Mostly it has been from people who don’t support Jeremy Corbyn, but there have also been people who do support him who have said it is a bad idea. There have been comments that it is ’embarrassing’ or ‘cringeworthy’. I’d say this is a response to Christmas itself: a time of the year when people gaudily light up their houses, wear silly jumpers and blow up inflatable snowmen in their front gardens. There have also been comments suggesting ‘this will backfire’. I imagine this is referring to the very pro-Corbyn media, who will suddenly turn on him for a Christmas single released by his own supporters (I’m being sarcastic by the way).

One of the performers on the single, Joe Solo, is also releasing a Christmas single, ‘Merry Christmas from Hatfield Main’, which raises money for independent foodbanks that cover shortages in the Doncaster area. We are working with Joe and the team behind him to push for two Christmas chart toppers and both Robb and Joe will be appearing at a #JC4PM gig in Wakefield next week (tickets are available here).

Some newspapers have said that they think ‘JC4PM for me’ could do well in the Christmas charts. The Guardian wrote: ‘It’s as cheery a political campaign song as you’re likely to find’. And now bookmakers are offering odds of 80/1 on the single becoming the Christmas number one.

Does anyone remember the odds on Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader in 2015?

‘JC4PM for me’ is available for download on 9 December. CD and vinyl versions are also available.

There is a launch party at the Kingsway Banqueting Restaurant in west London on 9 December. Tickets for a three-course curry costing £20/£12 (concessions) can be bought here.

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‘He that hath no stomach for this fight, let him depart’

It was a special day for me yesterday as it was St Crispin’s Day. I was named after the speech in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth, in which the eponymous hero rallies the troops before the Battle of Agincourt and asks them to forget the odds that are against them and look at the strength of their solidarity.

This idea that if the spirit is within us then nothing can get in our way is something that resonates for political movements. And this spirit of solidarity is something that has come to the fore in the past year with the politics of hope that Jeremy Corbyn has encouraged.

The spirit of Jeremy Corbyn’s support is strong enough to overcome the odds.

Overcoming media bias

Theresa May and the Tories may well be ahead in the polls, but policies to build one million houses (including half a million council houses), invest heavily in the NHS and education (excluding Grammar Schools) and create a fairer economy are all election-winning ideas. The only thing we need to do is to get the word out.

The obstacle we face is the media. The billionaire owners of media empires are not prepared to give a socialist Labour Party a fair hearing. However much Jeremy Corbyn’s team may wine and dine journalists, the final say on editorial policy sits with the mogul.

It’s clear that the only way the Labour Party can win the battle is to do so on the ground. We need to raise the proportion of activists campaigning in every constituency and we need to continue to increase our membership. We also need to work on community campaigns of the sort that Hammersmith & Fulham Labour Party did in the run up to their historic council victory in 2014. However, this has to be led from the top as we can’t rely on all constituencies to organise themselves. We need a dedicated unit within the Labour Party that can bring this about.

Membership Engagement Unit

The Labour Party currently has a Compliance Unit (that is mostly used to exclude people from joining) and a Thousand Club team (who look after people who have donated over £1,000 to the party and are given access to leading party figures in return). These two party units do not hold the right spirit for an outreaching, inclusive party that can win on the ground.

If we are to create a campaigning movement, we need the party to restructure and transfer resources from these two groups to a Membership Engagement Unit. This would also make financial sense if the pay-off is that the party picks up more subscriptions through a recruitment drive.

It would not be difficult to set up a recruitment team within the Membership Engagement Unit that would be tasked with increasing membership on a commission basis. With the support of affiliated trade unions, it would be easy to target trade union members who could be offered a special deal to join the Labour Party. Affiliated unions hold millions of potential members and this would be a good way to start a recruitment drive.

It is frequently said that there are many more members in the Labour Party but that they are not to be seen canvassing, delivering leaflets or taking part in other campaigns. Changing this would be another task of the Membership Engagement Unit.

A separate team working on turning members to activists would support CLPs with exciting regional events with inspiring speakers or entertainment (like Stand up for Labour – I would say that!) in which members would feel encouraged to participate more. From my experience, it is through events that people feel part of their local party and community. An email from a stranger inviting them to attend canvassing is not the best introduction. The feeling of belonging to the group that comes through events gives members the drive to take part in campaigning.

With regular events that are affordable, inclusive and entertaining, members are also more likely to renew their subscriptions. Many CLPs do not have the resources to put on these events themselves so they would need the support of experts at either national or regional level.

What’s stopping this happening?

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to be re-elected Labour Party leader included a commitment to increase the membership to over one million and to call on the skills of those members. It’s clear that the leader of the party is keen to engage more people and to get things moving.

Were Labour to fail to change itself into a mass membership, campaigning party it would certainly not be the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. It would be the fault of people who have a vested interest in making sure the party is not inclusive. These people could destroy the spirit we could harness into winning a historic victory at the next general election.

As Henry the Fifth says in the Crispin’s Day speech:

‘He that hath no stomach for this fight, let him depart.’