Time for a comeback

Theresa May messed up my schedule and she will pay for it.

Following the Easter weekend, I had resolved to make progress setting up fundraising gigs for charities and political campaign groups – see my last blog (‘If I can do it for the Labour Party I can do it for anyone’). Sitting in my second favourite cafe in Brentford, I was preparing phone calls to possible clients when I glanced at Facebook and saw: ‘Theresa May to make announcement at 11am’.

At 10:55, Theresa May lost patience with herself and ran out into the street to confirm what had already been leaked – that there was to be a General Election on 8 June. This was obviously a decision that had nothing to do with Brexit – and all to do with favourable opinion polls for the Tories.

So the fixed-term parliament legislation proved pointless. And any long-term plans to modernise the Labour Party will have to wait. We are now in a situation where the party needs to urgently engage and mobilise people.

So what can Labour do to win the General Election?

The first thing to say is that the Labour Party cannot possibly win if it uses the same campaigning strategy it has used for the past 20 years. The basis of this strategy is voter identification with minimal engagement with voters, backed up by glossy leaflets that amount to little more than a calling card. It’s doubtful that the Labour Party machine led by Iain McNicol will come up with anything original to change this. Their skillset is more suited to stopping innovation. If Labour is to have a chance of winning it will have to look outside the party machine.

There are a number of people I have met who are well aware that we have to come up with our own ideas for campaigns. We cannot rely on what the party tells us to do.

Here are some ideas I have picked up since Theresa May’s announcement

  1. Door knocking is important but at least 50% of people do not open their door and, of those that do, many do not want to engage in discussion. Street stalls are an equally effective way of grabbing people’s attention and should be encouraged. I’ve even heard of a drummer joining street stall so that no one can miss them!
  2. A campaign to get up as many ‘I’m voting Labour’ posters up as possible is a great way to counter the media bias that Labour is unpopular. We need to urge as many Labour members as possible to put up posters (or the even grander garden stakes). Canvassers should always carry them or give them out on street stalls. It’s possible to order 100 A3 posters from the Labour Party website for £7 plus postage. The link is here.
  3. Labour supporters on social media must put out more videos of themselves, their family and their friends that express support for Jeremy Corbyn. If we have a wave of ‘I support Jeremy Corbyn’ videos on social media this will again counter the idea that Labour’s leader is not popular. People are far more likely to watch videos of ordinary people expressing themselves than they are of professional politicians saying ‘vote for me’.
  4. We need to put on more events that mobilise and inspire Labour supporters. This will once again show the public that we are a cultural movement.

To make up for the failings of the Labour Party machine, I have decided to put on a tour of Stand up for Labour that will cover as much of the country as is possible in the available time. So far we have dates planned in Twickenham, Nottingham, Cornwall, York, Middlesborough, Bangor, Carlisle, Stoke, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. These events are a fantastic way to raise morale during the last few weeks of the campaign. We will also be putting out lots of social media to show how popular the Labour Party really is.

Each date on the tour will also include a ten-minute section that will feature videos from local film makers. These films will show how ordinary people have been inspired to take part in political campaigns in the past two years. The hub for this set of films is Brit Rocks, which provides a positive perspective on true British values, those of tolerance, compassion, a sense of community and creative flair.

The General Election offers people a rare opportunity to be heard. We should facilitate this not just through giving them a pencil in the polling station.

If you have any ideas for campaigning that you would like to share, please get in touch and I will do my best to share them as widely as possible.

If I can do it for the Labour Party, I can do it for anyone

Having put on over 200 fundraising events for the Labour Party, I have decided to move on and offer my services to other organisations.

In my experience there is no better way to energise members or supporters. And the money raised is a bonus.

Five years ago, I organised my first Stand up for Labour event. At that time, I had no experience of promotion and I worked every hour of the day to make the first night a success. The result of my hard work was 200 people packed into a Chiswick pub to watch headline act Arthur Smith.

I was inspired by that night to offer to support other CLPs across the country and, before long, I was in Corby putting on a comedy night with Arnold Brown and Hal Cruttenden (among others) in preparation for the by-election. This was followed by events from Swansea to Hull; Saltcoats to Hastings (I was going to try writing a list of all the towns and cities I visited in this time but it would take so long and would just look like a directory).

Photo 20-02-2015, 17 06 54

 

My best memories of Stand up for Labour are of the kindness and generosity of Labour Party members and the camaraderie that is often so lacking in Labour Party meetings. There are so many examples of this that it makes me tearful.

Stand up for Labour is not sustainable without the support of the Labour Party. I have lobbied for support on a few occasions but it has appeared to me that the only fundraising methods that are supported are those that involve courting rich members.

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Brightest Events is now contacting organisations to offer them support for their campaigns. We have a venue in central London and access to a fantastic range of comedians, poets, musicians and speakers who can inspire their members.

If you are reading this and think that we can put on an event for your charity, your union or a campaign group you are involved with, please contact office@brightestevents.com

If I can do it for Labour, then I can do it for anyone.

My heart is broken

I know I can be melodramatic at times, but the past three weeks have been emotionally challenging. I have struggled to sleep, over-eaten, listened to Mahler on repeat and generally felt as though life has no meaning. Like Young Werther in Goethe’s novel, I have been hoping and praying that the object of my passion will see me heroically and that I will win her heart. Everyday I have hoped to receive an email about a fundraising events role within the Labour Party. And now I have – only to be told I will not even be getting an interview.

Let me explain.

For nearly five years I have put on fundraising events for different Constituency Labour Party groups. I’ve travelled all over the country (England, Scotland and Wales), organising over 200 gigs. I’ve lost paid work through doing it and only covered my costs. My family has suffered not only the financial side but by my absence and my fatigue. And I’ve put on weight, written off a car and acquired more grey hairs. All for my adored Labour Party.

I welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the leadership elections because we now have a party with a continually growing membership. I decided to put all my energy into supporting Jeremy Corbyn against the negative media by putting on big #JC4PM events and these were, by and large, very successful. I even went further than this by producing a 7 inch single by Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas!

So when it was pointed out to me that the Labour Party had a job vacancy going for ‘Development Manager – Fundraising Events’, I was hopeful that all my hard work would be acknowledged. Not only did I have all the essential skills required (project management/IT/communications), but I know how the Labour Party works and have met so many MPs and members from all over the party. I filled out the application form as though it were written for me and sent it off.

And now three and a half weeks later, I received this email.

Rejection letter

I ask myself why I haven’t even been given an interview for the job. Is it because I have written about how frustrated I am by the lack of support for Stand up for Labour? Should I have been more stoical? But then I think that it is better to speak up if you see something is wrong – or how will anything change? Would it be better if I didn’t support the leader of the party?

I think about the time I had to pay £1,800 to have a stand at the Labour Conference in Brighton just to advertise the fact I was raising money for the Labour Party. And I think about how I was given half an hour in a kitchen at the Labour headquarters when I asked for help two years ago. And then I think about how I have helped raise over £150,000 – even without a job for the Labour Party.

This is unrequited love.

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.

 

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.

 

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

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.