I realised the Labour Party was in trouble with its last campaign to return to government at about 11am on 26 November 2013.
Having paid over £1,800 to secure a stand at the party conference (this story doesn’t start well), it had taken me two months to be offered an opportunity to speak to someone in the party about how Stand up for Labour could help rally supporters, raise morale and raise money. I had come to the party’s headquarters in Brewer’s Green to see whether I could get help in four areas:
1) Get regional offices to contact their members about events near them
2) Ask the party’s fundraising team to work with me
3) Direct TULO to work on sponsorship for each event so that unions are involved and so more money is raised for each event.
4) Use the Press office of the party to publicise big events.
I was not able to meet the General Secretary so I was invited to meet two members of his events and fundraising team: Scott and Graham. When I arrived, I was told by Scott that Graham was too busy to meet me and, even though I had waited two months for the meeting, we spent most of the time in a kitchen area. Scott had his phone on the table most of the time and, from time to time, would say: ‘I’ve got to take this’.
It didn’t take me long to feel like I wasn’t welcome and also that I was getting in the way of more important business for Scott. Eventually, he just blurted out: ‘so what is it you want?’ This took me back as I had written an email explaining what I wanted (the four points) and also I had been speaking about it to him just now. It was clear he wasn’t listening and was in this meeting under duress.
I really felt like there was no point in me being there and also that no one in the party cared one jot about putting on events to engage members, raise money and raise morale (as I had grown tired of saying).
I could have given up with Stand up for Labour then and there. And none of my follow-up emails were replied to and none of the four areas where I asked for help were taken up by the party.
Unfortunately for me and those I live with, I have a stubborn streak. I realised that it would not help the Labour Party’s chances if I gave up on Stand up for Labour. And I held on to the hope that one day the party might see its use.
I decided I wouldn’t ask the party for any help as I didn’t want to waste my own time. Fortunately for me Catherine Speight of the GMB was willing to support Stand up for Labour and this was a real boost to my own morale. I will always be grateful for her kindness.
I continued to put on events across England, Scotland and Wales (sometimes 12 in a month). Paul Ricketts did a sterling job compering when I couldn’t and we reached nearly 170 events, raising over £100,000 for the party in the process (as much as Tony Blair donated for the last election).
This is all good but I believe Labour could have been much more successful if I had been given support in the four areas I mentioned. Often I would see a caption on Twitter like ‘Great turnout on the doorstep’ and there were only four or five people. We heard a lot about how we had to hold millions of conversations but I don’t believe these were very long with such a low number of activists. We lacked numbers.
As a party we also need to bring CLP members, supporters, trade unions together in a social setting. It creates harmony and raises morale.
But the lack of a strong grassroots is not the only reason why we lost.
We also had a culture of top-down party management with some people occupying paid positions who did very little to engage members or encourage members like me to come up with imaginative ideas. Too often members were treated like a nuisance or just a resource for donations or leafletting. I know people who have sent half a dozen emails to party officers with good ideas about campaigning who have been ignored and have stopped bothering to care.
If Labour wants to prove it is capable of governing the country and wants to win the respect of the population it must improve the way it behaves in its own organisation. We can’t say we will listen to people when we cannot listen to our own members. If the public notice a courteous, open-minded party then it can only reflect well on us.