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.’