Author Archives: crispinflintoff1

More important than the party leadership

Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates are making noises about how we need to re-engage with communities. I’ve read that we have to listen more or we have to hold hustings in towns Labour lost so we can listen even harder. And both Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy have said we have to devolve power to local communities.

The most obvious way to get the ball rolling is to start devolving power within the party.

Let’s lead by example.

We need to give CLPs the resources to go out and earnestly campaign – to provide a support network within their boroughs, towns and villages.

The situation as it is does not reflect well on Labour.

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This graph isn’t even strictly true. In reality, CLPs receive £1.50 to £2.50 per member as that’s just the standard rate.

The only redistribution of funds that the NEC provides is in the form of some freebies (one conference pass, access to Membersnet, election insurance). These all amount to no more than £1,000 (or the subscriptions of 40 members paying the standard rate).

The financial imbalance in the party is shameful and hardly devolved.

Were the existing financial model of the party proving successful – either in election results or benefits to communities – then I wouldn’t be writing this. However, we have not seen any increase in recruitment or engagement since the last leadership election in 2016.

To move things on from this dreadful situation, we need to balance out the amount allocated to CLPs and to head office so it is a 50:50 split.

This is not only something that would be of benefit to local communities but it is the most just way to distribute membership subs. Almost all party activity is made at a local level so it is only right that local parties receive their fair share.

In ‘Here’s how we win again’, I wrote about how giving CLPs their rightful share of money could bring immediate benefits. In short there could be:

  • Local hubs in each constituency
  • Support for foodbanks
  • Meals offered to the homeless
  • Legal advice for people in debt
  • Cheap venue space for Recovery Groups
  • Cheap venue space for social groups
  • A space for toddler playgroups
  • A space for coffee mornings for isolated, older people
  • Cheap studio space for film makers
  • Cheap studio space for musicians.
  • Music gigs
  • Comedy nights
  • Film nights

These are just some of the ways that extra funds could be used to engage local people and to re-energise local parties.

With CLPs becoming energetic local enterprises, there would be a noticeable increase in party membership and this would bring further financial rewards to local parties as well as the national office.

In order to achieve this, we don’t need to depend on the goodwill of the next leader or the national office. That is unlikely to happen.

What we can do is effect change through the party rule book.

I have been advised that a constitutional motion debated and voted for at the next Labour Party conference could transform the party for the better – regardless of who the leader is.

This is a model motion:

Constitutional motion for Conference: for CLPs to receive 50% of their members’ subscriptions
This CLP agrees with Appendix 1 of the Labour Party Rulebook (2019), which states:
‘We do not believe that social change can be delivered solely by a top-down approach.. It is our members who can inspire and engage local people and communities.’
Having lost a fourth consecutive General Election it is now time for Labour to earnestly pursue a recruitment and engagement campaign that can reinvigorate our party and our local communities.
To achieve this, we must place CLPs at the centre of a bold campaign and move our party’s focus away from the headquarters in London.
Local parties can be pivotal to local people and local community groups and campaigns but they simply cannot achieve this if they have no money.

This CLP therefore agree to send the following amendment as a rule change to this year’s Labour Party conference:

Delete Appendix 8 – NEC Statement – A minimum guarantee of support to CLPs

Replace Membership Rules, Clause IV, 7. with

‘7. In order to support CLP’s community engagement, while also providing for national and regional resources, each CLP will receive 50% of their member’s subscription fees.”

Please consider putting this forward at your next party meeting.

Here’s how we win again

Labour’s ‘People’s Vote’ policy on Brexit was the principal reason for the catastrophic General Election result. This was the main difference between the 2017 and 2019 manifestos and was key to Labour losing MPs in ‘Leave’ seats such as Sedgefield, Bishop Auckland, North West Durham, Barrow and Furness, Workington, Stoke-on-Trent (Central and North) and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

These are all seats where I have organised Stand up for Labour shows and it was very sad to see that the hard work put in by local activists was to no avail.

However, the Brexit policy was not the only reason for Labour’s defeat.

Polls taken since the election have shown that our poor performance had much to do with the unpopularity of our leader. The cause of this was undoubtedly a daily barrage of negative media that has been bolstered by Labour MPs disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn since 2015.

But Jeremy Corbyn is not unique in being an unpopular Labour leader.

With the exception of Tony Blair, ALL Labour leaders standing in General Elections since the 1970s have faced a biased media. James Callaghan was quoted out of context about the Winter of Discontent (‘What crisis?’); Michael Foot was ridiculed for his appearance and his age; Neil Kinnock was dubbed a ‘Welsh Windbag’ and photoshopped into a lightbulb; the media tore apart Gordon Brown for his appearance (especially his fake smile); and Ed Miliband was painted as a soft touch (despite his ‘tough’ protestations) who couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich.

So it was no surprise that after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, he was ridiculed for the way he dressed and for having an allotment and, more seriously, was accused of being a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ and a ‘racist’.

Some post-election commentary has suggested that Jeremy Corbyn should have handled the media better, or that there should have been a stronger ‘rebuttal unit’. I don’t believe this would have made any difference at all. No Socialist leader is going to receive a fair press.

There will always be negative media about any Labour leader who sets out a radical programme.

Now that Jeremy Corbyn has decided to stand down, we are seeing new leadership candidates come forward and people are suggesting that a new leader will be the answer. There have also been suggestions that tweaking or dropping policies (ie conforming to the media’s preferred policy positions in some way) will turn things around. This is wishful thinking. Just look at what happened in 2015.

The only way Labour will not struggle with the media is if the leader and the party go to bed with Rupert Murdoch and other billionaire media moguls. This is what set Tony Blair apart from the other leaders. And it really is a revolting thought.

So, we have to accept that we cannot rely on the media to provide fair coverage of the Labour Party.

Does this mean that the political system is rigged?

It certainly supports the status quo, but this shouldn’t mean that we give up or that we cannot work constructively towards a fair society where people look out for each other.

So how can we fight for our communities when we are not in government?

Before and during the election campaign, much was said of the strength of our grassroots and our membership. It certainly was heartwarming to see hundreds and hundreds of people out canvassing in Putney, or Chingford, or Kensington. However this was mostly around the election period and the general public are rightly cynical about people knocking on their door a week or two before a vote.

Between 2015 and 2019, Labour did not do nearly enough to harness a grassroots movement.

The fact we have the largest membership of any party in western Europe has often been repeated but the reality is that most of these members are not active – and most only joined to vote in the leadership elections of 2015 and 2016.

And although we do have more members that other parties, we still don’t have enough. We really should have at least one million members. This is not even 2% of the population.

To reach one million members and to increase activism, we need a new vision of how what our grassroots does and what membership can offer.

A fundamental change needs to be made to the party’s financial structure.

We need to move our party’s focus away from the headquarters in London and need to properly fund local CLPs.

Local parties could be pivotal to local people and local community groups and campaigns but they simply can’t achieve this if they have no money.

There is no point employing Community Organisers if the groundforce has nothing to offer in resources.

At the moment many CLPs cannot afford to send delegates to the party conference and I have heard that there are branch meetings where members have to pay to take part (for a business meeting!). During the General Election, Stand up for Labour, Grace Petrie and Atilla the Stockbroker worked hard to plug the gap in local party finances but this is never going to be enough.

The graph below shows just how ludicrous Labour’s financial structure is.

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We need to balance out the amount allocated to CLPs and to head office so it is a 50:50 split. This is not only something that would be of benefit to local communities but it is the most just way to distribute membership subs. Almost all party activity is made at a local level so it is only right that local parties receive their fair share.

This would mean that each CLP would receive £25 for each member paying the full membership fee. A CLP with 1,000 members would, for example, receive up to £25,000 per year.

With this amount of money, local parties would be able to start thinking creatively about how they can support people in their boroughs, towns and villages.

CLP meetings would no longer be dull or acrimonious, but would be buzzing with positive ideas about what members can do practically.

With money behind them, CLPs could set up hubs that would be a centre of support for local people. These could also be run with the support of local trade union branches.

Foodbanks could be given a space, meals could be offered to the homeless, coffee mornings could be provided for isolated, older people and legal advice given to people struggling with debt.

Recovery groups could be given a cheap place to hold meetings; play groups could be set up for parents who want to get out with their pre-school children and meet up with other sleep deprived mums and dads. Yoga groups, meditation groups, the list goes on.

These could also be creative hubs, offering workspace for local people with studio space for local musicians or film makers.

And the social side of the party could be buzzing as CLPs would be able to hire venues and put on gigs, comedy nights, film nights and theatre productions. These shows could also generate a revenue of their own and offer more money for promotion via social media platforms.

To back these CLP initiatives, the national party could provide a networking platform. With this, CLPs could be twinned so that a CLP with a large membership (many London CLPs have over 2,000 members) would be able to help another CLP that needs support (I heard of a CLP in Derbyshire with under 500 members). This networking platform would give members all over the country information about where to go when they visit other CLPs as well as recommendations about where to stay, or even which tradesmen are recommended in a particular area.

All of these initiatives would make Labour a very attractive club to join. And would, in turn, generate more revenue from membership subscriptions. Local parties would be very keen to recruit more people as they would benefit with £25 per person who signs up.

With this new financial structure, the Labour Party would be able to extol the virtues of Socialism in practical ways and not just through pious speeches.

I’m certain this will bear fruit in future elections and, with steady progress, we could become the dominant party for decades to come.

To achieve this, all we would need is an amendment to the Labour Party constitution, setting out that CLPs receive 50% of all membership subscriptions.

The central party in London and regional offices could find that they lose no revenue at all if we double the number of members and, in the interim, they would still receive union affiliation money and be able to crowdfund from emails to all members across the country (as was done so successfully during the General Election campaign).

I am in the process of drawing up a model motion that can be put forward at this year’s Labour Party conference.

If you think that the proposal to change the Labour Party into a dynamic, grassroots organisation is worthwhile pursuing, please get in touch and I will send you the model motion so you can put it forward at your next CLP meeting.

 

 

 

Why Stand up for Labour is people powered

Labour nearly won the 2017 General Election because we were able to inspire and mobilise great numbers of people to get involved in canvassing. And we need to do exactly the same now.

Just like now, the opinion polls were unfavourable in 2017 and Theresa May went into that election with the attitude that it was a formality she would win.

She wasn’t alone in this outlook as even some Labour bigwigs had given up before it had even started. As we saw in the BBC documentary ‘The Summer that Changed Everything’, MPs felt that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign was going to fail dismally and were caught with gaping jaws on election night.

The result of the election was down to activists, not the top guns in the Labour Party.

People in Labour’s headquarters undertook a strategy of minimising losses in seats and they didn’t even attempt to win seats that Labour ended up as victors (ie Hastings & Rye, Kensington, Bedford, Canterbury).

Luckily for us all, activists knew not to trust party officials and we just got on campaigning.

My spirit at the time – reflected in many others – was that it didn’t really matter what people said about our chances, I was going to do all I could to push for a Corbyn-led Labour government. It was a matter of fighting for what we believed in regardless of the consequences.

I feel the same now, even though we are supposed to be in a party run by Corbyn-supporting officials.

Top-down doesn’t work

From what I’ve seen – both from my own experience and that of other members – is that we still have a top-down party structure. The party have thrown significant sums of money at employing organisers who they believe can win us key marginals. This strategy was used in 2015 and did not pay off because the party was too complacent.

It’s not just about organising people, it’s about creating a buzz around the party. 

Inspiring people in this way is what paid off so much in 2017 and I want to be part of this again with Stand up for Labour.

Between 2015 and 2017, I put on over 100 variety shows all over the country and these played a part in bringing people together and also encouraging them to canvass, deliver leaflets, share social media and donate to the party coffers.

The only way I have been able to keep these shows going is through a combination of union sponsorship (from Unite, the CWU, the FBU, Aslef, TSSA and the Baker’s Union), and retaining some ticket revenue from shows.

This strategy has been hit in two ways: firstly, government restrictions have significantly reduced the amount of money that unions can donate to political parties and, secondly, CLPs are so skint that it is not really possible to keep ticket money to cover my costs.

As much as I’d like to protest against this situation and bemoan the lack of fight, I have had to accept it.

That is why I have started a crowdfunder.

I am asking for £7,000, which will cover all the costs of the performers as well as my running costs for up to 10 shows. So far, nearly 60 people have donated over £1,600 and, in return for this, I am writing an epic poem including a line dedicated to each generous donor.  You can hear this poem here.

Donations can be made through clicking this link.

Revolutionising Labour membership

Living with no job security, hardly any safety net, no savings for the future, worries about healthcare and monthly struggles with bills is tough.

But feeling there is no chance of changing this situation and that politics has nothing to offer makes things even more depressing.

This is the sad reality for millions of people in this country. There may be some people who vote in elections, but putting a cross in a box every few years is hardly participating in politics.

Our adversarial political system favours political parties, so it is only by joining a political party that anyone can really make a difference.

And the stark reality is that only 1% of the UK population have signed up with a party.

It should be a requirement of all the major political parties in this country that they reach out to as many people as possible and increase the level of participation. That this hasn’t happened is down to a collective failure to open up politics to more people.

It does not fill me with joy that the Conservative Party membership is under 125,000. This means that fewer than 0.25% of the population participate in shaping the governing party of this country. This leads to less accountability and less opportunity for people to influence local and national policy.

I could just point the finger at the Conservative Party and say that their situation is deplorable. But I’m not enthralled by the level of participation in the Labour Party either.

More than just the leader

A recent smear campaign by hostile media has suggested that Labour has lost over 100,000 members in the past year or so (so down to about 500,000). It has been spun as an indication that Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has waned. This has been rebuffed by party officials, but the question is why should membership of a party appear as an endorsement of the leader?

Are members of a political party just fans of the leadership? If this is all party membership is about, I totally understand why people are unwilling to pay a subscription to join. It’s a lot of money to pay for just that.

I think this illustrates why so few people have joined political parties.

For some reason, the parties can’t think up ways to encourage people to join them.

As someone who has met thousands of members across the country since I started Stand up for Labour, I have ideas that would not cost the party much (if any) and would:

  • lead to a massive influx of members
  • improve democratic participation
  • build stronger communities
  • improve people’s mental and physical health

Attraction of members

The first thing that strikes me about the Labour Party is the number of decent, warm and friendly people who are members.

Labour members are incredibly attractive people. I see this at every Stand up for Labour show. These are people who are good to be around: friendly, decent, considerate of others.

And there are real heroes out there who make the party an attractive place to be.

The problem with the Labour Party – as it is run – is these kind, warm people are really only given business meetings in which to express themselves.

Business meetings are not only terribly formal and antiquated, but they also promote conflict as they are full of votes on this and that. Anyone who is introduced to the Labour Party by a business meeting is likely to see a room full of formal – sometimes pompous sounding – people who tend to argue and bicker about anything and everything.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t have business meetings as these are vital to party democracy, but they shouldn’t be anything like the be-all and end-all of local party activity.

Local parties offer some alternatives to business meetings. These are usually fundraisers such as dinners, or there may be a social every few months (like a barbecue in the summer). These events are run by volunteers who often have no experience of running events and are not seen as a priority by the party locally or nationally.

These social events should assume far more importance and there should be more of them. Through social events, people will see the real qualities of Labour members and, if these are well run, people will want to join the party to be part of their local Labour fellowship. For these to work, local CLPs need support from people who have experience of running successful social events.

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Spreading the net

The Labour Party has a fantastic network. This has a lot to offer but we are totally neglecting it.

As an example of this, I had a summer holiday booked in Suffolk a few years ago and I had no idea what activities I could offer my young daughter. As I had put on a Stand up for Labour show in Lowestoft earlier that year, I wrote to the candidate there and asked if he had any advice for where to go. What I received was local knowledge that would be the envy of any holidaymaker: the best fish and chip shops, the best local excursions and the best beach.

If Labour were to create a mechanism for members to communicate across regions and share information about all areas of life, this resource would be in heavy demand. To further illustrate this, there would be opportunities for members to list recommended local plumbers, mechanics, etc (some of whom may be members themselves). These would, in a sense, be ‘Labour approved’. And this information would only be known to members.

There could even be a ‘Labour Airbnb’, where Labour members could be assured they were staying with like-minded people and those hosting others would be confident that they would get on!

This network of Labour members could be bolstered further by having ‘Labour Hangouts’ in every constituency (or branch).

These would be cafes, pubs or restaurants where local Labour members were encouraged to spend time. If a list of these were available to Labour members then they would feel confident about where to go when they were in another town or city. They would also fill a hole in our communities, where many people feel isolated and stay indoors rather than go out. We would also build a rapport with local businesses this way.

Creating a booming network creates endless opportunities. Sports and recreational leagues could be set up: 5-a-side football, darts, snooker, even a fundraising marathon set up by the Labour Party.

members only

Exclusive online content

Labour’s online presence could benefit from reinforcing the positive image of the Labour community. This could include features on real Labour heroes in different communities, biographies of remarkable members and Labour figures from the past. This would be a relentless output of positive content about what the Labour Party has achieved and the fabulous people who shaped the party through history (like ‘Labour Heroes’). These videos should only be made available to Labour members (I support Fulham Football Club and I can only watch highlights of their matches and features if I pay a membership fee).

With a focus on the positive aspects of the party and promoting the Labour Party network, the Labour Party will see membership soar. And membership figures will not fluctuate according to who is the leader – or be open to that interpretation. People will join Labour because it is the best social club to be in and because we have such brilliant people.

A more harmonious party structure

None of this can be achieved by the grassroots alone. The branches and CLPs will need support through an improved party machine and there will need to be more communication with the central party.

A revolutionised Labour Party will bring real benefits not just to Labour’s chances of winning future elections, but will also prompt the other political parties to emulate us. We will then achieve a far healthier democracy and society.

 

My first ten Labour Party heroes

In the past few weeks I have noticed a lot of negativity about the Labour Party in the media. And it was depressing to read.

It almost made me forget how good the party is.

To counter this deluge of propaganda against an institution that has brought so much good to the country and has also given me hope for the future, I decided that I was going to write a tribute to a member every day on Facebook.

If you want to keep up with this, click here and ‘like’ the page.

These are my first ten tributes to Labour Party heroes.

Labour Party hero #1

Tony Louki
TONY LOUKI

After my first Labour Party meeting in 2011 – held in a Portokabin in Brentford Girls’ school – Tony came up to me and made me feel welcome in the party. He explained what some of the acronyms meant and what some of the party positions were about. He gave me a good steer.

I bumped into Tony fairly regularly after that. We’d talk on the train from Syon Lane to Waterloo about local politics as well as football. Tony supports QPR but he never made my support for Fulham an issue!

Tony encouraged me to stand for positions and was a great support to me when I started doing comedy nights for my CLP. He was good at selling tickets to friends and family.

Tony stood as a council candidate in 2014 – as I did. His ward (Osterley and Spring Grove) was regarded as a more likely Labour gain than mine (Chiswick Homefields) so I helped to get the vote out for Tony on the evening of the vote.

Tony put a lot of work into winning his council seat and it paid off as he was the only Labour candidate to win in his ward.

Since then he has put in an equally hard amount of work into being a councillor. Not only does he report any litter and potholes, but he questions planning decisions despite this not sitting well with his Labour colleagues in senior positions on the council. He also holds regular meetings with residents – beyond surgeries.

Tony’s majority increased in May’s council election.

If all Labour representatives worked as hard as Tony then there is no doubt in my mind that the party would be governing locally and nationally for decades and decades.

Labour Party hero #2

Judy Atkinson

JUDY ATKINSON

Judy Atkinson was Secretary of my CLP when I first attended meetings. I’ve met few people who are as familiar with the Labour Party rulebook and have fought as much for a democratic, inclusive party.

When I attended my first meetings in Chiswick (part of Brentford & Isleworth), I found that the ‘business’ part took up a lot of time. Heated arguments were conducted about how we debate an amendment – or whether it should be debated at all. And my perception was that some people looked rather smug about their ability to conduct themselves in meetings.

I wondered if politics was about procedural arguments and not fighting for social justice.

It almost seemed as though there was an attempt to make meetings tedious. And people holding positions in the party often didn’t turn up or would sit in a position for a year and do very little – and no one would make any complaint.

Judy Atkinson knew that my local party wasn’t doing much to encourage members to participate and saw that I was keen to do stuff.

She helped to put me into a position as vice-chair Membership as she saw that no one else was interested. This allowed me to think of ways to engage more people in the party and in politics. And she helped me to get permission to put out a membership survey, bespoke leaflets to every ward and a comedy show that led to the start of Stand up for Labour.

Judy has a fiesty side to her that enables her to put forward ideas without fear of confrontation. This makes her unpopular with some members who have labelled her a troublemaker. But my experience of politics is that if you are not prepared to put yourself on the line then nothing will be achieved.

Judy is heroic because she won’t compromise on the principle that we must do more to make the party democractic and engaged with our community.

I have seen her voted out as Secretary in an organised move conducted behind her back. But she stood again and didn’t give up.

It is this spirit that inspires me to keep going whatever happens.

Labour Party hero #3

Paul Goggin

PAUL GOGGIN

In 2003, Paul Goggin found himself homeless in Bristol. As someone who had only been diagnosed as bipolar a couple of years earlier, it must have been very tough.

However, Paul made friends in emergency accommodation. He met asylum seekers, lots of people with mental health issues worse than him, young families, immigrants and political dissidents.

Paul was able to see that he wasn’t alone and that his life experiences (such as living with a parent with gambling addiction and an attendant fear of the bailiffs coming around) were not unique.

This sense of perspective and solidarity saw Paul through and he eventually got a council bungalow 18 months later.

Paul never forgot the people who had helped him.

With the Tories talking about cuts to public spending, he joined the Labour Party in 2010 and started to attend meetings and go to party socials like Stand up for Labour.

It was at a couple of Stand up for Labour shows and a #JC4PM extravaganza that I got to know Paul. He is one of the most helpful people I have met and has offered to lift heavy equipment as well as playing music between performers when my hands are full.

The most heartening thing about this whole story is that Paul stood to be a councillor in Bristol and got elected in 2016.

And he has already made a massive difference to the lives of people in Bristol.

Only this week it was announced that Bristol council will no longer be using bailiffs. This came about because Paul explored an ethical debt collection scheme being used by Hammersmith & Fulham council. Paul was able to persuade Bristol council to follow its example.

At a recent council meeting, Paul opened up about his experience as a mental health service user in a motion calling for more funding from central government. This is what he said:

“The lack of funding means that children are unlikely to get help unless they seriously self harm or attempt suicide. 6,000 people a year do not get the help they need and go on to end their lives. What a waste. People, often from the most deprived backgrounds, thrown on the scrapheap or worse.

“I’ve seen how mental health provision has been cut and cut again, mental health professionals stripped from GP surgeries. I have seen it first hand in my own journey as a service user.

“I live with bipolar disorder and chronic anxiety – without help I could’ve been the six thousand and first person, but I was lucky.”

The Labour Party – and all of us – are blessed to have Paul Goggin.

Labour Party hero #4

Janice Sweeney

JANICE SWEENEY

Janice beat me in a council candidate selection vote last December – and I’m pleased she won.

I first met Janice last year when we both got involved in a campaign to save the Wornington College.

She’s a real people person – a great listener and someone who encourages people to get involved rather than imposing herself on a campaign.

Janice has also been involved in the campaign to save the local library, to save the Silchester Estate (which is next to Grenfell Tower), and has been one of many calling for Justice for Grenfell.

Janice has lived around North Kensington for decades and loves her community.

Her political journey started when she read about the Tory Housing Bill that threatened to move her away from the area.

Under the legislation, Janice and her husband would be required to pay full market rent for their council house as they were collectively earning over £30,000.

Janice went to her local councillor surgery to find out what she could do. She was told a group had formed called Axe the Housing Act so she started going to their meetings.

The more she heard about the housing act the more terrified she was and she knew more people had to get on board to fight it. She went on demonstrations, met Lords in parliament and did weekly stalls getting the word out that our council homes were at risk. Luckily most of the legislation hasn’t appeared even though it’s been passed.

The campaign showed her that if you kick up enough fuss, things can change for the better.

Janice has brought this energy into other campaigns, and she identifies Jeremy Corbyn as an ally.

‘He always turned up at the demonstrations and didn’t sound like other politicians, he was so sincere.’

She joined the Labour Party because she wanted to vote for Jeremy Corbyn when he was being challenged by Owen Smith. She went up to parliament to show support for him at a mass impromptu rally. He gave her hope for the first time – and she was going to put up a fight to keep him!

Janice started attending Labour Party meetings and, when the council elections loomed, someone suggested she stand as a candidate. She knew she had to stand if she wanted real change and rid Kensington & Chelsea of the Tories.

I was pleased that she won the vote to be selected for Norland Ward. Janice is so popular locally that many people from local campaigns helped her out with leafleting and canvassing. Although she didn’t win the seat, Labour’s vote increased significantly and she undoubtedly gave the Tories a fright.

Determined members like Janice Sweeney are just what the Labour Party needs.

Labour Party hero #5

Ian Flintoff

IAN FLINTOFF

Ian Flintoff (from now on I’ll just call him my dad because it’s weird otherwise) was born before the war and brought up in Preston in Lancashire.

His dad, Tom, was a councillor for the Conservative Party and he and my grandmother, Alice, were proud to support Winston Churchill’s son when he was MP for Preston.

My grandad was from the backstreets of Preston, where most people worked on the cotton mills. He aspired for more for his children and, after training at night school, started in clerical work.

My dad and his older brother, Ted, both adopted this ethos of hard work and managed to pass the 11-plus and make it to Grammar School. After National Service they both went to Oxford University.

As far as I know my dad was a bit of a Tory when he was in his teens and early 20s. And he was now at Oxford and I’m sure that his social circle was far from Socialist.

After University, my dad became an actor (working with Spike Milligan in a play in the West End, appearing on TV shows like ‘Z Cars’ and even featuring in a James Bond film). As far as I know he was still a Tory at this stage.

Then, in the late 1960s, my dad took a job as a newsreader for Southern Television. And, once when he was preparing for a news bulletin, he listened in to an interview being broadcast that night with Anthony Wedgwood Benn (as he was called at the time).

My dad says that what he heard from Tony Benn that night persuaded him to join the Labour Party and he resolved to help them in their campaigns.

Soon after, my dad left Southern Television and started work for the Labour Party in their headquarters at Transport House. He was part of Harold Wilson’s General Election team in 1970 and became a council candidate for Labour in Kensington & Chelsea in 1971 (he only served one term).

After a decade or so of working at the Common Market, acting in repertory theatres and doing some TV work, my dad seemed to get political again before the 1979 General Election, when I remember lots of leaflets being delivered in the pelting rain one day.

He set up ‘Arts for Labour’, in which actors and performers were encouraged to show support for the party. People like Bill Owen from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, Ken Loach and Tony Robinson from ‘Blackadder’ got involved. It was in many ways a precursor to Red Wedge.

I remember the Deputy Leadership Election between Tony Benn and Denis Healey and how disappointed my dad was that Tony Benn lost. But the thing that really wound him up was the foundation of the SDP – dividing the non-Tory vote and letting in Thatcher.

My dad was so angry with the SDP that he decided to try to stand as Labour’s candidate against SDP leader David Owen in 1987. Not being from Plymouth didn’t seem to hold him back and somehow he got selected.

I was very proud to see ‘Vote Flintoff’ posters all over the place when we went canvassing with him. And on one hustings he outclassed David Owen by speaking without notes while Owen stumbled through a typed out speech. Although my dad didn’t win, Labour’s vote increased by 5,000 and the tide had turned enough against Owen that he had to take a peerage to avoid defeat in the next election.

My dad has always been a proud Socialist and a Pacifist. I wore a CND badge when I was at Primary School and both my parents have been active Quakers. I’ve always believed that there is no justification for taking human life and we marched together against the Iraq War in 2001.

Although he’s not stood to be a candidate since 1987, my dad still attends meetings and has built up his branch in Oxford by putting on great social events.

He is always optimistic about the Labour Party. He was not a fan of Tony Blair but he stayed in the party throughout and was overjoyed when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. He often writes letters to the papers in support of JC.

He encourages me to keep going, to do more to make politics engaging.

Tony Benn inspired him and he inspired me.

Labour Party hero #6

Henry Land

HENRY LAND

In 2015, Henry Land was a primary school teacher in Dorset, struggling to manage his heavy workload and acutely aware of a lack of resources for him and his colleagues.

His frustration with work is felt by most in the teaching profession but, for many, it is regarded as par for the course.

Henry’s sense that there might be an alternative was awakened by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaigns and his economic policy that puts people before profits.

Henry joined the Labour Party in 2016 and was soon attending CLP meetings in his constituency of Bournemouth West.

Henry became a man with a mission – to turn traditionally ‘blue rinse’ Bournemouth red.

He was tasked with fundraising and emailed me about putting on a Stand up for Labour show in the centre of Bournemouth.

He wanted to put on the biggest fundraiser that Bournemouth had seen and wanted to get the best names and sponsorship from trade unions and a collaboration with the local student society.

He phoned me up to discuss his idea further. He was buzzing with enthusiasm and excited about getting more members to turn out so they could build towards taking one or both Bournemouth seats from the Tories.

I’m not sure if Bournemouth seats are key marginals but Henry persuaded me that they are.

We arranged a great show at the Old Fire Station, with Arthur Smith, Attila the Stockbroker, Theresa May Cabaret and two great local singers that Henry knows.

The night was as buzzing as the energy that Henry put into it. There were over 200 people. People loved the music, the poetry, the comedy and the nonsense. And it raised over £2,000.

Henry built up a great team on that night. The venue was paid for by Unicorn Training (run by a local member) and the performers’ fees were covered by local trade unions (Unison, Unite, RMT and the CWU). He also organised a stall for the Student Society. The stage had five banners!

Since that night Henry has not let up.

He is forever popping up on my timeline with Live Facebook videos about his canvassing experiences and he was part of a large contingent from Bournemouth attending the big demonstration against austerity in London.

Henry’s energy is infectious and older members of the party have given him the tools that have enabled him to frighten formerly complacent local Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired people all over the country to believe that frustrating, arduous work is not an inevitability. Henry is a great example of someone who is fighting back.

Labour Party hero #7

Keith Burstein

KEITH BURSTEIN

Keith was born into music. Both his parents were professional violinists and played at The Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells and The Halle.

Politically, his parents were both left-leaning. Keith followed their path in music but didn’t get involved in politics for many years.

Keith’s latent political side came to the fore after 9/11, when he got involved with Stop the War.

As a graduate of the Royal College of Music and an accomplished composer, Keith wanted to combat the warmongering rhetoric of many politicians and the media.

He evolved a plan to write an opera on the issue.

That this was controversial is an understatement.

Keith wrote ‘Manifest Destiny’ in 2003 with Welsh playwright Dic Edwards and the Edinburgh Production was on just after the 7/7 bombings.

The opera portrays would-be suicide bombers renouncing violence – under the influence of the teachings of Islam – and becoming peace makers.

An article appeared in the ‘Evening Standard’ saying that through the opera he glorified terrorism- a serious criminal offence.

Keith sued Associated Newspapers for libel. Jeremy Corbyn stepped in to help and organised a news conference for him in Parliament in 2007.

Keith won in the High Court but lost at Appeal and he was bankrupted by Associated Newspapers, who also tried to take the intellectual property rights of everything he had written, including the opera ‘Manifest Destiny’.

I met Keith after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015. He joined the party at that time and, while I was working on the #JC4PM tour, he was working on an opera, ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, in which all the accumulated trends and pressures since 9/11 come to a head and a peace movement emerges.

Despite his experience of losing such a long court case and going bankrupt, Keith sees the good in people and is optimistic about the future.

The combination of his creative approach to political expression, his bravery to take on the establishment and his cheerful outlook after such a painful experience, makes him a 24- carat hero.

And there is a happy ending to this tribute.

Keith’s opera, ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, is being premiered this coming week at the Arcola Theatre in London from the 7th to 10th August.

Labour Party hero #8

Mandy McKenna

MANDY McKENNA

I met Mandy in May at a Stand up for Labour show in a community centre in North Walsham, a market town in North Norfolk.

She gave me a whole new perspective on life in rural England.

Mandy had put a lot of work into making the night a success, with over 120 people in attendance being entertained by a mind reader, a local poet and Norman Lovett.

After the show, Norman and I met up with Mandy and her husband, the portrait painter, Terence McKenna. We stayed the night at their cottage at the end of the longest unmade track I have ever bumped along.

Once there, we broke freshly made bread and chewed over politics.

Mandy enlightened me about life in Norfolk: she told me about the foodbank she volunteers at and how much local people were struggling with austerity.

She told me her story.

She’d been political all her life. She marched to Aldermaston against the bomb with Kensington and Chelsea Youth CND (where she was brought up) and attending many rallies against the Vietnam war.

She moved out of London to start a family in Norfolk in the early 1970s but this didn’t subdue her political edge.

She joined the early non-violent direct action Snowball Peace campaign in Norfolk speaking from a soapbox in Fakenham and cutting a single strand of the fence as a symbol of protest against US nuclear weapons at military base at Sculthorpe.

She was active in supporting the Miners in 1984/5, going to Sheffield and Wales with a play written by Ditton and Ford about Miner’s wives. She also played in a political anti-fascist ska punk band, The Vital Disorders, who did many benefit gigs at Norwich Labour Club for the miners.

In the 1990s, Mandy taught and ran a youth theatre at a local 6th Form College. She was able to teach Brecht, Dürrenmatt and direct many plays with political and social content. She became a Forum theatre practitioner using the techniques of Augusto Boal, the Brazilian activist, and used these techniques to examine moments of oppression from all angles. She went into schools with programmes on bullying and LGBT issues.

Mandy joined the protest against the Iraq War in 2003 and later joined the Green Party for a short while. But she resigned and joined the Labour Party as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Corbyn was familiar to Mandy from the peace movement and she was able to commit to the Labour Party as a party that would be a force for peace, would tackle the problems of climate change, develop renewable energy, support the disabled and care for both Education and our NHS.

Her enthusiasm for the Labour Party was further fired up by her experience of being a delegate at the party conference.

Every week Mandy is part of a team leafletting in North Walsham, where they campaign to stop children’s services being cut or to stop the fire service being incorporated into the police service.

As Womens Officer for North Norfolk CLP, she arranges lifts and informal sessions for women who have trouble getting to meetings. The local party collect for the Period Poverty Campaign and donate sanitary products to the local foodbank.

The Labour Party could be a real force in rural England with members like Mandy leading the way.

Labour Party hero #9

Jim Matheson
JIM MATHESON

Jim Matheson is a Labour Party activist in Cathcart CLP in Glasgow who has incredible energy and commitment to a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.

I got to know Jim when I was looking for support from local activists for a #JC4PM show in Edinburgh in March 2016.

The Tour Manager has booked one of the largest venues in Scotland and, although the line up included Charlotte Church, Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy, ticket sales were very slow.

I felt personally responsible for any bad publicity for Jeremy Corbyn that a low turnout would provide so I was trying every imaginable way to drive ticket sales.

My hands were tied in some ways by a few political issues relating to the show. Francesca Martinez had booked Janey Godley to perform and Janey was known for supporting the SNP (but liking Corbyn at the same time). The media picked up on this and this made Labour MSPs – and Scottish Labour – decidedly hostile to the show.

Support for the show from Labour in Scotland was very thin on the ground.

But then Jim Matheson came on the scene.

Jim volunteered to help with flyering in Edinburgh. He told me he’d flyer in the university, outside the Stand Comedy Club and in the town itself. All he wanted in return was a complimentary ticket and the chance to put up a stall.

That fact that Jim would be travelling from Glasgow to flyer didn’t deter him from this arduous task. And I was very grateful. Even more so when I found out that Jim would be flyering in his wheelchair.

Jim fulfilled his promise to flyer and made a great effort.

The show in Edinburgh didn’t go well, with some media turning up and reporting a low turnout and Jeremy Hardy making headlines for a joke he made. I was pretty despondent but Jim wrote to me to tell me he’d enjoyed the show. This meant a lot to me.

I have kept in touch with Jim since and visited him in Glasgow last summer when I was on a short holiday.

Jim told me that his political journey began in the Labour Party but he became disaffected by the war with Iraq.

He left the party to campaign for peace and later signed up to the Scottish Socialist Party. He felt let down by ‘New’ Labour. He joined picket lines in support of public sector workers hit by Labour government cuts. He supported independence for Scotland and seemed as far from Labour as you could get.

But that all changed in 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn got elected Labour leader. Jim rejoined. His political journey had come full circle and he was back where he began.

He wanted to get involved in his local CLP and got elected on to the EC. Although he was not selected as a council candidate, Jim remains positive and it has given him time to concentrate on DJing and performance poetry.

The lengths that Jim will go to support his dream of a Socialist government – plus his phenomenal energy – makes him just the sort of person Labour needs in Scotland.

Labour Party hero #10

Michael O'Sullivan

MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN

Michael O’Sullivan is someone whose IT skills and unbelievable work rate have made him a real asset to the Labour Party.

He says his political inspiration came when he was 15, in the kitchen of his friend’s grandfather, Tony Benn. At the time he was in a band with Tony’s grandson!

Tony Benn gave Michael a historical perspective on politics and said that each generation would have to refight the same battles for social justice.

Michael ran a small campaign at university against the Iraq War but didn’t join the Labour Party until 2010 when was angered by the Coalition government.

Michael’s exceptional IT skills became a huge bonus for his local party in Hammersmith, when he became a big part in their digital campaign in the 2014 local elections.

In that campaign, Michael also stood as a council candidate and missed out in becoming a councillor by a tiny margin. However, with Michael’s support on the digital side, Labour in Hammersmith & Fulham overturned a massive Conservative majority.

Michael’s enthusiasm for campaigning blossomed after this and he has since worked successfully on several campaigns, including running the popular Labour Future digital campaign.

Last month he was given a job working in parliament and this is fantastic news.

While the Labour Party has Michael’s skills and drive we are in a great position to win elections and push forward for the social justice.

Why ‘Labour Live’ is a good thing

During the second Labour leadership campaign, I thought up an idea that I believed would blow away all those who thought Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t leadership material. I suggested that an all-day, outdoor music event be held in north London that would include big name acts like Lily Allen, UB40 and/or Squeeze.

As I was tied up with the #KeepCorbyn shows that were going on up and down the country, the task of finding a park and getting the idea off the ground was delegated to someone else.

As it turned out, no parks in north – or any part of – London seemed to be available in the time frame they were needed, so it didn’t happen.

However, a similar idea has been taken up again with ‘Labour Live’, an all-day festival (in north London) of all good things connected with Labour. An exciting family day-out with musicians, speakers (including Jeremy Corbyn) and political discussion with The World Transformed.

Negative publicity

‘Labour Live’ has received some negative press as it is rumoured that it is going to run at a loss and tickets haven’t sold out (although there are still a few weeks to go – buy them here.).

The media enjoys knocking any attempt to make politics more accessible. Supposing that ‘Labour Live’ were to be a resounding success, the media would say that it is a cult (as ‘Daily Politics’ were trying to suggest when the idea was first put forward).

Unfortunately for our democracy, Westminster and the media are dominated by unimaginative people who regard politics as an exclusive, stuffy activity done behind closed doors. For these dullards an election turnout of under 70% is seen as high and party politics is regarded as flourishing when fewer than 2% of the population have actually joined a party.

Despite the negative media, the best way for the Labour Party to win the next General Election and to calm internal divisions is to put on more events like ‘Labour Live’ that create a positive atmosphere around politics.

For ‘Labour Live’ to really succeed it would have to be rolled out around the country and my recent experience with Stand up for Labour has shown me that there is an appetite for more entertaining political events in all corners of the country.

Last week I was in Minehead in West Somerset and Alton in East Hampshire and there were over 100 people at each event. The atmosphere was upbeat, even in so-called ‘unwinnable’ seats, as Labour supporters felt a sense of camaraderie and community that is so hard to come by in this isolating, internet age. New people signed up to join the party and we rewarded older members for their service to the party. People made light of their political differences and it was like a social club.

The worst possible scenario would be for the Labour Party to backtrack on events like ‘Labour Live’ because of negative media. We should keep trying out new ideas that engage people. We owe it to our supporters and to the people of this country.

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Lessons from Bolton

Back in late January, I organised a Stand up for Labour show for Bolton West Labour Party that was sponsored by the Baker’s Union.

It was a great success with over 150 people attending, fantastic performances from stand-up poet Kate Fox, comedian Kevin Dewsbury and the Socialist Magician Ian Saville as well as a fiery speech from the Baker’s Union National President Ian Hodson plus some fantastic Carr’s pasties in the interval. In total, it raised over £2,000 for the constituency party and was a good way to get people together before the selection of the parliamentary candidate (Julie Hilling was selected the day after).

Key marginal seat

Bolton West is a seat that Labour lost in 2010 and must undoubtedly recapture if it is to form the next government. It is a town that we can all learn a lot from.

Along with director Alice Bragg and cameraman Jon Stonehouse, we decided to make a short film about Bolton and the thoughts of its residents.

Before the Stand up for Labour show, I got in touch with Bolton West Labour Party to find out if there were any locals who would be interested in putting their views across about their town.

The response was amazing. Over two days, we interviewed over a dozen people from different ages and backgrounds (and also found some non-Labour supporters) and we collected hours and hours of footage.

A Brexit town

Everyone’s story was different but some common themes emerged: attempts to create jobs after the decline of cotton manufacture have focused largely on retail where quality jobs are few and far between, unaffordable housing is being built by private companies bringing with them a workforce rather than employing local people, and diversity – although celebrated – has caused some tensions in the town. While there may have been some elements of xenophobia, the 58% pro-Brexit vote seemed more about the perception that government (whether in London or in Brussels) was holding back opportunity in the town.

 

Thursday’s local election results show that Labour must improve its vote in areas like Bolton (where Labour lost two councillors).

One thing Labour could do nationally is listen to the concerns of the pro-Brexit towns.

Labour would then be able to promote a positive vision of Brexit. This would involve pledging to support British businesses, particularly engineering businesses, up-skill local people to do skilled jobs and building council housing, using the local construction industry to do so.

We are planning to make more films about Brexit towns in the coming months as it is vital that we listen to the views of people who feel neglected by politicians in Westminster.