Category Archives: Labour Party

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.

 

Labour must campaign earnestly everywhere

The Labour Party is now in a position where it can build solid foundations in every city, town and village in the country. With a commitment to grassroots activity, Labour could create strong community ties that will last generations and provide a firm bedrock from which we can flower and grow.

To achieve this, Labour must ditch some of the short-term thinking that has undermined its support in many towns and villages.

For decades, Labour concentrated all resources only on ‘key seats’. This has meant that Labour supporters in ‘unwinnable’ towns and villages have been asked to ditch their local concerns and campaign in a neighbouring, more marginal constituency.

The rationale behind focusing on ‘winnable’ seats was purely a lack of numbers on the ground. A party with under 200,000 members simply did not have enough active people to attempt to win every seat.

Seats – or even wards in council elections – have been identified as ‘unwinnable’ and ‘paper candidates’ have been put up (ie not really a serious candidate – just there on paper).

Why bother to put up candidates when there has been no campaigning on the ground and there is no expectation of winning (especially when this costs a fair amount of money)? The answer is that it is good for Labour’s image to be seen to be standing everywhere regardless of whether they win and so people have a choice to vote Labour.

I now think it’s time to move one step further with this approach. 

Why don’t we stand candidates in every ward and seat and actually earnestly campaign in those wards and seats – so that people in those communities know that Labour really does have a presence everywhere?

We now have over 600,000 members and many of those members are in ‘unwinnable’ seats. We need to energise those members and not make them feel like they are simply paying a subscription that will help Labour win in marginal seats.

Last year’s General Election saw many new towns – and villages – emerge as possible Labour strongholds of the future.

Bournemouth, for example, has a large Labour membership that were inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and is now working hard to overturn two formerly ‘unwinnable’ Tory seats. Young local activists like Henry Land are enthusiastically campaigning during the local elections as they build up to the next General Election. The Stand up for Labour event in Bournemouth had an attendance of over 150 people and it was supported by three trade unions plus a local business (Unicorn) (see picture above).

Henry Land is not alone in wanting to transform Labour’s fortunes in formerly ‘unwinnable’ seats.

In Aldershot, Hampshire, Alex Crawford and Hashim Hassan promoted a very successful Stand up for Labour show in March and, in May, Stand up for Labour is putting on shows in Minehead (West Somerset) as well as North Walsham (North Norfolk) and Alton (East Hampshire).

Policies needed

It would benefit these CLPs if the party could also push forward policies that would benefit rural areas. The recent Fabians report, ‘How Labour can reconnect with the countryside’, shows that Labour has a poor image in these communities. The report calls for commitments to improve transport, broadband and supporting small business. These policies would not only increase Labour’s popularity in these seats but would pressure the government into improving services that would benefit local residents for generations to come.

With a combination of ‘rural-proof’ policies and a large group of activists Labour can potentially win everywhere.

  • You can buy tickets for Stand up for Labour through the website.

Can the Labour Party come together?

One of the reasons why politics gets a bad name is that politicians will argue about anything. It’s as though they are looking for reasons not to get on, rather than seeking to do the best for their community or the country.

Put simply this is called looking for the differences and not the similarities.

I suppose this wouldn’t be a big issue if we were just talking about Labour politicians disagreeing with Tories. But it does become a problem when it is people from within the Labour Party attacking each other.

Personalities not principles

Factions can be created from votes for positions within the party. Some people become attached to one candidate against another and make this into a matter of principle. This certainly was the case with Jeremy Corbyn standing for leader of the Labour Party and with the second leadership election. Since he was elected, many members of the Labour Party have fallen out – just over a vote for who is the leader of the party.

But it doesn’t just have to be a leadership election, some people have built up resentments against each other for elections for positions in the Labour Party, for council selection or MP selection.

It’s as though every internal election causes more division and, in doing so, makes unity harder.

Show of hands

Everything goes to a vote

Another reason why there are rifts is that every decision in the Labour Party has to go to a vote. In Labour Party branches and CLPs people will vote on anything from whether the minutes are correct to how much money should be spent on the Christmas Social. This isn’t actually always necessary and can lead to unnecessary divisions.

Consensus decision-making is a method of including the input of all so that decisions may address all potential concerns. This creates a greater cohesion within the group. With this method, because everyone has their voice heard, those who are uncomfortable with a particular decision can be persuaded by the force of the argument of comrades and not by the number of hands in the air (often many are not persuaded that something is right or wrong because they lost a vote).

Divisions built on fear

The consequence of factions being formed on the back of votes – whether for positions of power or for any other issue – is that these factions start to distance themselves from each other. This involves talking negatively about the other faction and finding a solidarity with others solely on the basis of this animosity.

So the rifts start to feel intractable.

This seems to be happening in the Labour Party now with a few groups arguing in public about issues like the composition of the National Executive Committee.

What’s being done to unite the party?

There are a few people saying ‘the party must be united’ if we are to win. But there is nothing being done. And the Labour Party itself isn’t going to admit that there are factions as it is not in its interest to do so.

In fact, many of the factions within the party are actually holding meetings in which they are quite publicly saying they wish to take control of the party or take back control. This is only going to escalate divisions.

Laughing audience

Finding common ground

My experience of Stand up for Labour has shown me that social events are a great way to get people together. At Stand up for Labour,  people from all sides of the party are united in laughter and we find our common cause within the Labour Party family. We are able to see that we are a broad church and that we all want to work towards Labour coming back to government and winning local elections.

I believe that Labour members actually agree about most things.

We all want a society where there is no need for foodbanks, we all want the NHS to be properly funded so that everyone has access to good healthcare, and we all want our education system to provide an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We believe that jobs should be available that are well-paid and secure and we also believe that we should have decent, genuinely affordable housing for all.

Issues that are disagreed about, such as defence and foreign policy, fiscal policy, PFI schemes and nationalisation should be discussed openly and the weight of arguments should make the difference not tactical manoeuvres at meetings. I’m sure that if all members felt that their opinions were taken into account then there would be no fallout from policy decision making.

Curry for Corbyn picture 1

A unifying event

On Sunday the 4th of March, I am putting on a curry evening that will involve a discussion on how people see the future of the Labour Party. This discussion will include policy matters as well as party campaigns and organisation. I am writing to all of these groups to invite them:

Blue Labour, Chartist, CLPD, Compass, Co-Operative Party, Fabians, Labour First, Labour Future, LRC, Momentum, Open Labour, Progress, Tribune and all the affilliated trade unions.

The rules of the discussion will be that no one is to speak without using the handheld mic, that no one hogs the mic and that there are no personal attacks or heckling. We can then have a proper discussion and not get indigestion from the curry.

My hope is that some headway may be made towards party unity through the act of being in the same room and breaking naan together.

  • Tickets for ‘Breaking Naan’ will be available to all Labour supporters in the next two weeks.

 

 

 

Strengthening CLPs is key to future victory

The results from 8 June showed that a strong presence on the ground is the perfect counter to biased, pro-Conservative media. What I saw on the last day of the campaign was incredible numbers of activists out in west London, bringing with them amazing victories in Ealing Central & Acton and Brentford & Isleworth.

At the Curry for Corbyn discussion last week it was clear that London was very well served by activists. Kensington, Battersea, City of London, Croydon, Chipping Barnet – Labour members from all of these seats talked about the same numbers on the ground.

We have to replicate what happened in London in other areas of the country.

Stand up for Labour is asking Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to get in touch (contact admin@standupforlabour.co.uk if interested) if they wish to put on a fundraiser. The General Election has depleted funds and there is a strong possibility that another election is on the way in the next year.

A comedy night with local films, poetry and music is also an ideal way to re-mobilise members and supporters. And it’s a great introduction for the thousands of people who have joined since the General Election.

One of the most uplifting aspects of the last General Election campaign was the return of party unity. Labour delivered a fantastic set of policies that we could all be proud of – and were very popular. It’s now time that we talk up party unity and the programme put forward in the manifesto and start to turn marginals into Labour gains. A good way to do this is to bring all members together for an affordable social that raises valuable funds.

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.

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.