Category Archives: Local Government

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.

Back to my roots

I moved back to North Kensington in May.

This is the area in west London where I grew up: where I first played football (in St Marks Park); where I learned to ride a bike (in Kensington Gardens) was taught how to swim (in the arctic Kensington New Pools); and where I went to school, first at Fox Primary and then at Holland Park Secondary; and where being called Crispin was no big deal.

Walking around the area brings up many memories. The Corner Shop in Cornwall Crescent, where we lived, is now closed. But I remember running there with the odd two pence piece to buy penny chews. I remember a neighbour buying me my first ‘Milky Way’ there too. The launderette is still there, and it was surrounded by the big washing machines that I had my first packet of ‘Quavers’. The library in Ladbroke Grove which, thankfully, is still open owing to the work of campaigners, was where I remember reading a very useful book about how to stop hiccups and where my mum used to take out French novels.

Aside from these trivial reflections, my abiding memory of childhood is of a community where diversity was championed and people from all over the borough mostly got along well. Some pupils in my class came from the big houses at the top of the hill by Ladbroke Grove; others came from tower blocks. Both my schools had more nationalities than any others in the country. I can say this with confidence because, not only did they contain a great mix of nationalities living in the borough, but also children of ambassadors in the dozens of embassies around Kensington.

Grenfell Tower fire

I was shaken out of this state of recollection of times past by the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June.

I heard helicopters circling above for most of that night but I assumed this was a police pursuit and drifted in and out of sleep. But then to wake up and see horrific pictures of the fire brought an immediate urge to help. My partner and I went to buy clothing and food from the supermarket but it was hard to find where to take it as, before long, each emergency centre was reporting it had no more room.

About mid-morning, we arrived at the Tabernacle Christian Centre to find dozens of people helping the relief effort, sifting through bin liners full of clothes and sorting these out into different piles. Every half minute another person would arrive with bags full of stuff. The spirit of community that I witnessed that morning and for the next few weeks reminded me of what makes humanity great – and it reminded me of the spirit of the area in the 1970s when people from all backgrounds would rally to support local causes.

Within a week of the fire, I realised that it would have a massive psychological effect on those who witnessed it. Having experienced the bus bomb in 2005, I was familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. I contacted the man who ran the 7 July Assistance Centre to ask if he could help. He came along to a small meeting in the Dalgarno Centre and said there would be no immediate call for a trauma centre as the feelings would take a while to process after the fire. He passed on information about best practice and how to run a trauma centre. It’s good to know that there is now a centre up and running that can offer survivors the psychological support they need.

One of the most moving experiences of my life came from attending the first Silent March for Grenfell. Hundreds of people, some angry and some sad, all remaining silent as they walked in rememberance of those who died. At one moment, a woman lost her child. This was the only time the silence was disrupted as people called out to find the girl. Eventually, mother and daughter were reunited and it was incredibly heartwarming.

Grenfell fundraiser e-flyer

Fundraiser on 14 December

In September, I was elected as a joint fundraising officer for Kensington Labour Party. I also put my name forward as a possible candidate for the council elections next May. It will be amazing if Labour could win against the asset-stripping Tories in Kensington & Chelsea. So I have been looking at ways to raise funds for the campaign. I tried to book the Tabernacle for a fundraiser in November but the local party felt that the hire fee was too expensive. Next I tried the WestBank gallery under the Westway. They could only offer me the 14th of December as a date.

I booked a great line up including ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Arthur Smith, comedian and commentator Ava Vidal and Punk Poet Attila the Stockbroker for the gig. However, I then realised that 14th December was the same night as the six-month anniversary of the fire. So I decided that the most appropriate thing to do was to change the evening to a fundraiser for ‘Christmas for Grenfell’, a local initiative which raises money for children traumatised by the fire. I asked the comedians not to perform stand-up but to tell stories or recite poetry instead which they all agreed to do.

The fundraiser has a powerful line up of speakers. Jon Snow from Channel 4 News, Moyra Samuels from Justice 4 Grenfell, Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigades Union, Piers Thompson from Save our Silchester, Abdurahman Sayed from Al Manaar Muslim
Cultural Centre, Reverend Steve Divall from St Helen’s Church and Michael Defoe Director of Harrow Club.

The event will start after people have returned from the Silent March and I have invited speakers from the community to say a few words about their experience, the strength they saw around them, the hope and the fight for justice. There will also be a screening of acclaimed short film that deals with the tragedy, BLINDSPOT.

Tickets for Fundraiser for Grenfell can be bought here.

The day after the fundraiser, I will be attending a Councillor selection meeting for the Labour Party and my hope is that I will be able to stand in Norland, the ward that I was raised in and that my Dad represented as a Councillor when I was an infant. If I do not get selected for that ward, I will try for Campden, where I went to school.

Either way, I will do my best to win the council back for Labour and for the area that means so much to me.

Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister, 8 May 2020

Below is a report of how Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots campaign paid off and how the Labour Party established itself as the party of government

‘The people I have to thank most of all for this are those who have worked so tirelessly to campaign to promote a new type of politics in all our communities. This is our victory.’ – Jeremy Corbyn, outside 10 Downing Street, 8 May 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has won a landslide victory at the General Election and the first thing he did was pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of activists who played such a crucial role in campaigning.

Since the Labour leader cemented his place in the party following the leadership election of 2016, the party increased its membership by one million to over 1.5 million. The party had formerly merely mouthed the idea of recruitment as this had not sat comfortably with many MPs elected during the Tony Blair era. While Blair had relied on the support of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch to get elected, Corbyn steered a different course.

In many ways it all started with the trade unions rallying behind Corbyn in 2016. Unions played a significant role in promoting Corbyn’s values with hundreds of thousands of members joining Labour and also taking an active part in local politics.

Rooted in communities

After the party was reorganised so that it was less top-down, local Labour Party branches were encouraged to recruit more people and engage them in campaigning as well as social activity. Labour became part of the community again just as it had been decades before through working men’s clubs. Regular Labour newsletters were delivered to each household, not just asking for votes but keeping local people up to date with the political issues in their community. And people were encouraged to speak about the issues that affected them – public meetings were a regular occurrence.

Labour councils were also part of a shift towards a campaigning party. Councils made sure that the message of what austerity was doing was brought to the public’s attention. The local government rally against austerity in 2017 was a breakthrough with over two million people demonstrating against austerity across the country. Labour councils also made their accounts transparent and easy to read so that all residents could see exactly how little money there was to maintain essential services.

Social media and media platforms were also a vital part of Corbyn’s success. It was now much easier for people to receive information without needing to hear it through the prism of anti-Labour sources. And people were offered a cultural alternative to X Factor and reality TV with exciting shows written and produced by Corbyn supporters from across the arts.

500 activists per seat

What this all meant was that for the past year there have been over 500 activists in each constituency engaging with their community and showing that Corbyn’s straightforward, honest politics was not just a catchphrase, but a new way of doing politics and winning elections.