By Jamie Audsley and Andy Hull
One of Ed Miliband’s themes at Party Conference this year was opening up closed circles. As conference descended on Liverpool, we took the pulse, asking members we met how they thought the Party was doing. “I’m not sure they really want me here,” said a member from East London. “They say they do, but they don’t. I’ve tried to get involved but they want to run it like they’ve always done: a closed shop that serves their interests and their friends. What’s in it for me and our area?” Another member, from Crewe, said there were two conferences happening: on the one hand, ordinary members as delegates in the hall, going through the motions (literally), and, on the other, suits at drinks receptions calling the shots.
“What would be the one thing the Labour party would have to do to get you in, get you involved?”, we asked. “Open up, enable me actually to make change happen, to do something real.” Fast forward to Tuesday and it appears Ed has been listening, as he calls for a new way of doing our politics.
And here’s the real story of Conference and the Party that needs to be told. A story that connects the top and the bottom. Forget the comment and the headlines for the moment, the Blue, the Purple and the Lime Green (don’t worry, that one doesn’t exist… yet). The real story is in the beginnings of an attempt to do things differently; to involve people and to create a culture where people can act together to effect change and achieve something real. A culture where people matter and our circle keeps opening up and we keep growing.
‘Connecting to Win’, an event organised by Labour Values and supported by Movement for Change, contributed to this effort. Over the last year, Labour Values have met to discuss and take action to try to do our politics differently. We continued this effort in Liverpool, harnessing the energy of Ed’s speech, by bringing together 55 people from across the country at an event to share how they are developing their membership and how they are building relationships with their communities to effect change and win. The event was participative, with everyone from the General Secretary of the Party to the youngest at just 15 being able to speak and contribute to our way forward.
After an hour or so of sharing our experiences from up and down the country of what works (and what doesn’t), we agreed some next steps and committed to return to our constituencies and implement one or two practical actions, to open up our own local circles. They included starting a local party youth mentoring programme, taking on risky campaigns that really meet the interests of members, and implementing a section in local meetings where we work on real plans to improve our community, however small. You can read the rest here.
From the Leader’s office at the top to our own wards’ meeting rooms at the bottom, this work needs to continue. For Ed, he needs to stay out there and press the flesh, to walk the streets of our country and to visit the homes and factories of the people we know are returning to Labour. For Conference, let’s ensure next year we have more open meeting spaces where members can hold a gathering for free; discounted student accommodation; hub workspaces to blog, chat and share ideas; open mic events and creative spaces to bring our annual get-together into the 21st century – open discussions and question times are a good start, but we can go further.
And for us, we suggest every local party can do three things: first, start raising money for a local organiser whose job it is to involve, develop and nurture new talent; second, develop a leadership programme for our people to develop their skills of organisation, communication and campaigning to achieve real change; and third, write a common purpose document with all your members and local community so that people know what we’re there for. Policy is important, but let’s open up the Party’s closed circles, so that we do politics as if people matter too.
Jamie Audsley is a Labour Party member in Dulwich and West Norwood CLP. Andy Hull is a Labour Party member in Islington North CLP.