Let’s be honest, every now and again you’ve taken a peek over the edge….the edge of the Labour party’s collapse. And as the cliff edge has got steadily got closer, peeking has become like that itch you just can’t leave alone.
If you can summon up the nerve to teeter on the edge and stare down the cliff face, the scars of the Blair-Brown era emerge: declining membership; an exiting of talent; an experience for those who’ve stayed that remains mediocre at best ; committed individuals who feel unsupported and unrecognised; and a party elite clinging on for dear life – an officer class if you will, that like the days of WW1 lack both the skills and the vision for the century ahead.
And if this is going to be a century where social democracies are to flourish, rather than just limp on, our politics has to genuinely be for the many, not the few; a politics that deeply engages people, develops skills, finds new talent, allows ideas to flourish, enables people to connect and ensures everyone can grow and win. Yes of course this includes winning elections but in a way that has meaning for individuals – so they don’t feel like members of a robot army that does the bidding for those who’ve scaled, or been helicoptered to the top.
Now we could wait, as some might have us do, for a glorious leader – back to the future via a new Blair, or fast forward to an undiscovered Obama. But rather than build gaudy shrines to the past or wander in the desert from mirage to mirage, how about a route where we get to work, take ownership of our fight back and build it together by genuinely putting members and supporters at the heart of our party’s objectives, culture and the way it works?
While we’re significantly hollowed out there are signs that change is afoot; that the centre is moving from “command and control” to become more supportive and enabling. A welcome indication of the way forward is the creation of a new Executive Director role for Membership and Supporters, an essential post that will be responsible for recruitment, training and improving the experience of members.
As the party shows signs of changing, this person will need to be someone with the courage to continue to open up, enabling supporters and volunteers to get actively involved in the party, ensuring power is devolved to the local level and supporting the development of Labour’s presence across the country with community campaigning that everyone can get involved in. They will need to consider recruiting talented organisers, supporting the delivery of youth mentoring programmes and designing training sessions that really develop members. Providing open access to membership lists in local parties and ensuring a proper welcome of every member into the party will be a vital element.
Whoever gets appointed is going to need your help too, to ensure a more supportive centre genuinely connects with the network of local parties and that an open access party is delivered for everyone to get involved in – whatever their situation and wherever they live or work.
So what are your ideas for the new Executive Director, once in post and what can you do to contribute? It could be as simple as committing to meet every new member in your area over a cup of tea or a drink, or phone those who have been less active or might be thinking of dropping out – encouraging them to stay involved as we grow again, or maybe you could coach at least one young member in your local area to fully develop their talents and leadership abilities for the future.
If we’re going to be the many and not the few, it’s going to be up to all of us to put our values into action, to do the hard work together and build a party where we can all genuinely gain meaning and find a common purpose. Build that together and we can’t fail to win!