Battersea Labour Party: asking the fundamental questions

20th March, 2012 3:09 pm

I recently attended an extraordinary meeting of Labour Party members in Battersea, which gave me cause for quiet optimism.  In a seat which only recently lost its Labour MP, and in which a number of dedicated Labour councillors work hard to hold the Tory administration to account, levels of activism among Labour members had become worryingly low.  Some months ago I spoke with the (now former) local organiser Andy Fearn, who described how matters came to a head when he arranged a canvassing session and only three people attended, himself included.

Yet the constituency membership has grown by 130 since the General Election.  And it was hardly the case that members lacked local issues on which to campaign: libraries were being threatened with closure, and the Council had just put forward plans to charge children £2.50 for using its playgrounds.

Mark Rowney was one of the two local Labour members who showed up for that day’s canvassing.  As he later recalled, they retired to the pub to discuss where things were going wrong.

“My colleague turn to me and asked, ‘why don’t people want to come out’?” he said. “But as we talked, I realised that was the wrong question. What we needed to ask was: ‘Why would people want to come out?’”

With this question in mind (and advised by Caroline Badley (Birmingham Edgbaston) and Arnie Graf, Ed Miliband’s community organising advisor), they began to focus on building relationships rather than centring their activism around tasks.  Over the following weeks, a small team of Battersea Labour activists systematically contacted new members to set up individual face-to-face meetings with them.  These meetings focused on two things: first, finding out more about what had motivated members to join the Party in the first place and, second, inviting them to attend a bigger gathering to meet informally with other local members.

So what made the recent Battersea meeting extraordinary? First, turnout.  The turnout of 60+ local members, in a seat whose membership is dwarfed by many other London CLPs, brought a bulk of the membership together in a way that rarely happens in our local parties anymore.  The atmosphere was buzzing as a result – a number of previously inactive members with whom I spoke talked with excitement about what they could achieve within their local party.

Second, the emphasis on relationships.  The meeting was relational in tone and form – it centred around people sharing food, drink and stories, to build individual relationships which made us all feel part of something bigger than ourselves.  This focus on what motivates people to act (i.e. identifying their self-interest) has transformed the way Battersea activists approach their organising.  In turn, it has also laid the groundwork not just for more people joining the CLP; crucially, it has provided a means for more people joining in.

Of course, the real test of this work is still to come.  Will massively increased turnout at one event convert into more action on the ground? I suspect that an important element of keeping the momentum and converting it into action will be for the Battersea organisers to heed their own advice: ask not why people didn’t come to you. Rather, start with their self-interest and build the relationship from there.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]

  • ovaljason

    Kathryn

    This is an excellent initiative by local members and I wish you the best of luck with it.

    As to how this model of activism could be used elsewhere….Well there is one simple question to ask and only one person to ask it of.

    The question to Ed Miliband is ‘what have you done with M4C?

    Remember them?  Movement4Change?  A movement of local activists, bringing the party together, based around strong local bonds and campaigning on Labour-minded issues.

    M4C is up there with those other landmark projects –  Refounding Labour, the policy review and new Executive Committee – that EdM has made such a jolly good job of managing.

    He’s ace that Ed Miliband, isn’t he?

  • Chilbaldi

    Yes! We need fewer stuffy meetings where the old worthies gather to discuss standing orders, and more informal social gatherings with food and drink. Make it a forum for people to meet each other and discuss, not the current set up of many CLPs

    • treborc

      I suspect the people living on the street will use it as a soup of food kitchen

  • You had a crisis when only three people turned up to canvass? I dream of having three people to canvass with! 😉

Latest

  • Local Government News Scotland Weekly survey: Elections 2016

    Weekly survey: Elections 2016

    Labour faces its first major electoral test under Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday – and we want to know how you expect Labour to perform. Scottish Labour has been polling behind the SNP for several years. Will Kezia Dugdale’s team win enough seats to avoid coming third behind the Conservatives? Labour needs at least 30 seats in Wales to maintain a majority. However, with the rise of UKIP and threats from Plaid Cymru some think they will only be able to achieve a minority […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Local Government Uncategorized Police and crime commissioners can cut crime – so let’s overcome the apathy

    Police and crime commissioners can cut crime – so let’s overcome the apathy

    Following selection as the Labour candidate for police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall in February 2016 I have campaigned across this vast constituency of 1.3 million voters and the most common response I have received is “Election? What election?”. It is utterly shocking that the Government has failed to promote the Commissioner’s post and, most importantly, the elections taking place across England and Wales on Thursday. After introducing the post following their 2010 manifesto pledge anyone would think the Conservatives – and Theresa May […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News New Labour figures throw weight behind In campaign

    New Labour figures throw weight behind In campaign

    Major New Labour figures are throwing their weight behind the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, with a series of major interventions – including a possible return for Tony Blair. Former Chancellor Alistair Darling has warned that a vote to leave the EU could cost the UK £250 billion in lost trade, while Peter Mandelson has hit out at the anti-immigration rhetoric of the Out campaign. Darling said that pulling out of the single market would introduce greater trade […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Campaign round-up: Two days to go

    Campaign round-up: Two days to go

    It’s two days until voters go to the polls – here’s a quick look at how the elections are shaping up across the country. Quote of the Day “Only a Tory Government with as warped a sense of priorities as this one could issue a statement lauding the roll-out [of Universal Credit] on the same day an independent expert report from the Resolution Foundation shows Tory cuts will completely undermine work incentives in the programme.” – Owen Smith, on the warped […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Local Government News Corbyn: We will not lose any seats

    Corbyn: We will not lose any seats

    Jeremy Corbyn has issued a defiant message to his internal critics as he vowed Labour would defy predictions and not lose any seats on Thursday. The under-fire Labour leader confirmed he would “of course” stand in any future leadership election as he told activists to look for electoral gains around the country. Corbyn was speaking in London as he unveiled a new election poster saying: “Elections are about taking sides. Labour is on yours”. “We are not going to lose […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit