Give activists a #labourbreak

April 12, 2012 9:11 am

It isn’t much fun being a Labour activist right now. I suspect being a Lib Dem activist gives it a run for its money as they adjust to the smacks in the face their leadership feel empowered and seemingly compelled to give them. But the Lib Dems, at least nominally, have their hands on the levers of power. If they work out how to use them, that might even cheer up those left in council seats next month.

Labour are fighting back in local government, and our activists are knocking on doors up and down the country. We’re leafleting in the freezing cold and generally trying to maximise the Labour vote. It’s what we do. We are the marching army.

I believe that our activism needs updating. I fear that our focus on quantitative engagement when canvassing and leafleting can mask a lack of qualitative engagement in communities. The kind of activism that proves our worth by showing, rather than counting our worth in contacts made and promises tallied. I believe that what happened in Bradford, when fully analysed, may well prove a catalyst for better understanding of the kind of change to activism that’s required.

But in the meantime, we’ve elections to fight. A new kind of activism isn’t going to present itself, ready-made for each and every constituency. It will take time and effort to change. Meanwhile, we need to continue to work to reach out to voters in the best ways people currently know how. That means for many the kind of activism people are used to.

Now here’s something you won’t hear very often: Labour activists are normal people. Sure they engage in an unusual and highly minority pastime. But they do so equipped with the same social needs and desires as everyone else. Some of us are a bit nerdy, but we’ve found a group of people with whom we can share our nerdiness and bolster each other’s happiness. We share our battle stories and our triumphs. Because it’s the 21st century we do some of this on mediums like Twitter and Facebook.

If Labour activists are only talking to each other, that’s a huge problem. We need to talk – and more importantly listen – to people of varying degrees of political engagement, from those who couldn’t name the Prime Minister to engaged floating voters. We need to understand what’s happening in our country and communities and we need to ask how Labour can help. Ask them, ask ourselves and ask the Party as a whole.

Confirmation bias can be a really damaging thing. I saw it happen to Yes activists in the recent referendum and to Labour activists at the last election. I hear Labour activists fall prey to it when discussing the cuts, completely misunderstanding where the public are, because it is not where the people they are talking to are.

So I understand people’s concern about Twitter memes like #Labourdoorstep – a hashtag used on Twitter where activists share the interesting and most often positive experiences they have had while canvassing. I understand it, but I simply don’t agree with the concern.

Activism must never, ever be a closed shop. It must reach out. But as long as it does so, activists must also be allowed to support one another. To cheer, console, rally and rouse one another. External facing comms is essential. But so are the values of friendship and camaraderie that we develop between fellow Labour members, whether they be those we know from our physical communities or those from our virtual ones.

When activists were just rallying each other in pubs and community centres, this was uncomplicated. No one in their right mind would complain about people sharing tales in such arenas. But recent complaints have focused on tales shared on Facebook groups and Twitter. Concern has been entirely well meaning. The worry has been a concern that the conversations are excluding or unnecessarily boastful. But for me, they miss the purpose of social networking: the social. #Labourdoorstep isn’t excluding anyone. It’s just activsts who 20 years ago would have had a select few others defined by geography to engage with, support and be supported by, have simply reached out to each other through different, less inhibiting channels.

We ask a lot of activists. Sometimes we ask too much and we know that we do. The least we can do is not deny them the social pleasures that activism can bring, wherever they may find it.

  • Rangerwave

    Wow, what an empty, baseless article. I love the bit where you said there is a problem, and then didn’t actually explain any of the solutions through your vacuous discourse. Good job. 

  • Redshift

    “I believe that our activism needs updating. I fear that our focus on quantitative engagement when canvassing and leafleting can mask a lack of qualitative engagement in communities.”This is basically because too many local parties still only campaign at election time – where inevitably it is and should be election-focused campaigning. When local parties campaign all year round, they find local issues that they can translate into interim campaigns during the rest of the year. You can then petition people for example on the doorstep and simply pick up the Voter ID whilst you’re at it. You then talk to other local organisations about whatever issue you’re campaigning on, go along to their meetings to talk about it, etcSo it is rather simple in the way, establish regular campaigning all-year round and community engagement becomes a natural outcome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.bidgood Elliot Bidgood

      Agreed. Campiagning all year round counteracts the “you only come round here at election time” complaint, and some people genuinely see to appreciate being canvassed.

      Further away from election time when response rates are less of an absolute priority, you can also ask about any issues they’d like to raise, and while they sometimes give you an earful and there’s rarely little youn do to ensure their concerns are addressed (other than write them down and pass them on to the nearest councillor), people like being asked what they think. I also find it eases the conversation, making it a two-way street, as simply pointedly asking them about voting intention is somewhat clinical and intrusive. Closer to election time, this is often dropped, as it tends to add a few minutes per doorstep and slow down the overall contact rate, but away from election times it should always be standard practice. Further, mechanisms for translating accumulated recorded concerns into party policy reviews would make this exercise more valuable.

  • Holly

    ‘We’ve found a group of people,(nerds) with who we can share our nerdiness, and bolster each other’s happiness’.
    Wow!
    As long as the nerds are bolstering each other’s happiness, the world’s a great place to live.
    As a ‘non nerd’, IF I was a nerd, Id be tweeting how she can sod off and ‘bolster’ her nerdy happiness by herself….But maybe nerds will take this as a compliment, and twitter to arrange a nerd happiness bolstering meeting.
    Now I’m starting to giggle,at the thought of ‘nerd happiness’ group meetings, so I’ll sod off myself.
    But WOW! again for this ‘enlightening’ piece.

    • Holly

      NO disrespect
      was meant to nerds anywhere in my last comment, but Ms Emma really needs to stop getting out as much, and get out more.
      Her opinion of nerds and their happiness, leaves a lot to be desired.
      Nerds are great, but ‘happy’ nerds are the salt of the earth….Without them Labour would be leaderless.
      No offence to ‘unhappy’ nerds, disgusted by Ms Emma’s trivialisation of their importance.
      Sorry…Can not help myself, being a plain  un-nerdy type.

      • Dave Postles

         There’s a lot of capitalist money to be made from exploiting nerds – they are an important constituency in a pluralist commercial economy.  Some nerds even become the supreme capitalist (Gates).  Others re-establish their company’s fortunes on the coolness of nerdiness (Jobs).  Don’t despise the nerds – niche products for them help to make the capitalist world go round.

        • Holly

          Where I come from Gates is NOT a nerd.
          People who collect train numbers, angle, do Rubik cubes, are nerds.
          Angling…What the heck is that in aid of?
          So whatever your take on what a ‘nerd’ is I despise neither option.
          Going on what I would see as a ‘nerd’, ‘Nerdy’ happiness bolstering groups, just seemed so funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=564361715 Jeff Maughan

    I am unsure what this article is advocating. 

    “I fear that our focus on quantitative engagement when canvassing and
    leafleting can mask a lack of qualitative engagement in communities. The
    kind of activism that proves our worth by showing, rather than counting
    our worth in contacts made and promises tallied”

    This bit appears to be saying we should not be conducting voter id.  This would not be a very good idea unless you like losing elections.

    • Holly

      You got all that from that?

    • Winston_from_the_Ministry

      If I may translate…

      “we do lots of work but don’t actually achieve anything”

      Think that about sums it up.

  • Mike Murray

    I live in the North and there are no nerds here — only people wanting jobs!  If we can offer them jobs then they’ll vote for us whatever stories we tell each other.

    • aracataca

      Well said Mike. That is something the Tories and Fib Dems aren’t offering people at the moment nor are they ever likely to. Once again Mike the only intelligent remark in a sea of  Tory dross.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Barker/1546990341 Paul Barker

    On the comparison with libdems, your leader usually gets  between 30 &  40% approval in members surveys, clegg generally gets 60 to 70%. Perhaps libdems are more loyal or just naturally jolly. We will see in  3 weeks whose supporters are more in touch with reality.

  • UKAzeri

    Emma, I generally find it difficult to disagree with you. Similarly now..

    However….

    There has been a lot of talk about the need to engage the voters. Agree ( who wouldnt?). The issue is what do we talk about on the doorstep?  Our u turn on cuts? Our lack of any sort of alternative? Our ongoing fear of Murdoch press? Our privitazation initiatives in NHS, Police, Local Government and Education that are so eagerly being expanded by the Tories?

    what are we supposd to talk about? who are we, Emma? :)
     

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