So it has been a good day, we are on track for a 700 gains. Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard and delivered such great results. One of our most important achievements from last night is restoring our belief that we can win.
But, and of course there was a “but” coming, let’s be clear, what happened last night is not going to get us over the line in 2015. We need more voters and we need a party that can find and foster them. Tom Watson said on the BBC last night and is entirely correct that this is the foundation of building our Party back into power.
Having active councillors and having active councils is one of the best predictors of whether you win parliamentary seats and so could be the foundation for winning the next election. If we have Labour people in councils and CLPs building relationships with the electorate, communities and people; if these councillors and CLPs build trust, deliver some results on the ground, and listen; and if listening includes on policy concerns such as on immigration and crime, to who in the street needs a lift to the polling station. Then this could well be the starting point.
So, getting those councillors and council wins is really great, but here is to that promised “But”.
There are two actually.
This is low turnout terrain, and thus fragile. And all those happy and exhausted people across the country, those councillors and the teams of people that got them elected need to be grown, supported and resourced to actually turn what happened last night into parliamentary wins, and a future Labour majority.
If we can do get our activism levels up to win higher turn-out elections then yes, tonight could become the foundation of the parliamentary wins that will make up Labour’s next majority.
Addressing both those “Buts” requires us to get serious about investing in those teams and people that were out last night.
So what does it actually mean, supporting and resourcing these happy and exhausted people, scattered across the country, in Harlow, Norwich, Thurrock, Dudley, Birmingham, Blackburn and the rest, as well as the equally exhausted folks in Bradford and Glasgow? What do these councillors and parties need to do to build active, embedded parties that people will bother to turn out for on election day, in the rain, and when they don’t agree with every policy or person we are asking them to voting for? (Even the most loyal and committed of us don’t buy all of it all of the time, so this is about trust and building that trust for Labour’s “brand” across policy, issues and people.)
So this not easy. It is about building, organising and inspiring teams and groups of people, and mainly volunteers over the course of a year or two. It is getting them exciting enough to bring their
friends and neighbours too. It is about vastly increasing our membership and more to the point our activism. It is people starting see the Labour Party as part of the fabric of their community. But we
know how to do this in the Labour Party. Mobilising and organising people, for their own interests, part of our tradition and toolkit.
What it does take is a bit of time, a lot of energy, some skill and planning and a serious interest in the people and places we are in, and humility towards those very people we want to work with. This is public service after all. We have done it before, and many places are already showing what can and needs to be done. All those swing-defying wins in the last general election are the place to start looking at what we can achieve.
And as for the low turn-out issue, well, the Tory vote was heavily suppressed; people didn’t turn-out but are likely to in a General Election. Much like many people who would consider voting Labour
didn’t bother turning-out in London for Ken. Low turn-out is a problem in general. Both we and the Tories are stuck in low turn-out election strategies, with a race to the bottom: whose vote gets suppressed least wins.
That needs to change for a whole series of reasons. Apart from the fact that it is an indictment of our democracy, and as the ‘party of the many not the few’ it is hardly a good starting point, it makes us all very vulnerable to the Respects, SNPs, UKIPs and BNPs. And in fact the Greens, but I can’t quite bring myself to put them in the same sentence.
The solution is the same. Active, vibrant, embedded CLPs that are full of activists and supporters, using the party to do what they want and need in the places they live and work, valuing our members and volunteers as our greatest asset. Ed and Iain get this, and the events of the last 48 hours should strengthen of their resolve. Key changes have happened at HQ. Now the challenge is turning the core mission of the party machinery to that of supporting, building and empowering CLPs and activists across the country.
And that is the responsibility of all of us.
Karin Christiansen is a founding member of Labour Values, helped manage the 2008 campaign in Bethnal Green and Bow, and is currently working on the Labour’s Next Majority Project at the Fabian society. She is former director of a global international development campaign.