Great results, but Labour needs more voters, and an organisation that can find them

4th May, 2012 3:57 pm

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.

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  • llanystumdwy

    But how can you mobilise volunteers when the hierarchy of the Labour party treats its own members with such contempt? Brown and Blair have turned Labour into a party run by a tiny elite consisting of spin doctors and Spads and that is why Labour lost so badly in 2010: it was completely out of touch with ordinary concerns of voters. 

    You only have to attend a Labour conference nowadays to see that everything is stage managed and controlled: ordinary members opinions count for nothing anymore. Not a single member was given a chance to vote on Gordon Brown becoming leader and PM of the country for 3 years in 2007, yet Labour has the gall to claim it is a democratic party! Until Labour returns to its democratic roots before the control freaks of new Labour arrived and respects the role of ordinary members, its long term decline will continue.

    • treborc1

       When has the conference not been staged managed i will agree new labour took it to the extreme , but it’s always been like this to some degree, hence most of us went to the Union fringe meetings, sadly the American way of doing politics will come here, that just part and parcel of the money  of America, labour and the Tories wanting to turn politics into a sort of American party

  • TomAshe

    These gains have resulted from the awfulness and failures of the Coalition. What happened yesterday is a n expression of disenchantment and anger towards the Coalition not a positive vote for Labour. Therein lies the danger. The electorate giveth and the electorate taketh away. Labour needs more meat on the bone.

    • treborc1

       You mean as it was when labour were in power in 2010, people tend to do this all the time over the years it’s what people do, come the next election then we will see who has the best policies because for general elections it’s no good having five points and hope nobody asks to much.

      But on the other hand to be honest the Tories have been a bloody nightmare when in power, and they are again.

      But of course the difference between New labour and the Tories to be honest was paper thin , Miliband is saying it’s not time yet for policies, but he’s going to have to show his hand sooner or later.

  • TomAshe

    These gains have resulted from the awfulness and failures of the Coalition. What happened yesterday is a n expression of disenchantment and anger towards the Coalition not a positive vote for Labour. Therein lies the danger. The electorate giveth and the electorate taketh away. Labour needs more meat on the bone.

  • Olivercoppard

    If you seriously think that people up and down this country, especially young people, will spontaneously jump at the opportunity to go out on a rainy Tuesday and knock on doors for the Labour Party because we ask them, and because they agree with Labour Party policy, you really do have another think coming.

    If we want people to campaign for us, and with us, first we have to engage them with ideas. And not just our ideas! How many times do we *really* ask people – the public – to contribute to our ideas locally? Let’s have a proper conversation with those people, let’s learn from those people and lets really engage those people. Then they might actually work with us. It’s ideas first.

  • MattWales

    Dont pop the champagne cork yet, if those Tory voters who stayed in yesterday come out for the next general election Labour would still be stuffed.

    Time for Milliband to pull his finger out and capitalise on this sucess – and I hope he can.

  • mcquade

    What a load of vague twaddle. Next time get a good night’s sleeep before engaging te keyboard.

  • Makes sense.

    Certainly having more interesting meetings is important. 

    But there is a real issue about what influence members have – and giving people a reason to actually join the party.

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