How I learned to stop worrying and accept community organising

July 26, 2012 10:47 am

This morning I’m in Walthamstow where Ed Miliband and Tom Watson will be appearing as part of their “Real Change” tour. The Labour Party has been converted to community organising – and this tour seems designed to tell the world. Well…maybe not the world exactly (turns out the Olympics and the crashing economy are bigger news that the Labour Party changing), but the party is being open about the change of heart nonetheless.

This morning Ed and Tom – along with Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and activists from Movement for Change – will be meeting campaigners against legal loan sharks, hearing their stories and helping to highlight the rise of unscrupulous payday loan providers.

It’s all meant to be part of a strategy that says Labour is about more than just winning elections, and that it can affect change in our communities between elections too.

A few years ago I would have found that a laughable idea. The party organiser part of me would have said that winning elections is exactly what the Labour is for. That you can only bring about the neccessary changes in society if you win elections. “The NHS wasn’t willed into existence by petition” I would probably have said, “Or the minimum wage. For progressive causes to become reality the Labour Party needs to be in power. End of.”

And you know what, I still believe that.

The thing is I now believe a few things I didn’t believe back then.

For starters, I’m fairly sure that the Labour Party is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Or to paraphrase LBJ – I’m fairly sure the Labour Party is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The more I learn about the remarkable capacity of Labour Party activists the more I believe that our big, old and clunky party can both campaign to win elections and campaign to change communities. Because Labour Party campaigning at its best is about issues, not elections. But it just do happens that campaigning on dog mess, local hospitals and parks wins elections. Ask a Lib Dem if you don’t believe me.

It’s by harnessing local issues that the best local campaigns are run.

And of course – if you want to be a narrow electoralist about it (and make no mistake I’m a narrow electoralist – winning is the whole point), the better the community campaigning the more people who are not only enthused to vote for you but to join you. It looks like floaty abstract “nice” campaigning that is irrelevant to the party. But it’s not. It’s a way to win back the trust of the electorate. It’s about showing that Labour can still get things done.

It’s retail politics – pure and simple.

And if – as I expect – it means more people knocking on doors in 2015 – this narrow electoralist ex-organiser will be very happy indeed.

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  • http://twitter.com/mattgoddin Matt Goddin

    “campaigning on dog mess, local hospitals and parks wins elections” if you aren’t campaigning about these things (I would add traffic, parking and schools as well) then what on earth are you campaigning about? Surely community campaigning is about something deeper than this.

    • treborc

      One would hope it would be deeper then dog mess or car parking or education locally.

      It should be answering the deeper question like Jobs the deficit, the NHS, the housing issues locally, including the swear words social housing.

      I was listening yesterday to a bloke god know who he was, saying banks will only grow when people ask for mortgages and their wages are big enough to afford a new home, this will release cheaper homes for poorer people.

      Interesting.

      • http://twitter.com/joshstuart Josh Stuart

        It’s about a ladder of engagement for constituents.  Schools, dog mess, potholes are things people easily engage on – and once you’ve demonstrated the ability to win change on things people can see – you can engage them more deeply on jobs, wages, NHS etc.

        • Leeden

          Dog mess is OK for the local paper but as a party Labour needs to be doing more to undo the damage that has cost ppl their jobs by the coalition and some of what they did themselves before 2010

          • Dave Postles

             Leeden and Amber Star are right.  Labour is presenting nothing – zilch – on the real issues.  It is truly abominable.  All the critical opposition is extra-Parliamentary.  A large chunk of Labour Lost is dominated by Purps (there’s a hypocorism for him) and Dore, denigrating the unions.  Only Unite and GMB prosecuted any decent campaign on behalf of the Remploy workers. 

          • redmakka

            Well said Dave, Leeden and Amber. The problem is see is that the vast majority of mp’s do things for themselves. Get themselves further up the ladder so to speak. It may help if Labour didnt try and recruit people from the Fabian Society. Nothing but activists. I dont need activists. I need people with genuine intentions who want to help the people of this country and not leave them in limbo when they do not need them. How many of us actually see a mp knock our doors more than once every election? I do not. It is sad to say that a small a minority of politicians do anything unconditionally, imo.

            I know nuns and normal everyday Joe Public who do more than the vast majority of mp’s put together.

          • http://twitter.com/eccomi626 Rosanna Cavallo

            Agree your sentiments.  My MP does knock on doors though

    • http://twitter.com/NewhamSue Newham Sue

      Agreed Matt, but sadly (and no, I don’t understand this myself) these are the issues that people are united in complaining about locally. In Newham, litter, parking and dog excrement all ranked higher than education in a poll of local concerns – and this is an area with a major shortage of social housing, a shortfall of primary school places, gang and unemployment issues. When you canvas, on the doorsteps, these are the problems that people cite to you time and time again, so you can’t just ignore them

  • Amber Star

    Mark,
    1. We don’t deserve to be elected on piecrust promises. Such promises are easily made & easily broken. ‘Do something to deserve it, then we’ll vote for you’ is the message;
    2.  Campaigning may be about getting elected because you can’t do much from opposition – but what we do with power once we get it matters.  Campaigning for (lefty) local issues is a sign of good faith;
    3. If we don’t show we care about our immediate neighbours, then saying we care about society is just make believe, PR stuff.

    Most local activists are doing it because they really care & are frustrated by what’s happening to their neighbours; it’s not all about the Party image for us.

  • Mike T

    Local issues matter to some more than National issues, Local Council Area teams working with ward Councillors have been doing this for years in Hull and it works. Of course the big picture Nationally gets people out but a relationship with local residents before election time does work and a good local area / ward team has all the issues that local residents turn out for. 

    • http://twitter.com/NewhamSue Newham Sue

      It reminds me of a story, much along these lines, I once heard an MP tell of how someone campaigning after the war, asked a voter in a council flat to vote Labour to stop Germany rearming. The voter kept asking if the would-be MP could stop residents urinating in the stairwells. When they said it wasn’t in their remit, voter replied, “Well if you cant’ stop a few people p*ssing in my stairwell, how the heck you be trusted to stop the German’s rearming?” 

  • Simondent01827

    Reading your article and all the comments that follow i agree that it is about local issues more than anything else that impacts on the lives of the local electorate that means parents access to good schools for there children, good local hospitals and healthcare, access to local jobs and transport all these things matter and make peoples lives better. We must therefore adress these local issues at a local level if we are too win. That said i do also believe national issues should also play a part issues such as employment rights and foremost our economy my reason for this being that these issues help secure jobs and give the vital funding for us to target and take action at a local level. What we therefore need is the correct balance between the two why might some ask because it ‘s a fine balance and both play equally important parts in the everyday lives of normal people.

  • Hilary

    We’ve been doing this community campaigning for years – fighting against an unhelpful regional LP that thinks we should be doing the narrow electorist thing. And it has won us elections where the region had written us off. Let’s hope they are listening to this…..

  • redmakka

    ‘This morning Ed and Tom – along with Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and
    activists from Movement for Change – will be meeting campaigners against
    legal loan sharks, hearing their stories and helping to highlight the
    rise of unscrupulous payday loan providers.’

    Hey Mark, it is not just payday loan companies that are unscrupulous but so are banks and credit card companies.. The money system is fraudulant and I learnt this free of charge. I see the co  op are charging people 270 pounds to go to a weekend event and give them some training. I have seen stella’s publication and to think I offered her the name of the forum which my friends have run for years with over 20,000 members which has had proven results in beating the banks, debt collectors, bailiffs, and payday loan providers and its all free of charge. Stella did not want to know. How shocking is that. We should be advocating that people should not get into debt and stella is telling people to get credit off the credit unions. And how do the credit unions provide money if uk plc is bankrupt.? On a computer screen just like banks which is unlawful.

    People do not waste £270 on events organised by the co op or labour party offering to help you with debt. They will train you to become activists. I have helped people beat payday loan companies, and not pay a penny of the alleged debt, and beat credit card companies etc. All the info I received free of charge and so have thousands of others. ALL FREE!

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