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.