We live in a political age of muscular membership

March 7, 2013 8:38 am

Last weekend, Labour Students passed a motion at their conference stating that they would not campaign for any MP who voted against equal marriage. Anyone who has ever campaigned alongside Labour Students will know that’s a formidable loss. They are an organisational and electoral force to be reckoned with; one that some MPs will no longer be able to blithely rely on. Decisions have consequences.

Some greeted this with consternation and sneering derision.” Would you rather have a Tory?” was an all too frequent response. But Labour Students understand that to ask their members to actively campaign for someone who had voted against equality is too much to ask. Individual members are – of course – free to do as they choose, but what they won’t have is the power of Labour Students and the numbers of door-knockers that they bring when they organise in your seat. Labour Students were given a chance to demonstrate where the real power in a political party lies and they have done: They are with the members, and the members are flexing their muscles.

What the Lib Dems have known for years (and demonstrated once again in Eastleigh) is that it is members who win elections. Jim Murphy is right that it is essential that we do get out there – in every constituency in the country. We can’t assume victory is in our grasp –we must strain at it with every sinew. It is far from assured. But there are other things we can’t take for granted. Things that those responding to the Labour Students decision with such mindless banality have forgotten: We can’t take our activists for granted either.

Nobody owes you their free time. Nobody owes you their labour. The membership of our Party got our MPs elected and keep them that way. Our MPs are standing on the shoulders of the unknown giants who get out there every weekend (and I can’t claim to be one of them – though I try to do my bit). Good MPs – from every part of the Party – know and recognise this. My MP Tessa Jowell is just such an MP. She and I are from different Labour traditions, but I bow to no one in my admiration for her appreciation of the work of her members. She knows that activists deserve respect and need inspiring. It is not enough to just expect us to turn out. We need something to turn out for.

A young LGBT member in Ealing North or Inverclyde might not feel very inspired to campaign locally. It is their right not to. MPs and candidates don’t have a God given right to support. They are there to represent the Labour activists and their constituents. If one of their Labour activists constituents doesn’t feel represented, that’s their right.

Knowing the force of nature that is Labour Students, I don’t imagine for a moment, that they will be doing 22 Constituencies worth less work. They will just be working harder in those constituencies where there is an MP or candidate they feel share their fundamental commitment to equality.

As it is usually through constituencies that activism is organised and nurtured, a young person who might previously have dropped out of campaigning with no one noticing may now have second avenue to campaigning for someone elsewhere that they do feel better represents their values.

As political parties run lower and lower on funds, they rely more and more on volunteers. As that happens, Parties are waking up to how much they need members and members are waking up to what that means to their ability to influence and affect the behaviour of parties and MPs. The rebelliousness of the 2010 Tory intake shows that this is a lesson they have long since learned. We may not like what it is they rebel on, but as Labour members we are hardly supposed to. But they do have a real sense that it is they are far more beholden to their constituency Parties than they are to their leader.  The Lib Dems have practiced “constituency first” politics for years – only to seemingly lose their heads in Government. They will be punished for this at their Spring conference. And if the still fail to listen, eventually their doorstep hoards will dissipate.

Labour has shown signs of really understanding the needs of this newly empowered membership. The work of Arnie Graf and the Your Britain website are real proof of this. The aim is the same: A Labour Government – in power and doing good. But the dynamics have shifted. Never again will that government be so far removed from its members. Never again will anyone think that could ever be a good thing. The ground game keeps us grounded. Not everyone has got it yet, but the more high profile organisations like Labour Students start to flex theirs, the more everyone will come to realise and respect quite how much muscle the members have.

  • NT86

    I support same sex marriage, but the vote was a free one in Parliament. For Labour students to announce a boycott shows their own illiberal and myopic streak. I thought the party was a broad church. Aren’t there any other economic issues (e.g. the cut, public spending) where they share common ground with the 22 MP’s who voted against the bill?

  • Pingback: Should Liberal Youth campaigning for MPs who voted against gay marriage? | Digital Politico

  • Pingback: Should Liberal Youth campaign for MPs who voted against equal marriage? | Digital Politico

  • http://twitter.com/lbutcheruk Lee Butcher

    “Muscular Membership”. I’m sure that is one way that Militant could have been described back in the day..

  • http://twitter.com/lbutcheruk Lee Butcher

    “Muscular Membership”. I’m sure that is one way that Militant could have been described back in the day..

  • Chilbaldi

    Really petty and childish from Labour Students – sorry but I have to disagree with you Emma.
    I supported equal marriage, but my MP voted against. Despite my disappointment in him I will still campaign for him at the GE. I want an extra vote on the Labour benches for those occasions when there is a whip, after all.

  • Brumanuensis

    I can’t stand Labour Students ordinarily, but this was the right decision. If you don’t support equality, your values aren’t those of the Labour.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    Good for them. Absolutely right decision

  • Pingback: ‘Politics’ from Political Party Members? | Rowan Draper.com

Latest

  • News Someone from Tory HQ actually thought this would be a good look for Grant Shapps

    Someone from Tory HQ actually thought this would be a good look for Grant Shapps

    Welcome to Tory Conference, featuring this rather – martial – image of Grant Shapps flanked by his general election ground troops in their identical t-shirts: A frightening vision of what a party led by Grant Shapps might look like? Even we wouldn’t wish that on the Tory Party…

    Read more →
  • Comment Next May there is a big choice for the British people on social security

    Next May there is a big choice for the British people on social security

    This weekend we’ve seen desperate attempts by the Tories to hide the truth of their failed record on welfare with desperately rushed out promises to restrict to benefits for young people. Their proposals on benefits make no commitment to deliver the training young people need to get a job and fulfil their potential. It’s yet another example of the failed Tory approach to welfare we have seen over the last four years. David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith promised to […]

    Read more →
  • News About those Tory membership figures…

    About those Tory membership figures…

    Tory HQ seems very keen to talk about their membership figures today, after recording a minuscule increase in membership over the past months after absolutely no administrative jiggery-pokery whatsoever. But over the past 9 years since Cameron became Tory leader, their membership has slumped by over 100,000. Lets see how that looks: There are parties in the UK today who can feel quite pleased with their membership growth (UKIP and the SNP in particular seem t be recording sizeable increases […]

    Read more →
  • News Scottish Labour plans to wrest control of Westminster selections from NEC

    Scottish Labour plans to wrest control of Westminster selections from NEC

    Scottish Labour – an organisation which has come in for considerable criticism in recent weeks – has agreed to conduct a review that may lead to expanded powers for the party. At present Westminster selections across the UK are under the control of Labour’s NEC – but at a meeting of Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee yesterday, leader Johann Lamont (who denied yesterday she was planning to quit) secured agreement for a wide ranging review of the party’s structures, including selections. […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Johann Lamont denies quit rumours

    Johann Lamont denies quit rumours

    Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has denied rumours that she’s planning to quit – and says that she can beat the presumptive next SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, telling the Daily Record “I wouldn’t stand against her if I didn’t think I’d beat her”. Rumours have circulated in recent weeks that Lamont would step down after the referendum campaign – especially after her Glasgow constituents voted for independence – with Jim Murphy just one of those linked with […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y