We live in a political age of muscular membership

7th March, 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

  • Comment Neither the Tories or the SNP are effectively dealing with FOBTs

    Neither the Tories or the SNP are effectively dealing with FOBTs

    As the last Parliament closed, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) remained one of the “barnacles” on the Tory boat that they failed to remove in advance of the general election. In the final two weeks before recess Sajid Javid and his junior minister Helen Grant sneaked through a statutory instrument introducing a £50 staking threshold on FOBTs, which they claimed would help players to stay in control and “make better informed decisions about their gambling”. This was despite conflicting evidence […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Uncategorized Five lessons for 2020

    Five lessons for 2020

    I joined our party four and a half years ago, having realised that Labour alone can deliver a government that marries social justice with economic stability, and aspiration with equality of opportunity.   It was unquestionably one of the best decisions I have ever made.   From day one, I was welcomed with open arms, listened to and given opportunities to contribute to our movement.  In that same spirit, I believe it is vital that every member of the Labour […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Unions When trade unions are weakened, the rights of all working people become compromised

    When trade unions are weakened, the rights of all working people become compromised

    Let’s talk about the proposals in Wednesday’s Queen’s speech for trade unions. First there was the proposal to limit strike action. The government is demanding a 50% turnout threshold in a ballot and an additional 40% yes vote requirement in “core public services” (health, education, transport and fire services). This comes hand in hand with new time limitations on ballot mandates, making it easier for employers to tie up strikes in the court. It’s simply disingenuous for the government to […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News LabourList readers back an EU referendum and votes at 16

    LabourList readers back an EU referendum and votes at 16

    The majority of LabourList readers back the party’s new position on supporting EU referendum, and three-quarters say they will definitely vote to stay in the European Union. 70% of those who took part in LabourList’s weekly survey said they believe it is now right for Labour to back an EU referendum, having previously opposed the policy. A sizeable proportion, 24%, remain opposed to the idea of Labour supporting a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.   Eight out […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Aspiration is a story, not a slogan

    Aspiration is a story, not a slogan

    As Labour soul-searches for new leadership and policies, the word ‘aspiration’ has swirled around ever more densely. Though John Prescott rightly took to task its over-glib use, aspiration has always been central to Labour’s storybook. Having high hopes and striving to fulfil them from was the stuff of Harold Wilson’s great speeches heralding a modern Britain before Labour’s 1964 victory. Most recently it’s been woven through Alan Johnson’s magical two books of autobiography. Though Labour’s 2015 campaign alluded to or […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit