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

  • News Would George Galloway really be allowed to rejoin Labour?

    Would George Galloway really be allowed to rejoin Labour?

    George Galloway intends to rejoin the Labour Party if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election, 12 years after being expelled. However, it is far from certain that he would be allowed to do so. Speaking on LBC Radio, Galloway told Iain Dale that he would “definitely” join Labour “pretty damn quick” if Corbyn became leader – but the leadership candidate has been less than complimentary about the former Glasgow, Bethnal Green and Bradford MP. In an interview with the New […]

    Read more →
  • News Sizeable number of LabourList readers concerned about entryism and a Labour split

    Sizeable number of LabourList readers concerned about entryism and a Labour split

    Some Labour MPs and commentators expressed concern over the week that people who do not share Labour’s values might vote in the leadership election. Just this week MP John Mann wrote a piece for LabourList outlining why he thought this might be a problem. LabourList columnist Luke Akehurst has also argued that there is not large scale entryism. As of the weekend, Labour had only rejected around 30 new members and supporters. What do LabourList readers think? Of those who took […]

    Read more →
  • News Corbyn campaign unhappy over Diane Abbott text row

    Corbyn campaign unhappy over Diane Abbott text row

    Yesterday, Labour members and registered supporters in London received a text from “Jeremy”, endorsing Diane Abbott in the race to become the candidate for London Mayor. For smartphone users, the name at the top appeared as “J Corbyn”: Always assumed @jeremycorbyn supported @HackneyAbbott for Mayor but this text to party members has made if formal pic.twitter.com/6i2yRshzEi — Andy Goss (@andygoss) July 29, 2015 However, LabourList now understands that not only was the text not agreed with the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, […]

    Read more →
  • News Yvette Cooper calls for Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over Calais crisis

    Yvette Cooper calls for Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over Calais crisis

    Yvette Cooper has called for the Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over the refugee crisis in Calais. The shadow Home Secretary has argued that as the crisis worsens “the diplomacy with the French government isn’t working to get a sustainable solution.” She has called for “sufficient border staff” in Calais to ” to maintain order with the French Government and prevent people losing their lives.” Over 3,000 people – many of whom are thought to be refugees – are living […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Post-referendum slump drove Labour’s defeat in Scotland

    Post-referendum slump drove Labour’s defeat in Scotland

    Labour’s appalling election showing in Scotland was driven by those who had supported independence leaving the party to vote for the SNP – and the Nationalists’ economic message helped strengthen their landslide in the final months. However, the new research carried out by the British Election Study (BES), found that Yes to Independence voters were likely to move from Labour to SNP regardless of their views on austerity. Labour were reduced from 41 seats in Scotland to just one on […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit