2009: A year on LabourList

Alex Smith

Motif only LL admin contributorBy Alex Smith / @alexsmith1982

2009 has been a relentlessly challenging – though consistently exciting – year for me running LabourList. This time last year, we hadn’t yet launched. I had just returned from the US, and was working with Derek Draper to develop the site. A lot’s changed since then.

I’ve always said that – reflecting the Labour Party itself – LabourList will always be a work in progress, never resting or resisting change. So while this project is by no means perfect or finished – indeed it’s only just beginning – the results and buy-in from readers and contributors are incredibly encouraging, and are the fuel for this site to survive and thrive.

In these first 11 months, LabourList has been read by over 305,000 people, who have visited on nearly a million occasions and read 2.4 million pages.

That has happened because 260 contributors have written well over 2,000 posts – breaking news, analysis, opinion, policy, ideas – attracting 67,000 reader comments in the process.

3,500 people now subscribe to the LunchtimeList daily email update, which gives a quick but comprehensive overview of all the day’s news and views in the Labour Party. 3,000 people follow @LabourList on Twitter, and nearly 1,200 continue the debate in our Facebook group.

Alongside the thoughts of cabinet ministers, we’ve promoted the views of grassroots Labour supporters and provided an important platform for people at the heart of the debate. We’ve also conducted 15 challenging interviews, and profiled 40 parliamentary candidates.

We’ve held semi-regular guest editorships – celebrating the Youth of our movement and International Women’s Day, and marking May Day with the Unions, Pride with LGBT Labour, and the Co-operative Party conference in September – and there will be more as we continue to discuss the future direction of the Labour Party.

We’ve also developed and voted on dozens of “new ideas for a renewed movement“, submitting 25 contemporary policies to the party for consideration for the general election manifesto. We’ll be reporting back on that in the new year – and lobbying for their inclusion as the manifesto process intensifies.

And we’ve become the first major blog in the UK to establish its own space on the world’s biggest news blog, the Huffington Post, to discuss trans-Atlantic issues.

In the new year, the site will continue to develop, with new focuses on polling, think tanks, pressure groups and campign groups on the left and online campaings as the election nears.

It’s a phenomenal haul for a brand new website which, frankly, had a difficult start – and it’s happened because people of diverse views have bought into the project and what we’re trying to achieve with Labour.

The result is that LabourList has become the 2nd most influential political blog on the left in the UK, the fourth most influential overall and the 18th most influential in Europe. Next year, it is predicted that LabourList will become the dominant site on the left.

I would like to personally thank everyone for investing in and believing in this project – it genuinely couldn’t happen without you, your contributions and your continued hope and interest. I’m especially grateful to all the regular contributors and columnists, who make LabourList what it is. We might not always agree with everything that’s said here, but we can always now know it is said with the best intentions for the party and our wider democracy.

With so much content in 2009, it’s impossible to choose a selection of the best posts. But, since it’s both the end of the year and the close of the decade and lists are obligatory at such times, here are a dozen of my own personal, subjective favourites.

There are many others I could have chosen, and the list is by no means definitive. But I think these provocative, diverse and thoughtful posts reflect the wide range of topics we have covered on LabourList throughout the whole of this fretful year, 2009, and how we’ve helped shape the agenda: from climate concern to campaigning; democracy to discontent; politics to policy; gender to gunge – and of course the crises of economy, democracy and war. They do little to reflect the breadth of what we publish on LabourList, but I hope they are a snapshot of what we’ve already done, and why we will continue to do it.

I’m off to have a couple of days rest now – and to spend some time with friends and family. I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas – and is looking forward to the continued debate and hard work that will follow in 2010.

Our culture is still deeply misogynistic Laurie Penny, March 7th
“In the playground, in the workplace and in the home, women are expected to constantly look sexually available, but never to actually be so. This intensely feminine paradox is deeply enmeshed with the big-spending New Labour paradigm, and many young women like myself, still prepubescent in 1997, have grown up knowing nothing else. We live in a world oozing with sexuality, but we are not allowed to take our share from it – instead we are taught that, in order to be adults, we have to give incessantly for the gratification of male sexuality. Combined with a woeful lack of education about sex and contraception in schools – sex education that, like our teenage pregnancy rates, is just about the worst in Europe.”

Why I gunged Mandelson Leila Deen, March 9th
“The fact that I was a smartly dressed woman who marched up to Mr Mandelson (he is no Lord of mine) definitely gave me a head start when it came to throwing mock green slime in his face…I did it because it was he who had proactively undermined our climate commitments as he bullied the cabinet (particularly, note, Harriet Harman) to accept Heathrow’s third runway despite the fact that it would undermine our promise to massively reduce our carbon emissions.

Why the party isn’t over Emma Burnell, April 14th
“I’m not remotely ashamed of the British left or of Labour Party members. We are people who dedicate our time, energy, effort, intellect and shoe leather to the common cause of greater social justice. We believe the best political vehicle for justice is the Labour Party, and we dedicate ourselves to making it the best party possible. And we are being let down. By the adoption of policies that are as destructive as they are electorally ignorant; by the posturing towards the right of politics for the gain of short lived headlines in the Daily Mail; by the cowardly behaviour of those whose sole job it is to report back to our NEC the feelings of the party but consistently refuse to do so in fear of the response; by those whose response they fear, who cannot understand the thinking and feelings of grassroots activists because they are not just not of them, but proudly so. We are being let down. Well, this is my Labour Party too. I refuse to leave just because a few numpties can’t keep their schoolboy antics in check.

LabourList: a new direction – Alex Smith, May 7th
“LabourList will not be a mouthpiece for government, nor a place for one personality to push an agenda. Rather, it will become what it always said it would be – a place for all Labour-minded people, and those who disagree with us, to engage candidly on the direction and causes of the centre-left.”

Expenses: how will politics look on the other side? – Gabe Trodd, May 17th
“The public fury at the storm of irresponsibility at the heart of our democracy runs deep and the genealogy of the crisis needs to be explored if Labour and British democracy itself is to come out the other side as stronger, more transparent and more inclusive…In the eyes of the general public, Parliament has become a distant, unfathomable and unedifying corporate authority to be resented and fought against, complete with its own bonus-driven, anything-goes culture. In terms of recent events, the scale and tone of the mood of the public is interwoven with both the recession and realisation of the scale and implications of the City’s bankers’ bonus culture.”

It’s time to end Labour dynasties – Paul Richards, August 22nd
“All kinds of professions and trades – from the army, to the law, to journalism, to running a butchers – are populated by people for whom it’s ‘in the family’. And politics is such a strange trade, shrouded in such mystery and misunderstanding that it seems natural that those with some insight, such as the sons and daughters of MPs, should be the ones who pursue it. And yet, isn’t politics meant to be different? It should not be seen as a family business, nor a profession to be followed like soldiering or the bar. Labour politics should be about great causes and advancing the lives of others, not following a family tradition. Some of Labour’s most effective politicians over the past century have come from families with little or no tradition of politics: Keir Hardie, Ernest Bevin, Barbara Castle, Aneurin Bevan, Harold Wilson, or Denis Healey. If our commitment to democracy and our belief in meritocracy means anything, it means selecting our candidates on their merits, not their surnames.”

New party organising UK style – Gisela Stuart and Caroline Badley, September 2nd
“Six months later on the fruits are plain for us to see. We have more helpers, delivering more leaflets, talking to more voters and crucially more people telling us what we can do for them in their area. It’s a project that never stops.

The economy is far from out of the woods – Duncan Weldon, November 2nd
“Think about it. What happens to growth if people, governments and companies start spending less? Does it go up or down? Let’s be clear. These polices were been tried in the 1930s – they caused a depression. They are currently being tried in Ireland – they are causing depression-like falls in GDP: massive unemployment, higher budget deficits and deflation. The economy is far from out of the woods and Osborne’s ideologically-driven cutting agenda risks undermining the fragile recovery.”

The PM should pay his respects at Wootton Bassett – Dan Wilson, November 11th
“The Prime Minister needs to do more to fight the critics because opinion is changing when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. Not only does he need to better explain why we’re fighting what seems to many like an unwinnable war, but he needs to show publicly that he understands the sacrifices it entails.”

Dear Ed: submitting new ideas to the party Alex Smith, November 24th
“I believe these policies represent some of the best and most relevant aspects of British social democratic thinking today. Together, they demonstrate our need to develop policy that advances genuine democratic reform, fairer distribution of national income at a time of hardship for many and a renewed focus on providing the modern public services that will be so crucial for further economic recovery and future growth.”

Culture clash: how Labour can look to reconnect with the poor – Michael Merrick, November 26th
“The disillusionment of the electorate is at least partly down to the fact the Labour Party has embraced an ideology that actively undermines the beliefs and culture of ordinary working people. Immigration, whilst the most topical, isn’t the only battleground. One by one, it seems that the social and cultural outlook of many is scorned upon by an elite who, whilst laughably painting themselves as on the side of the ‘oppressed’, choose to studiously ignore this particular subjugation. On issues ranging from school/parental discipline (‘child abuse’), to capital punishment (‘barbaric’), to patriotism (‘Little Englander’), to euro-scepticism (‘xenophobic’), to immigration (‘racist’), to morality (‘bigoted’) – across all these issues and more, the general beliefs of vast swathes of the electorate are demonised and ridiculed by an elite interested only in securing the dominance of their own particular worldview.”

We failed then, as now – Anthony Painter, December 16th
“There should have been more caution and more doubt. That is a fair charge. Any attempt to justify the Iraq War in the context of the present is completely irrelevant. It is great that Iraqis will go to the polls in February 2010 (in probability). But that they will do so does not justify the decisions that were taken or the monumental loss of life that resulted from those decisions.”

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