What should Labour’s organisational priorities be?

Luke Akehurst

For the first time since the Iraq War in 2003, Labour does not feel in crisis. Ever since then we have had disputes over the ideological and policy direction of the Party, around both interventionism overseas and public service reform at home, and over its leadership, with plotting from 2003-2007 against Blair, 2007-2010 against Brown, and since 2010 a debate over whether we picked the right Miliband.

I do not pretend that all debate has now ended. That would be the unity of the graveyard.

But the political events of the last few months and weeks have brought us to a far stronger position in the mid-term than many thought possible.

On 3rd May Ed Miliband proved he can win elections, and win them handsomely. Leads of up to 14% mean that leadership speculation has gone from fashionable to fringe. Serious commentators are writing about the prospect of Prime Minister Ed Miliband. The position of Iain McNicol as General Secretary has also been consolidated by electoral success.

Ed’s reshuffle has brought the soft left into the tent in the person of Jon Cruddas whilst at the same time making the Blairites feel they are being listened to by promoting Progress Chairman Lord Adonis.

Old enmities of the Blair and Brown era are being buried or at least shelved by the prospect of being part of an election-winning project, with Ed Balls and Lord Mandelson co-signing an article on Europe.

The double-dip recession has proved Labour’s semi-Keynesian economic narrative was correct.

Fractures in the relationship with the unions back in January seem to have been repaired through better communications.

And the Coalition staggers from crisis to crisis. The Lib Dems remain toxic but now the Tories are too, fighting a two front war with the bulk of the electorate to their left but UKIP pushing 10% on their right and giving right-wing backbenchers ammunition to demand a march away from the electoral centre-ground. The phone-hacking scandal is creeping ever closer to 10 Downing Street.

I don’t pretend this means we are necessarily going to win in 2015. Coming back from a 29% vote share to win after only one term would be unprecedented. But it now looks possible because we have that elusive but essential political asset, momentum.

Whilst we are not fire-fighting, as NEC members we suddenly have a mid-term opportunity for a year of building and strengthening the Labour Party to make it fighting fit for 2015.

My organisational priorities would be:

  • The 200 new party organisers by 2014 Iain McNicol has promised.
  • To go further than the 100 candidates in place this year that Iain set out and try to get every parliamentary candidate selected by the end of 2013.
  • To use the Police Commissioner elections this November to re-energise our organisation in the shire counties and obtain data from canvassing and the count that helps us target properly in the 2013 elections.
  • To use the County Council elections in May 2012 to break into rural and suburban areas in a big way – a “no no-go areas for Labour” campaign. Scope for changes of council control next year are limited as we start so far behind in the counties, so instead we should go for maximising seat gains (e.g. going for a big number of gains in Kent and Essex even though we can’t take control there), targeting seats that make up parliamentary winnables and put us back in the game in seats we won in 1997 and 2001, and symbolic gains in unlikely areas where the demographics tell us there may be a hidden potential Labour vote.
  • To drive forward the implementation of Refounding Labour so that best practice from re-energised and outward-looking local parties like Cardiff, which stormed the May elections, becomes the norm.
  • To complete the un-finished business of Refounding Labour and actually have a policy-making process that is worth members engaging in.
  • To support Jon Cruddas in coming up with the ideological vision and broad-brush policies to complement the detail the shadow frontbench teams have already done in the Policy Review.
  • To restore faith in Labour’s internal democracy with greater transparency in our processes and zero tolerance of fixes and fiddles. We need to determine policy and candidates on merit, not as a competition for who can do the most imaginative stitch-up.
  • To comprehensively audit the health of our CLPs and go in and rebuild the ones that have atrophied. We can’t expect new members and supporters to engage in our campaigning or policy-making when sadly, indeed disgustingly, there are CLPs that never meet or only meet once a year, or never organise campaigning.
  • To not accept that membership has peaked, and to set ambitious targets for recruitment and get those 200 new organisers out signing up members.
  • To strengthen the union link by the Party playing a key role in building the TUC anti-austerity demo on 20th October.

Luke Akehurst is a standing for re-election to the NEC.

* This is Luke’s regular weekly column, but we welcome posts on the future direction of the party from other candidates for the NEC *

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