Arnie Graf offers a politics that is not just for the rich or weird


If it is true that the smears on Arnie Graf being fed to the worst enemies of Labour are coming out of our own party then somebody has very real reason to feel extremely ashamed.

But if they think that smearing our allies and denying the empowerment of our membership as more than leaflet fodder is  how elections are won, they have very real reason to be considered extremely stupid.

It really is very simple: engaged activists do more. More engagment, more activists, more activity.

Some of them want to take part in more traditional activities like leafleting or canvassing. Some prefer to reach out to their communities in different ways. There is room for both in the Labour Party and anyone who wants to force a choice between these activities has neither the best interests of the members nor the electoral prospects of the Labour Party at heart.

It is an oft-repeated complaint about New Labour that they gloried in defining themselves against their activist base. This was certainly true to an extent. On a raft of policy measures, the leadership struck out to places the party didn’t want to go – be that 40 day detention, the Iraq war or our craven failure to invest in social housing. These are all areas where Ed Miliband has accepted that we would have been better listening to the membership on policy.

But this isn’t even about policy. It’s not about the decisions we will or won’t make in government. It’s about the experience of being a Party member.

Now I have a secret to divulge to whoever it is that doesn’t want to offer Party members new and old interesting ways of engaging:

Whisper it…

Membership of political parties is not in decline because party membership is just too much damn fun.

I know, shocking right.

Party membership has little to do with setting Party policy – particularly in government (as the Lib Dems are discovering to the increasing embarrassment of their once much vaunted “democratic” party). But for enough people to engage in to make politics the sport of the people not the preserve of the rich, powerful and weird, it has to work for the people.

arnie graf

Labour’s embrace of community organising is doing just that. It is about people up and down the country making things better in their communities. People who might then feel considerably more willing when the time came to deliver a leaflet or knock on doors. People whose first experience of activism wasn’t a despondent meeting in a freezing church hall, but a coming together of friends and friends-to-be to create, grow, run and build.

Now I am weird. I canvass, I bash the phones and sometimes I even leaflet. If (having recently moved) my new CLP get in touch and ask me to do so again, I will do. But my neighbours won’t. Because they aren’t weird. But they just might work together to solve the issue we have with our refuse collection. Or come together to create a community space.

Labour is losing nothing by offering different ways to get involved. No one is suggesting that community activism should (or even could) come at the expense of canvassing. If you like, if it helps, think of community activism as a gateway drug. The gentle high that will lead to the full on addiction and  a life on the GC. Not everyone will take that next step. But they are adding to the body politic in their own way. And they are not missing from the other types of activism they were never going to do anyway.

Party politics has be be cracked open. Labour have to adapt to survive. If those inside the party attacking Arnie Graf don’t see that then we are doomed. The current model is dying on its arse. We have seats with a contact rate of 0.2%. This is not what success looks like. It is not what I want those whose job it is to lead my party to success to believe it looks like. We need to inject new life into our old ways.

That doesn’t mean abandoning them, it means enhancing them. Doing them better and doing other things too. Doing what suits the contacts we make not simply Contact Creator. Working in ways that benefit others as well as ourselves and understanding how we can then share in those benefits.

Setting up a pointless internal fight between those who prefer to canvass and those who are enthused through community action is the biggest waste of political time I can possibly imagine. We have an election to win. Let’s all work together in our different ways to do so.

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