Labour Together: Our party must find the humility to listen and learn

Hannah O’Rourke

Labour Together has launched a review, which attracted plenty of attention from across the party. We’ve had many offers of help and support, lots of members telling us it’s important that we learn the lessons from our defeat, as well as others telling us it’s a waste of time because they already have the answers.

We set up this review because we must listen and re-learn how to work together as a movement, how to reconnect with our lost voters and get Labour back into government. This speaks to the heart of Labour Together’s purpose. Our organisation is a network that reaches across the Labour Party to hold it together, explore new ideas and think about its long-term future. Our network helps information and ideas flow through the Labour Party and beyond. It helps new and interesting ideas from outside politics to come into our party and also helps transmit ideas across factions by creating spaces and projects where people can learn from each other.

We use the practice of bridge building: bringing together people who disagree in a space where they can talk constructively. Bridge building respects differences and reconciles opposing interests. Reconciliation does not mean avoiding the real political conflicts that exist – it works by allowing different groups to keep their own identities while working together to find common ground or achieve a shared goal.

We have brought together a group of MPs and supporters who represent different parts of the country and different parts of our party – who all took different stances on Brexit and who will probably be backing different candidates for the leadership. Throughout the last few difficult months in politics, week after week, the MPs involved in this project continued to show up to our meetings and be present in the same room, even when it was hard. They believe Labour must stick together and navigate our differences.

Our network reaches way beyond parliament. Over the past year, we’ve convened many events, spaces and projects to bring new ideas into politics and allow people to think about the longer term outside their own familiar groups. We’ve held events on climate collapse, bringing together people from Blue Labour to Extinction Rebellion to think about how to build deep, democratic support for a transformational green agenda. We’ve organised an interactive workshop on party reform with Progress and Momentum – hosted by the Local Government Association – asking what a 21st-century Labour Party might look like. We’ve created a roundtable format that brings together Labour members from different factions and traditions to think about the kind of world a child born today will see in the next century and how we can shape that future to make it better. Our guide to running these roundtables has since become part of The World Transformed’s political education resource hub.

We helped to found Campaign Lab, an independent volunteer-led community of technologists and activists who build new election tech and argue for an evidence-based approach to campaigning. We’ve co-convened a ‘hackathon’ in parliament for community organising groups to discuss how we can open up power to everyone as part of a new more open politics.

At conference, we held a BBQ on the beach in Brighton to which everyone was welcome, from both the official conference and The World Transformed festival. We’ve hosted get-togethers for MPs to meet experts exploring political psychology, fake news, community organising, platform co-operatives and the gig economy, new forms of democracy and campaigning tech. Last February, we edited LabourList for a week, running articles from over 50 contributors from across our movement ranging all the way from Rachel Reeves to John McDonnell.

One of our first meetings involved people from different groupings in our party. We opened the meeting, asked for contributions and were faced with complete stone-cold silence for a good ten minutes. It was uncomfortable, because ultimately engaging with people who have different views to you is uncomfortable. It’s hard and it’s challenging.

On the left, we have a real problem with working together. Comments or opinions are twisted into attacks and because of this we don’t discuss what’s difficult, we avoid our deeper problems or wrap ourselves in overly simplistic explanations. In the age of Trump and Brexit, it’s so easy to look for the outrage in politics and cling to easy answers. Labour is divided. Our traditional voters are also torn apart by this same outrage and division, so we have to find another way. Over the next five years, with the Tories in power, our movement must find a way to come back together because that’s the starting point for winning back the communities we hope to represent.

Our election review will be a small step in that process of reconciliation and understanding. We’ve designed it so that our whole movement can feel part of it, and this gives me hope because the process of constructing a project that involves all our traditions is as important as what we conclude. Get involved, share your thoughts, give us feedback, help us to run events, because to solve this we need all the help we can get. Our election defeat was seismic and we owe it to the people in every seat we lost, to those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for us, to listen to them and to each other so we can understand and do better. We can only do that if we find the humility to come together to listen and learn.

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