Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn needs to empower grass roots Labour members by redemocratising the party – failure to do so will see the thousands walk away

There are certainly many challenges facing the Labour Party under the new leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
It has been a roller coaster year for the party, first the hope of winning the election in May, only to see that dashed with the Conservatives narrowly getting home with a 12 majority (yes 12).
Recrimination quickly followed, with Ed Miliband being obliged to fall on his sword as leader, after undergoing a sustained campaign of character assassination in the national media. Miliband’s resignation led to the leadership election, which after a scrabble for nominations, saw Corbyn emerge triumphant.
The Corbyn campaign seemed to re-energise the party, bringing in thousands of new members, many of them young.  Corbyn hit a cord with his basically old labour message of socialism, social justice and equality for all. After being declared leader a further 50,000 joined the party hoping for better things to come. An urgent question now though is how to energise that support.
There are questions as to what the new members want or are prepared to do. In my own Labour Party branch, the secretary wrote to all of those who have joined since May and not one wanted to come to a meeting or get involved. They just joined to support Corbyn.
In another ward, of those who had joined since May, just one showed up to a recent meeting, confirming the same trend. So there is clearly a job of work to do.
Not all the criticism though should be targeted at the new members.  Afterall not everyone wants or can give up their Friday nights for constituency meetings or other meetings.  Some people don’t like pubs, there are even those who don’t like Indian restaurants. Not everyone is comfortable engaging with the public but there are many other things to be done.These factors need to be taken into account if the party wants to get more people involved.
My own experience since rejoining a couple of years ago is not I think untypical. We have a good branch and constituency party, where for the most part people pull in the same direction. There have been campaigns for the local council and then the general election. These elections have involved getting out onto the streets and making the case locally.
In the local election, a Labour council was returned. The problem for many in the local party is that for much of the year that followed election, a lot of the campaigning zeal was absorbed in trying to stop the Labour Council doing various Tory things, like privatising a music service for youngsters and refusing to refer a decision to close hospital wards to the Secretary of State for Health.
More than one member of the local party felt a little disillusioned having sweated to get the Labour councillors elected, only to then have to effectively campaign to get them to do the right thing. People committed to the type of socialist policies now being put forward by the Corbyn led party are those who should be representing the party at all levels from councillors to Mps and Meps.
There is then the continuous bombardment of emails from the Labour Party seemingly from all levels. It is galling to receive an unsolicited email from the party leadership addressing you as though you are some intimate friend. The message though is usually the same, namely come out and help, failing that, or as well as that, donate.
One of my favourite messages was one asking why I had not donated. Members of the party in the main are grown up people who really don’t appreciate being treated as children. The party needs to ask itself some serious question regarding communication and how to get people involved. Afterall what other organisations asks people to give freely of their time and then also pay for the pleasure?
There is also a feeling of disempowerment.  Many people spend many hours doing the voluntary trooping round the streets knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and attending meetings. What they want usually is a say in what is going on in the party, a say in policy.
They don’t want to see career politicians who have left university to become researchers for MPs and/or special advisors on the way to securing a safe seat. There is a total disconnect at the moment in the party between those doing the work on the ground and those they are working to get elected. This gap must close.
Jeremy Corbyn has many challenges facing him at the moment but moving forward the party must re-democratise its structures, returning policy making powers to the conference. There is also a need to get people selected to stand as MPs who reflect the people they are seeking to represent. More working people, who have lived some life, less career politicians, who simply learn how best to manipulate the system. People committed to the type of socialist policies now being put forward by the Corbyn led party are those who should be representing the party at all levels from councillors to Mps and Meps. It will only be by making changes that genuinely involve all the members in the processes of the party that those new members will be genuinely empowered to work for a Labour government. Corbyn has stirred the soul of the Labour Party, he now needs to make sure that the thousands of members (new and old)  are empowered to make that vision a reality.  

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