Stronger together. Big tent. Opportunity for all.
Three phrases we’ve all heard within the broad spectrum of the labour movement. If we are to take one thing from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, particularly noting where we stand politically right now, it is absolutely imperative that we start living and breathing such mantras in all we do as thinkers and campaigners on the left.
Unlike much of the Young Fabians’ excellent work over the years, the three publications we are presenting on our website today are not about policy. They are about people, relationships, our values, and the way we on the left organise and campaign. What the 80 members of the Young Fabian and Labour Staff Network delegation to Ohio last October/November saw was not a campaign impossible to emulate, nor one which formed on a radically different basis to any other successful campaign. But they did take part in an organisation that succeeded in spreading its best practice nationwide, which was coherent, attractive and approachable. It was a campaign that recognised the value of individuals and the strength of their collective endeavours. And it gave them a reason to take part in what Gordon Brown has called, people-powered politics.
Respect meant taking seriously the experiences, knowledge, skills and resources that were brought to the table by anyone and everyone. Include meant incorporating that offer when making decisions. And Empower meant the establishment of a structure that didn’t just assign tasks but allowed well-trained and supported volunteers to take real ownership.
In the neighbourhood in Columbus I campaigned in, the canvassing teams were run by volunteer Cecil Webster, a retired colonel from Texas. His military experience was recognised and utilised. And it made him perfect for this role: his skills of motivation kept canvassers plugging away to cover the patch; his sense of discipline ensured the tidiest campaign office you’ll ever see with everything in its place and no panic searches for GOTV sheets as volunteers line up waiting; his sense of humour helped people through the tougher times when they’d had a bad knock or were beginning to tire; and his self-styled ‘after action reports’ which allowed time and space for a proper group debrief, allowing volunteers to learn – semi-formally – from each other.
Internally and externally the campaign understood people and sought to build strong relationships. Relationships that it could then request something of. Alongside the mantra of Respect, Empower, Include, the campaign was frank in its assessment that ‘we build relationships because they are the only way to win’ and it didn’t seek to limit these relationships to its stalwarts. Everyone was not just welcome, but actively pursued to join the fold and trained in what they were doing.
Some Labour supporters will have been active in one seat all their lives; others will have campaigned in different areas of the country. Falling into the latter camp, I know there is some excellent campaigning going on in the Labour Party. But I also know, sadly, that (and not always without reason) the spread of our best campaigning ideas and methods is patchy.
The launch of three publications today will hopefully go some way to addressing this. They chronicle the experience of over 100 Young Fabian and Labour Staff Network members and others who took part in Obama’s campaign and offer ideas for Labour and union campaigns in the UK. From Ohio to Oxford Eastpresents the collective thoughts of the delegation and subsequent workshops and roundtables to offer practical suggestions for your campaigns. Lessons from the Obama campaign is a collection of individual articles written by grassroots participants from the UK. Lessons from the US union campaign for Obama brings together the methods of union campaigning in the US and presents a case for the Labour Party and trade unions to reassess the ways they work together in UK elections. No one is pretending that replication of Obama’s campaign is the golden egg we’ve been reaching out for. But these papers present some ideas that can make a difference.
What is exciting about the present is that it is the left in America who offer the ideas about organising campaigns for Labour to seize. The approach the Obama campaign took fits much better with the values of our movement than it does with our opponents.
We must consider how we interact with voters and each other, alter our attitude to trust, invest in people’s talents and develop them as individuals within our movement. In providing opportunity for all, within our big tent, we can be stronger together. As a party and as a nation.
Please click here for more information on the delegation and to download the publications. Let us know what you think – please comment below.
Adrian Prandle, International Officer, Young Fabian Executive