Chair of the ‘Transforming our Party’ Young Fabian Policy Development Group, Jessica Studdert, outlines the arguments she makes in her chapter in the just published Young Fabian pamphlet, The New Generation. We are very keen to hear what you think of the pamphlet – please let us know your thoughts by posting a comment. This is the second in a series of posts from the authors of ‘The New Generation’, which you can read by clicking here.
The election of a new Leader with a clear mission to set a new direction, for a new generation, gives everyone in the Labour Party the opportunity to consider how we operate and interact with each other and with our communities.
As progressives, we are by our nature in a rush to get things done. We have a sense of mission and urgency, and we always strive for more. This is as it should be, but increasingly in the recent past our mission has been led and defined by an overweening centralised electoral machine, one that has taken us far from where we started as a political party that was an organic expression of the Labour movement’s values.
The entire institutional dynamic of the Labour Party is best characterised as that of a marketing-professional company. Communication with the electorate focusses on extracting data and then pummelling people with information. The central party retains tight control over campaign method and message delivery, and defines only narrow measures of effectiveness such as voter ID volumes.
The last election witnessed the limits of this approach. Now Labour must effect a cultural shift that allows us to become a community-embedded movement party. Since Obama surged to victory in the US two years ago, this concept has become very in vogue in Labour circles, but too often it is a tag applied to the old way of doing things and rendered meaningless.
We need to rediscover a relational sense of politics, that recognises and rewards interaction and dialogue with members, supporters and the public. Put simply, we need to turn identification and broadcast off, and turn conversation and reciprocity on. The top-down structure of our party needs to be turned on its head so that the focus of central party and regional office activity is capacity building locally.
CLPs need to be given the freedom, and where needed the support, to develop a culture and practice of constant campaigning, building and sustaining links with the wider community. CLPs who recruit supporters, build relationships and develop networks of interest locally should be rewarded with more money, more independence, and greater weight in the policymaking process.
CLPs should be supported to become effective campaigning organisations. Job descriptions for each officer post would enable individuals to understand what is expected of them and allow members to hold them to account. Term limits for officers of 2-3 years would better develop the talents and skills of those who hold positions and allow more opportunity to progress. Training and advice, peer support and shadowing opportunities, would help individuals develop their CLPs and realise their potential locally.
The new Leader should consider initiating a strategic review of the Labour Party which would consider the functions and effectiveness of the party at all levels, and how they interact with each other – branch, CLP, regional, national, the PLP and the Leader’s office. This process could also analyse trade unions, affiliates and successful movement-based organisations such as Hope Not Hate to identify strengths, greater potential for coordination locally and to build capacity.
The Labour Party can only ever prosper when it is an expression of a vibrant, diverse and active base that has high levels of visibility, trust and interaction with our communities, providing a channel through which individuals can express their values and a link between the leadership and the electorate.
This post originally appeared on LabourList.