It has been an interesting few months for the Fabian Society. Since Ed Miliband’s speech at New Year Conference and Maurice Glasman’s challenging contribution to the Young Fabian lunchtime session at the same event, Blue Labour has entered the Labour thinker’s lexicon for 2011, and often inaccurately set up Fabianism as its polar opposite. The debate continues over on Next Left today.
It was amusing then to see Labour’s leader use an old friend as a shield for questions about his plans for departure from bachelorhood – his stag party “won’t be two Fabian Society lectures and half a pint of beer”. Is Fabianism really the worst thing imaginable in the Westminster bubble and beyond?
If so, perhaps it is time to inject some dynamism into the society?
The second half of the year will see a new general secretary appointed to lead the organisation – and a great opportunity to show Ed Miliband why he needs an active and exciting Fabian Society. Naturally, there is plenty to build on: the leadership of the Fabians will be handed over with record levels of membership; a fantastic body of thinkers and doers in its youth wing (but as Chair of the Young Fabians I would say that wouldn’t I?); some tremendous local groups; and a history of significant interventions. Packed out events like this weekend’s Progressive Fightback conference (final few tickets here) show that the wider left wants the sort of discussion and debate that the Fabians facilitate. This is an organisation with a lot of potential for someone to take on.
So what’s the dynamism needed then?
The Fabian Society holds a unique position as both a think tank and membership organisation with democracy at its heart. The membership is a strength. The society can grow in size and influence by capitalising on its members talents. A small, hardworking staff with smaller than desired budgets could be supported by the people who sign up year after year and call themselves Fabians. These people are already contributing to the Fabian Women’s Network, numerous local societies, and of course the Young Fabians – but I’m sure even more members have even more to offer if empowered to contribute. Be it to greater policy debate as the critical friend of Labour, or having those difficult conversations the party steers clear of. Be it with abilities from their professional lives, as web designers, writers, industry experts, and fundraisers. Or be it liaising with local Labour parties and progressive campaigns. We should seek to grow the membership in numbers, but grow them also as individuals, developing their contribution to the movement.
The new leader of the Fabians will have new ideas. But they must bring the people on the journey with them. How? Tell them what you’re trying to achieve and facilitate their involvement in it. Get your strategy right, and stick to it. (David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win is the key read here.) The Young Fabian executive committee has four strategic priorities (to increase membership, member involvement, funds and influence). This is public. The difficult decisions we make as a voluntary executive are taken through this gauge. And members are helping us – the Membership Ambassadors identified and supported by my colleague Anna-Joy Rickard, for example.
If the Fabian goal is to provide Ed with the ideas he needs to win a general election and improve the lives being damaged by this government’s actions, then a strategy in place to achieve that will be a crucial part of the new general secretary’s role. If the membership is contributing its maximum to this, I have every reason to think we can be successful.
If not, there’s always a night in with Ed and Justine …
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Adrian Prandle is Chair of the Young Fabians.