Jimmy Sergi reflects upon how local Labour Party structures operate, and why they need to be reformed to be grounded in their local communities.
If the Labour Party is serious about winning again, it needs to vastly reform local party structures to be grounded in their local communities.
On the Wirral where I am from, the Green Party took 3 seats that were until very recently Labour strongholds. On the doorstep in one of these seats, the reasons for these dramatic results, including a swing of 55.6% to the Greens in one seat, was clear- the Green candidates were seen to be working much harder for their communities, with regular leaflets being distributed and a high local presence from candidates. Labour was seen to have taken them for granted, a feeling only made worse by the fact that we were unable to campaign in the usual way throughout the lockdowns of the past year. This was even though we had a talented and capable set of candidates, dedicated to serving the places they were standing in. The issue was campaigning and communicating this effectively.
This is not a situation unique to the Wirral. Across the country, it is a common theme that Labour voters have felt taken for granted, something which is now coming back to bite us. While national issues undoubtedly play into that, there is also more we can do locally to win back our local communities.
Meanwhile, in local Labour Party meetings across the country, time is being spent discussing motions about recalling conference, a small but vocal minority of members rehash factional battles from leadership elections past, and issues that voters simply do not care about are prioritised. This does nothing to help Labour regain trust among those who no longer feel represented by us. 40 or 50 people may turn up to CLP meetings, but only a small handful get out on the streets and campaign. Of course, many local parties do enrich their communities and help the Labour Party, but the structure of CLPs and branches simply isn’t focused on campaigning enough.
We must focus on the principle of quality, not quantity. Endless amounts of meetings that don’t lead to any improvements to how we campaign and implement our values do nothing to improve our chances of winning. Meetings should be focused on how we can benefit the areas that we live in, and how we can ensure that more Labour representatives are elected to positions of power. We must base our strategies on what people are telling us on the doorstep, rather than making them fit the narrative we want to be true. And we must listen to and welcome back our most experienced campaigners, some of whom have not felt welcome in the party recently, to campaign effectively.
Motions that simply lead to a heated discussion with no tangible output should not be part of how our local structures operate. While policy discussions are of course important, they should be focused events that allow an open and tolerant discussion about the challenges that face us, perhaps taking place a few times a year. Instead, campaigning should be the key item on the agenda for most of our meetings. Local parties should be a place to discuss how we campaign effectively both for elections and local issues, and more importantly we should focus on getting out on the streets and putting these words into action.
Fundraising is also something that isn’t talked about enough. In order to raise the money that we need to take on other parties across the country, we must focus on how we can hold events to bring money into our local parties. Social events are a key part of this, serving the dual purpose of bringing in money locally through a price for admission, and boosting the appeal of being a Labour member, which will lead to more party funds nationally. This will mean we can fund our campaigns and will foster party unity by allowing members to get to know each other outside of the combative atmosphere of an intense foreign policy debate you may currently find in a CLP meeting.
This may seem harsh, but in order to win, we must re-evaluate what the purpose of a local Labour Party is and how we can best ensure that they achieve their aims. Motions that simply lead to endless debate with no actual action or progress shouldn’t be our priority. Attacks on the national party do nothing to further the Labour cause. We must listen to the electorate, who are telling us loudly and clearly that in places like the Wirral, we are leaving them behind. It is imperative that we win back our former voters in local and national elections so we can put our ideas into action and change lives for the better. If we spend less time bickering about which former leader we prefer, and more time out on the streets talking to voters and getting our message across, we can begin to rebuild trust with those who feel we have left them behind.
Jimmy Sergi is a 17 year old Labour activist from the Wirral and Secretary of the North West Young Fabians. Jimmy tweets at @jimmysergi_