A Party for All

07Aug10

I joined the Labour Party when I was sixteen, and as such, I sort of expected a fireworks show when I joined.

In actual fact, I did receive a phonecall thanking me for joining and inviting me to meetings – it was from my old school Governor, who was also a councillor, and who had only found out that I had joined because my mother had told him. My old CLP was quite a small one in regard to membership, and when I joined I was the youngest member in the area for a very long time, and by at least 20 years. As such, they were really keen on me joining in – at one point my local councillor actually came to my house to ask me to come to the next ward meeting.

I went to that ward meeting, and if you’re a member of the Labour party, I don’t think I have to tell you what it was like. There were 4 people there, and we stuck to the agenda to the tee. A chair was nominated, as the actual chair hadn’t shown up, and then we went through the lengthy and horrifically boring agenda for the two hours of the meeting. 10 minutes were set aside to review the minutes from the last meeting – minutes that most of us had already had in our possession for 2 weeks.

There was nothing really inspiring about this view of the Labour Party, and I didn’t go to a ward meeting again. Everything was very closed, grey and intimidating. The last straw was a local by-election, where the same CLP basically laid into another teenager, intimidating and frightening him because of a stupid blog post whilst leafleting for the Lib Dems. I realised that the ward simply had no interest in involving young people, and to a great degree disliked them.

I left the Labour Party.

When I moved to my current ward, Levenshulme, in Manchester Gorton CLP, I very tentatively joined the Labour Party again. This time, there were no fireworks and no phonecalls. As such, apart from my membership card, there was nothing really to make me feel involved in the Labour Party at all, until Manchester Young Labour was set up and suddenly there was something for me to be involved in. Within the ward, there was nothing for me however, the new ward secretary took over. Now, I could sing her praises all day, but all you really need to know about Kate is she’s very devoted to relational thinking.

The first ward meeting I was invited to I skipped for revision, assuming it would be like all the rest and I would be left alone – but Kate persisted. She sent me texts, letters, emails, all inviting me to come – how could I resist? I went to my first meeting here in June.

The meeting was at 7 – and every member was invited to begin arriving from 6, in order to get acquainted with each other. Everyone was given a cup of tea, and around the room small conversations blossomed and people began to interact with people they didn’t know. I was in a conversation about Unions and Compass. By the time the meeting was due to start, there were nearly 20 people there.

Now, I’ve never known they Labour Party to be like this – we sat in a circle, not in rows, and one of the members – not an officer – introduced himself and invited the person next to him to do the same thing. We went round the whole room, and all of a sudden I realised how relaxed an environment I was in. They passed a single copy of the agenda round, and then began talking.

We didn’t talk in line with the agenda – we just talked as the conversation dictated, and then as the meeting came to a close, we checked the agenda to see if we’d missed anything. This might seem a very unorthadox way to hold ward meetings – but I tell you, I’ve never seen a more fantastic turnout in ward meetings, and I try not to miss them for anything.

The movement for this  – relational rather than bureaucratic grassroot politics – is a growing thing. It’s been lit up by the Movement for Change campaign and I have nothing but praise for the movement.  In my training with the campaign, I found how quickly you could make friends in an environment that would normally be stoic and cold, just by changing the tone of a meeting. I was reminded of my ward meetings, and the difference that makes to our grassroots.

The thing I love about the Movement for Change is how inclusive it is  – you don’t have to be a bureaucrat to be interested in politics anymore. You don’t have to know people in high places to have other people acknowledge your existence, to have local people of authority knowing your name. It provides basic members, and especially young members, with a huge amount of power they’d never had before.

I do sincerely believe that the only way to move the party forward is a transition from bureaucracy to relationships. Forging relationships in the community is what’s important, not writing letters of support. Getting your members out on the doorstep is hugely more important than delivering leaflets. And interacting with and befriending your members locally is the only way to empower the grassroots.

Our membership leapt forward in the aftermath of the general election. Let’s keep up that trend, by making ourselves appealing to everyone. We know we’re appealing with our policies – now let’s make our actions speak louder than words for the first time, and show every Labour voter why it’s so inspiring and worthwhile to be a member of the Labour Party.

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One Response to “A Party for All”

  1. Hello Kate!

    Thank you for writing this. It is very well put and very eloquent indeed.

    As a member of a small CLP I recognise many of your experiences. And I’m currently trying to establish our Young Labour group here, which is slowly but surely coming together.

    I am hoping that we will be able to have a much more relaxed, circular approach to things, as you say, with a more liberal interpretation of an agenda. Not just because we must and we should but because I need to have some fun in the Labour party at a local level and I need to have it soon.

    But yes, thanks for writing it – it’s comforting to know that it’s not just this little corner of the world that feels like that, sometimes. And to know there are ways to move forward.

    Plus ours is a must win, can win seat with an anti-tory majority but a tory MP. We need to fight the good fight!

    Sof


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