A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Doom, gloom and misery

Reading most commentary on the Labour Party you would assume it is a totally hollowed out organisation, with no grassroots activity, populated by disillusioned miseries lamenting the pain of 10 years of betrayal and disappointment.

Strangely last night the AGM of the ward party where I'm a councillor (which is a core vote area if anywhere is - a 600 vote majority and almost entirely composed of council estates) had over a dozen people at it (whereas back in the alleged halcyon days of the mid-90s all the wards I was involved in were lucky to have half a dozen attendees).

There were twice as many candidates to be GC delegates as there were places, no one had a go at the government, we had a positive discussion about local issues (including a huge drop in crime in the ward since the community policing team was introduced) and planned speaker meetings, street stalls and local leafleting for the year ahead.

Maybe all the stuff about the terminal decline of Labour's grassroots is wishful thinking on the part of people who hate the leadership - or maybe in their branch parties it is a self-fulfilling prophesy - sit around being miserable and slagging off your own government and understandably other members who thought they were joining a pro-Labour organisation when they joined the Labour Party and didn't want to join depressives anonymous will stop coming to the meetings or doing anything.


Anonymous a so-called ultramoderniser said...

I agree Luke but in 2007 I really can't understand why we still insist on having delegate-based GCs. By basing decision-making at constituency level on such mechanisms merely belittles the contribution those not elected could potentially make. Fine, it shows a healthy internal democracy in strong wards like yours, but in other places the opposite is true -- more places than willing attendees and therefore inquorate GCs.

I know the Labour First view of the world thinks the GC system guards against entryism etc but given what we now have to work with, its days are over. I hope.

9:17 am, January 12, 2007

Blogger parburypolitica said...

Ok you have 2 people willing to do stuff for the labour party then you have an internal election to remove 50% of them. Is this the most sensible way of running a party? I don't think so.

9:30 am, January 12, 2007

Anonymous Andrea said...

I suppose it's very possible that the overall morale of the grassroots is not the same in all CLPs and in all parts of the country.
I wouldn't be surprised that in areas where Labour swept away in recent locals, the morale is not as high as in Hackney.

9:34 am, January 12, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Actually my argument for the GC system is that it enables affiliates to be formally represented by delegates. In much of London where there aren't many large unionised workplaces this may not seem important, but in areas where there is still manufacturing industry the ability of union branches to send delegates to the local CLP is a very important part of the union link.

If you don't have GCs I don't see how the federal nature of the party can be reflected at a local level.

Where experiments have been done with abolishing GCs, the same people came along to the new meetings but turnout went down over time as being a delegate to a decision-making meeting is more likely to get you to turn up than a general invite to have a debate.

Having said this a) all GCs should be open to all members to speak and attend even if not delegates (most are) and b) any sensible GC organises a programme of all member meetings to debate major issues.

10:02 am, January 12, 2007

Anonymous Duncan said...

Agreeing with Luke shocker!

You're right Luke (and in most parts of the country the federal aspect of the party is NOT represented at a local level, leading to quite a lot of confusion about the union link at a constituency activist level in many smaller CLPs). I agree that maintaining the GC system is the most obvious way to maintain (or reassert) the party's federal structure, even though it has gone from my local party and most I have dealings with, unfortunately.

11:52 am, January 12, 2007

Anonymous Tim Swift said...

Thought the above comments have the makings of an interesting debate. We struggle from a mixture of well attended branches that have contests for GC places and almost derelict branches taht never meet, leaving the very small number of activists unable to participate in the democratic structures.

I think on balance Luke is probably right about retaining the formal structure but mixing it with well-run all member's meetings.

On the wider point, I am certain that some of the 'doom, gloom and misery' theme is self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. A neighbouring CLP tells the not really humourous tale of the new member who, when asked why he has joined, says "Well, actually I'm quite impressed with what Tony Blair has done" ---- sparking of course 20 minutes of diatribe from all present. He did not come again, and I have to admit that were I not a political masochist I would give up sitting through the constant diet of rabid criticism of our government I hear at some (but thankfully not all) local party meetings.

None of which is to deny that there is a problem when we are losing members who are on the left but are clearly of the leafleting, rather than committee-attending, tendency!

12:06 pm, January 12, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:18 pm, January 12, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The other argument in favour of GCs is that by ensuring each branch has a set level of representation you get a CLP that is representative of all parts of the constituency. With all member meetings the areas nearest to the meeting venue or with the most middle class members (who are more likely to turn up) can swamp the meeting. Again, not such an issue in metropolitan CLPs but can be important in constituencies where there are two or more towns or a mixture of urban and outlying rural branches. In both the places where I have been PPC the GC system ensured representation for geographical sub-sets of the CLP - Yateley & Farnborough in Aldershot CLP, Canvey Island in Castle Point CLP, which in a non-delegate structure would have little voice compared to, respectively, Aldershot and the "mainland".

Back when I was in Bristol West if it hadn't been a GC based system 2 middle class branches (Redland & Cotham) would have totally dominated CLP meetings.

12:19 pm, January 12, 2007

Blogger brownswoodcouncillors said...

It's sad this debate has drifted into one about GCs and structures. We should be considering what we have done recently to welcome new members to branch meetings, and encourage them to come back to another.
As Luke said initially, if you have people who are relentlessly negative about the party and government, people who joined to support them will not come again.
Our last branch had over 20 members present, and 15 stayed for a social afterwards. Numbers have actually gone up since a certain clique of "old lefties" have gone into (hopefully terminal) decline. Having great local councillors who put some effort into being accountable, helps!

1:48 pm, January 12, 2007

Anonymous Andrea said...

"As Luke said initially, if you have people who are relentlessly negative about the party and government, people who joined to support them will not come again"

well, you can look from the opposite angle too. If the meetings are just on the "we're so great, we're really great and all is wonderful" theme, it can discourage people who are critical on some aspects, but still wants to be part of the party to come. The party should be afterall a broadchurch and the right balance can be achieved

3:29 pm, January 12, 2007

Anonymous Duncan said...

Just in the interests of debate - being negative may well be a turn-off, being critical I think gets people to come. I don't actually know anybody who wants to meet regularly to say what a good job the government's doing, even though I know a few people who think they're doing a good job. They're happy to hand out leaflets and good for them. But people want to know that they can express their views and be critical, and that doing so produces some sort of result or has some sort of point. That is why it needs to be more than a handful of people sitting round a table moaning, there have to be resolutions and those resolutions require actions and responses.

Back in student politics days, I remember Luke coming to one of our Freshers' Fairs and nearly having a quiet fit when he heard me say that I didn't like Tony Blair to a prospective member (don't know if you remember the incident, Luke?) But the person signed up, and - for the size of university - we were probably one of the biggest and most active Labour clubs in the country, in my day (God that makes me sound like a miserable old bugger) - it wasn't because we whinged on (the contribution of people who were very enthusiastic about 'the project' was equally important in ensuring that our club was active and vital) - it was the fact that we talked about Politics, and we did stuff. Unless you've got people really drunk, nobody's ever going to join a party for the discos, because they can go to discos without joing a political party! They can vote Labour and hand out leaflets without joining too, for that matter. People need a role and to feel that the role is worthwhile.

I reckon Luke will be one of the reasons for activism in his CLP! If we had any New Labour people in our CLP, it would certainly enthuse me to get along to meetings, because it would be somebody who didn't just take a very long time to say they agreed with me!

4:12 pm, January 12, 2007

Anonymous susan press calder valley CLP said...

Which CLP would that be, Tim? Perchance Calder Valley? Yes, if anyone turned up to ours and said they were impressed with what Blair had done we would be amazed, well, horrified I suppose.
You know full well that we had to diss Blair big-style to hang onto the seat because you were the agent.

3:55 pm, January 13, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My club chair and I are the most pro-govt members of our branch party. The rest are prevented from discussion by being stuck deep within a time-warp.

I think you're more likely in a better position in London than we are in the rest of the country. It's easier to stay keyed in to things Labour.

8:33 pm, January 13, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason your party is so alive is Dianne Abbott's militant class struggle ;o)

8:35 pm, January 13, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair Tom, your branch is an interesting bunch!

2:22 pm, January 15, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's a GC?

4:29 am, January 17, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

General Committee - the body that runs a Constituency Labour Party - consisting of delegates from each ward branch party and from any other bodies affiliated locally such as trade union branches, Co-Op Party, Fabians etc.

10:37 am, January 17, 2007


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