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Apart from the much disputed facts about the goings on in Falkirk, the debate over the last week about the relationship between Labour and the affiliated unions has produced much heat and little light. Positions have become so polarised as to become untenable for all sides, but also so calcified that the space in between where compromise can and should be possible has become a very empty and lonely space.
Objectively, of course, both the Labour Party and the unions could be improved. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement – few if any organisations are perfect, and none that refuse to change, self-examine and grow are able to be. But in the current febrile atmosphere, it seems to be just that. Sides are being chosen, and any criticism of one allies you with the other. So if, like me, you are seeing good and bad in both, both will view you with suspicion.
I think the Labour link with the unions is essential. I believe that the ties that bind us to the ordinary workplaces experiences of workers up and down the country – the nurses, engineers, refuse workers and administrators – makes our party unique. I am extremely proud of that.
I am also proud of the work that has been done by Iain MaNicol and Ed Miliband among others to reinvigorate the meaning of Labour Party membership. To try to further empower members and given them a greater say over the path the Party is taking. The Refounding Labour changes were small but important steps along this journey of democratisation.
As unions have responded to the changing nature of their role in the world, several have merged to become much larger corporate bodies. As this happened, naturally their nature changed too. Union officers become less likely to have come up through the voluntary ranks – to come from workplaces into unions – and more likely to be professional organisers and campaigners, policy officers and officials. This is not to – in any way – belittle the work done by such officers. They work long and heard under difficult conditions, dedicated to improving conditions for members. My experience of working with unions on apprenticeships and adult learning over the last year showed me many people determinedly changing lives for the better all around the country.
But with such changes has come at least the feeling of a disconnect between the members and the officers. For example, in Unite’s recent election for General Secretary just 15.2% of the membership voted. But this is not a Unite problem. For example, in the recent Labour Leadership contest, only 9% of union members entitled to vote did so, compared with 71.7% among Labour Party members. Clearly the people we count on to ground us through the link don’t feel a reciprocal connection to us.
I suggest that it is the empowerment of these ordinary union members that could square the vexatious circle that Labour and union leaders currently find themselves looping. It seems the Labour leadership are thinking something similar with some of the proposals that were shown to the Guardian yesterday.
Now the devil will be both in the detail and the presentation. The headline on the Wintour story is “Ed Miliband looks at reducing power of union leaders in Labour affairs”. This may be simply mischievous reporting but for me that’s completely the backwards way of looking at the proposals. It’s not about the reduction of the power of the leaders, but the increase of the power of members than can and should be important. Giving more voice to the voiceless.
By allowing direct communication between the Labour Party and union members – with a reciprocal devolving power relationship for those members, that will be a way of strengthening Labour’s link to the unions and to the reality of their lives, not weakening it. This measure – alongside reducing the cost barrier to standing as a candidate – should, managed properly and enacted honestly, be a way to ensure a new, more democratic conversation between Labour and the unions who would remain an essential part of the Party.
The very nature of being a volunteer for a UK political Party in this day and age could be described as exploitative. Your time and labour are given freely to the service of the promotion of others – those you believe can best embody your shared ideals and values. We do it because we believe in the cause and we do it in the most part willingly and joyfully. Volunteering for a cause you believe in can be and should be a fulfilling experience.
As should working for and dedicating your life to that same cause. Choosing to go into politics – whether it be working for a Party or standing for election at any level – can be a daunting thing to do. The backroom jobs are frequently low paid and always highly stressful. When you work in such an organisation the intensity of the experience can and frequently does lead to a very distorted relationship with the party itself. A fierce loyalty to the thing to which you are dedicating so much of yourself to is only natural. A sense that the organisation - and it’s higher purpose – come first is completely natural. Belief in a cause or simply in the people you admire who lead you is an essential part of working for or volunteering for a political party.
But there are some people who will corrupt that loyalty and abuse it for their own ends. Who do not understand the boundaries of the exploitation of the free labour and abuse the wielding of their power over those with none. And all too often, they are allowed to do so because their talents and use to the Party is seen by many with the power to act as more important than the rights of the more vulnerable workers involved.
They are wrong.
By doing so they corrupt the values for which they believe they stand and forfeit the moral authority of the Organisation they seek to protect. Whether it be the SWP, Wikileaks or the Lib Dems, those whose instinct was to protect the alleged perpetrators at the expense of the alleged victims have harmed the reputation and moral authority of their leaders and their organisations. By looking the other way to avoid the harm of having to discipline their senior and powerful figures, they cause exponentially greater damage to those they should most seek to protect, to themselves and the ideals they believe the organisation stood for.
As the most mainstream of the Parties currently besieged by such accusations, it has been really sad to see how badly many Lib Dems have resp0nded to the crisis. The initial statement from Nick Clegg (issued several days after the allegations were first broadcast on Channel 4 News) was mealy-mouthed about the process and whiny about the press coverage. It attempted to make the Party and its leadership the victim. It also seems that there may have been significant inaccuracies in that statement as he has had to row back on a number of the details.
Some activists and journalists on Lib Dem sympathetic newspapers have also been vocal both in their diminishing of the importance of the allegations and again tried to make the Party the victim of malicious media coverage. it is worth saying that some other Lib Dems have not. Notably Stephen Tall who has been leading the call to make any inquiries independent.
I’m not a Lib Dem and I never will be. So why does it matter to me that they get this right? That all parties involved get justice and that the internal culture that allows and even tacitly supports this kind of behaviour is tackled? Because the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of politics that views volunteers and junior staff members as “fair game” doesn’t exist simply in the Lib Dems. It infects the whole of politics to a certain degree. When women like me complain about the “boys club” we know this affects the whole of the political arena from the feeder organisations (like think tanks and pressure groups) to the branches to the national offices. The invisibility of women and their marginalisation in public and political spaces create the conditions in which these kinds of abuses of power thrive.
One depressing aspect of this story has been the Labour voices counselling we be quiet about the Lib Dem scandals as we don’t want to expose our own skeletons.
They could not be more wrong.
Not because our own skeletons don’t exist. While I have been lucky not to experience too much of it directly (though there are MPs who couldn’t tell you the colour of my eyes after talking to my breasts for an hour) I have heard stories: the friend who had her neck licked by a former minister in Strangers Bar; the male employer at a left wing organisation who described to a male friend his new (quite senior) employee as “the teeth and tits”. These aren’t my stories to share beyond these anonymised versions, but be under no illusion that such things don’t happen.
It is because such things happen that we must speak up and speak out. We have to change the culture of the whole of politics. We must use the opportunity of the crisis in the Lib Dems to examine our own processes at every level and be confident that they are robust enough. We must protect young, ambitious women from being put off politics by abuse from men they thought they admired. We must ensure that there is never a culture of acceptance but of challenge to poor behaviour and welcome to all those who share our politics. We must never allow ourselves to cheapen politics or our Party by passing by and accepting them.
Monica Lewinsky was an ambitious and clearly extremely talented (I suspect internships at the White House are pretty competitive after all) young politico. She made some bad personal choices and had a sexual relationship with a man much more famous and powerful than herself. He remains a senior political icon. A figure of huge respect in his Party and internationally. She has no political career. Their sexual activity was mutually consensual, she was single, he was married. Why has the fallout for their careers been so disproportionate? Because she had neither the power nor the status to get the machinery to protect and continue to nurture her talent. He was too important to lose. We can’t allow ourselves to lose talented young women from politics because of a culture in which protects the predatory powerful at the expense of the careers of young women.
This is not to say that people who develop relationships within politics should be punished or discouraged from doing so. But if their power statuses are disproportionate, how do you protect the weaker party from being sidelined? A modern organisation needs to look at this kind of question arising from the fallout of consensual relationships as well as from abuse and harassment. Because both feed into the sidelining of potentially great and important political women.
The Lib Dems are going through a difficult time because they clearly put the interests of the powerful before the interests of the less powerful. Parties are insular creatures and their natural instinct is to do just that. I strongly suspect that there is someone senior at the Labour Party and within the Conservatives wondering about what is going to come out now that open season has been declared and what to do about it. I can’t speak for the Tories. I’ll never be one of them either. But if Labour are aware of anything they should be acting on, I urge them to do so, properly, now.
In the end it might well be the cover up that could end the careers of several senior Lib Dems. But it is the culture that encourages that cover up that is choking politics. And it must end.
It’s very easy to be cynical about the Labour Party’s policy making process. My God is it easy.
In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s not just easy, but the rational thing to do. If we take Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “ then cynicism as Labour launch their latest way of involving members in the policy making process is probably the sanest mindset possible.
But here’s the problem. If those who – like me – have urged the Party for years to open up our policy making processes, to trust members and to allow an open and frank conversation to take place approach this latest initiative with disengaged cynicism it will fail – but this time, it will be our fault.
I spend a great deal of my time talking about how the Party must open up policy making to members. Having been given a preview of the Your Britain website last week as a member of the National Policy Forum; and having talked to the policy team whose job it is to shepherd the website into existence and then develop it as it grows organically, I believe that the Party is making a genuine attempt to do just that.
There is a new spirit of transparency in the air at Brewers Green that I’ve not encountered before. It must be all those windows. There’s also a sense of adventure that is new and tangible; A can-do, let’s-give-it-a-whirl attitude that is about doing and learning from doing, not about over-cautious not doing. The feeling I got, is that the staff are up for it.
That presents cynics like me with a challenge. We’re being given a real chance to prove ourselves. We’ve got a real chance to give Party members a voice. But it will need champions.
It is so much harder to be a champion than a cynic. You have to encourage people through the lean beginnings when there isn’t much content. You have to take part, put yourself out there and get involved. If we want to convince our leaders there is an appetite for policy discussion in the Party, we need to start by getting involved in that discussion, and getting others involved too.
If we don’t; if we start by believing it won’t work so why bother, we prove those who don’t trust us with the policy process right. We’ll have nothing to show for our lack of efforts except the truth that this time we will have failed our Party – not the other way around.
Let’s not let that happen. Let’s go out to our Constituency and Branch meetings armed with publically published policy papers for discussion. Let’s note those discussions and feed them back into the process through the website (where you can post as a branch or Constituency if you so choose). Let’s comment on each other’s ideas. Let’s encourage others to comment on ours.
The first few weeks of the website will be a precarious time. As the Labour Party is being completely open, they are open to abuse. With anyone allowed to comment, at first anyone will. People who exist only to be unpleasant will have a field day. If those of us who are enthusiastic about member engagement don’t get involved in equal measure, we abandon the field to them. That’s no way to win a campaign.
If we can garner genuine member enthusiasm – the way we did with some of the responses to the Refounding Labour process – and couple that with the genuine desire of the staff and of the Chair of the NPF Angela Eagle to make this work, this has a chance. If we can make this the go to place for Labour policy discussion, the Shadow Cabinet will have little choice but to engage. They need to know what’s going on after all.
Things happen in the Labour Party all too frequently that activate my over-developed cynicism gland. But I’ll be damned if I let that natural reaction lose me the chance to champion the one thing I’ve been urging the Party to develop right from the start: an open, interactive policy process.
Three cheers say I, until I am proved otherwise.
This post first appeared on LabourList.
The curly sandwiches have all been eaten, the beer has all been drunk and everyone has a cold. It must be end of conference season. For the first time in my life, I attended all three Party conferences this year. I met and spoke with friends from each Party, and I also took the time to just sit quietly in the throng and listen to what the delegates had to say when talking to each other. This – far more than the stage managed media focused messages from the stages – will tell you where a party is at.
So yesterday I tweeted that the poll that rates Ed Balls highly shouldn’t bother Ed Miliband. That Balls is seen as doing better than his opposite number is good news – for Ed Balls, for Labour and for Ed Miliband. We are – after all – a team whose collective success comes together or not at all.
Sadly it seems some of those close to both Ed’s didn’t get the memo. They have allowed their egos to elevate their petty office politics over the essential national politics of removing the corrosive Tories from office and getting our economy working again for everyone.
Mark Ferguson is right – these people should shut up. Not least because in acting the way they are, they demonstrate little understanding of politics nous; something I would have thought pretty essential in a “senior advisor” or Shadow Cabinet Minister – even an unnamed one. Guys, you’re making fools of yourselves; sadly you’re making fools of the Party too.
Ed M’s team have demonstrated before a lack of discipline. Both Ed’s have come from the worst possible experience of rancorous personal relationships and the mismanagement of petty squabbling. They more than most must know how divisive and ultimately counter-productive it is. They are the ones who will need to get a grip on this now. In essence, the failures of their staff lie with them and their cultural leadership; the buck stops with them.
I’ve worked in a lot of different office places with a lot of different management structures. One thing I have learned is that you cannot and will not stop staff gossiping with each other and having opinions that often differ from management as to how things should be run. It’s perfectly natural for those at the sharp end to have such opinions, but where things are well managed, they don’t feel the need to share these thoughts with outside organisations.
Good managers work with their staff to ensure they are able to have an input and feel a part of the organisation. This ensures they excel at their jobs and have the ability to learn and develop as they do. If they don’t, these frustrations spill over into tensions. In this case, they seem to have manifested in anonymous briefings. I guess that’s more likely in politics than in any of the other places I have worked. The political lobby act as if every day is a basically a gossip session behind the bike sheds and being listened to by a big name journalist can make you feel very important, especially if no one else is listening.
I was going to write a post about my anger and disappointment in those who have been briefing, but Mark has already done a superb job of articulating how let down Labour members are by this kind of behaviour. Ultimately though it is the responsibility of the leadership to change what is happening. They must instil a culture where this kind of thing is not just not tolerated, but is not necessary.
I have also worked for a real variety of managers. I know good management when I experience it. I’ve been very lucky in that I have experienced it often. Sometimes I have been less lucky. I have also been a good and a bad manager.
Good organisations recognise and cherish the art of management. Management should not be an add-on to a promotion – a hoop you have to jump through in order to earn more and progress through an organisation. Management is a skill that must be developed and nurtured. It must be supported by proper management systems that are embedded and respected within the culture of the organisation.
There is no shame in not being a born manager. It is not the same thing as being a born leader. It can be learned and should be developed. It must be valued. Learning how to give and receive management advice, to give and receive feedback and appraisals and to ensure a continuous open and trustworthy relationship between line manager and staff is vital. It aids productivity and the positive feedback loop that a decent working experience can bring.
Recent changes at our Head Office seem to reflect this and have – as I understand it – made the chain of command clearer and brought management responsibilities into sharper focus. The same must be done with our party in Westminster – particularly it seems with those close to the leadership.
Yes, our staff members should not be running to tittle-tattle to the newspapers. But do they have a forum for constructive criticism? Do they have a space when they can tell their manager their concerns and know how those concerns will be addressed? If not, this is not just a failure of the staff members, but a failure of our culture. That’s what has to change.
This post first appeared on LabourList.
This is a guest post from Jan Burnell - a successful small business owner. I asked her to think about what Labour’s offer could and should be to small companies and their owners. Here’s what she came back with:
I’ve been asked to contribute to Scarlet Standard as the owner and founder of The Centre, a small but successful training company, now 16 years old. We really are small – six paid staff, including me, and a turnover of less than a million. We’re about as far from Standard Chartered bank as it’s possible to be.
And yet, my business is, I believe, typical of hundreds of thousands of firms up and down the country, many of them run by Labour supporters. In 2009, SMEs together ( enterprises with less than 250 staff) accounted for 99.9% of all enterprises, 59% of private sector employment and 49% of private sector turnover. Within this larger group there were over 4.5 million businesses with no, or less than 10 employees. So this is a sizeable interest group, one Labour cannot afford to ignore.
It’s got easier to start your own business in the last twenty years or so. Banks were willing to loan and a very large number of people started their own business with a redundancy or early retirement lump sum. The kind of people who did this don’t fit into a homogenous group. Many of them are Tories and feel a kindred spirit with big business. But many retain the ethics and values of the public sector from which they came or of the Trade Union that was their protection while they were in employment. Many of them, enough to win several marginals, are Labour.
What do Labour small business owners want? I believe that principally, we want to feel that someone knows we exist. We want to feel part of the discourse, a voice that matters, that must be listened to. This means specific policy issues as well as using the right rhetoric. Every political leader nowadays nods in the direction of small business but most restrict their policy approach to deregulation. Small business owners who are Labour don’t want to cheat or bully their staff. They don’t want to sack people without notice or reason, or to avoid employing women in case they get pregnant, or to cheat the revenue or the VAT.
They do want less paperwork and government tender documents are a key issue here. I long ago gave up responding to invitations to tender, knowing that they would take me days to complete when in all likelihood the successful company was already lined up and the process was a nod in the direction of fairness rather than a transparent competition to find good value. This government has talked about making tendering easier for small firms – I’m yet to see how.
Small companies want access to more money. Every business wants this. But small businesses are often hampered by their lack of collateral when applying for loans. What that means in practice is that you have to put your house up (if you’re lucky enough to own one). I don’t feel comfortable putting my husband’s dwelling place on the line for my business and I don’t feel I should have to. A Government backed scheme which guaranteed small business bank loans without needing to take housing assets into account would be a real boon for many.
Such loans should not be limited to new developments or innovation. It’s when the going is tough that you really need a helping hand and that’s precisely when getting a loan is really difficult. Clearly, there needs to be a viable plan to see the business through but there’s a difference between going through a bad patch and going bust, and a helping hand financially can be just what makes that difference.
In terms of ‘red tape’, I don’t believe small businesses want a complete absence of regulation. What they do need, especially very small businesses like mine, is some help with the costs of fairness. It’s right that long standing employees should get reasonable compensation for redundancy but if you’re losing the job to save money, it’s clearly difficult to find these kinds of payments. Similarly with maternity pay. I fought my whole adult life for women’s equality at work. It’s still difficult to find another wage on top of the six I’m paying now out of my slender profit margin. A government-backed insurance scheme which enabled businesses to protect themselves against these kind of risks would be a real help.
Above all, what small businesses need is a thriving economy where the public has enough money to go out and buy our goods and to pay the taxes that support our services. The Coalition government has presided over some of the worst years since I’ve been in business, killing confidence, cutting support to my public sector clients and presiding over the worst recession since the thirties. A properly managed economy where the welfare of everyone is guaranteed through fair contributions from everyone is what would help small businesses thrive. It wouldn’t be so bad for everyone else, either.
This piece was a cut down version of my speech at the launch of 5 Million Votes.
In the same way New Labour was both a reasonable reaction to what had gone before and a revolution in its own right, the 5 Million Votes analysis must now be just as well informed by our past, as responsive to our present and as mindful of our future.
It must not be a way of fighting stupid, pointless and ridiculously bitter internal Labour Party battles, but of researching ways in which the party can return to power while offering the country the radical changes we believe are needed to our failing systems and institutions.
This isn’t about “getting our party back” but about getting our party back into government, then getting our country back on track.
Nick Clegg has a choice. He doesn’t have to lose his prized reform of the undemocratic House of Lords, but in order to not do so he will have to swallow a significant amount of pride.
Here’s what’s not going to happen: Tory MPs are not going to come back in the autumn ready to cave in on their objections. Autumn is conference season. The Tory leadership will be desperate for this not to become a further disturbing display of disunity. The rebels know they will be largely feted by the Tory membership for the stance they have taken. The Tory rebels are not going to change their minds, and their leadership know they will have to be more placatory to get through conference without significant incident.
But the votes to reform the House of Lords exist in Parliament, if Clegg can first persuade himself to work with Labour to make this Bill work (he will need to follow Labour’s lead and swallow a few of Labour’s desired amendments, particularly a referendum and perhaps changing the insane terms), and then persuade David Cameron to let that happen, significant Lords reform could still take place. In all the focus on the rebels this week, it is forgotten that this was a large and comfortably won vote once it had Labour’s support.
So what practical steps must be taken over the summer? Well first the Lib Dems must reach out to Labour. They won’t like this, but their dismissive and hateful attitude is – in part – what has brought us to this place. Their unwillingness to negotiate the Bill with Labour properly in the first place instead presenting a deeply flawed Bill with a “like it or lump it” attitude was largely why Labour said they would force a defeat on the timetable. Clegg must send a team Labour can work with (i.e. not David Laws) to negotiate behind the scenes and thrash our enough agreement to see a way of getting the Bill through the Commons allowing Labour to support closure motions when their amendments or those they support in improving this Bill have been accepted. If Labour and the Lib Dems can use the summer to productively produce agreement that both sides accept and fully understand, then this Bill can be rescued.
It is now clear that a referendum is a likely outcome of such negotiation. If Labour and the Lib Dems can get around the table to save reform, this appears to be a Labour sticking point. I can understand after the bruising experience of the AV vote why Clegg and Co would rather not go through this again, but if properly managed, this time should be different. For a start all three Party leaders would – at least formally – be on the side of change. But if this is to be a part of the process, it must be better managed and better organised than the Yes to AV campaign. It has significantly more going for it than AV, but the campaign must look to recruit from beyond the narrow world of constitutional and electoral reformers to those better able to truly speak to and for the people of Britain. Planning for this should take place immediately. It cannot be left to chance, hope and the usual suspects.
Lords reform is salvageable, but Clegg must stand firm with David Cameron, who has already indicated to the Tory backbenches that he is willing to undertake a significant climb down. While negotiating with Labour, Clegg must stand strong in the face of significant levels of persuasion and arm twisting from his Tory Government colleagues. This will be hard – especially when it will mean siding with Labour and against the Tories, something he is usually politically disinclined to do.
Nick Clegg must decide which he hates more, Labour or an unelected House of Lords. The signs are not great that he’ll make the right decision. But if he does, it opens up a new space where Labour and the Lib Dems can have a new and more productive dialogue. This doesn’t just have an impact on the reform of the House of Lords, but on the potential for the anger between the two parties to finally dissipate somewhat. I don’t know if Clegg wants that, I do know, that to achieve anything the Lib Dems set out to do in this Tory led Government, ultimately and ironically, it will be in building bridges with Labour that they have their only chance to do so.
I for one hope they take it.
This post first appeared on Labour List
I’m an odd sort of politico at times.
Like all other political obsessives, I have my passions, my causes and my beliefs. I have a vision for what I want from the Labour Party and the next Labour Government. But within that vision, are layers of possibilities. An understanding that my utopia will not be the same as my neighbours (especially as we’re both quite loud, and have very, very different taste in music). I understand the bargaining that an appeal to electability across a mass audience can bring. But even with this understanding, I know that there is and always must be a difference between bargaining and capitulation.
I’m an odd sort of politico at times.
I see too many people on every side of any argument cherry pick evidence to prove not just that a policy will work, but that it will be popular. Clutching at those articles that reinforce your world view, while disregarding anything that challenges it. I think that to be a Socialist, you have to be an optimist. Not necessarily an unrealistic one, but an optimist nonetheless. But to be a strategist, you have to be a pessimist. Not a hopeless one - that’s no good to anyone – but able to see the bumps in the road. Reconciling the need for pessimism in favour of the greater cause of optimism is tough to balance. So it’s not that I am not easily pleased, more that my fear of being too easily pleased will send me too far in the other direction.
I’m an odd sort of politico. For these reasons, when I read something that I find speaks to both my desire for how things are, and my sense of how tings could be, my first reaction is not joy, but caution. Like Mulder, I want to believe. Like Scully, I want to see proof.
This is how I felt when I read Andrew Harrop’s excellent and potential strategy changing article on Labour List about “Ed’s Converts”. If this research is robust (and the Fabians are rarely anything but), then it supports my belief that Labour has a new space arising from the Lib Dems abandoning their left flank to go into coalition. A space to be a more openly Socially Democratic Labour Party and future government. I want this research to be be right so much. So much so that my Spidey-senses are tingling. Do I want it too much? Does the research really support a more left-leaning Labour Party? I want this research to be right and I want it proved right, and as such it will need to be tested almost to destruction. If it can withstand all that might be thrown at it, it could be the basis for a realignment of politics as powerful and successful as New Labour. I hope that the Fabian “Labour’s Next Majority” project will do that testing. I have a few questions that I’d like to offer for their consideration.
The first place I would want that testing to begin is on the idea of the current coalition of interests that make up that group. In Andrew’s piece he speaks of two core groups that make up the group: lower income communities and left liberals. These two groups are not always ones it is easy to produce compatible messages for. On areas like crime for example, they are often diametrically opposed, while both rating their issues highly. For example around surveillance and the role of the state. Would appealing to one group automatically repel the other? How do Labour chart their way through that territory.
Equally, the article states that the worst case scenario with these groups is a hung Parliament with Labour the largest Party. But id their support is as solid as that supposes, would it not be more electorally viable (if not, for me, politically desirable) to tack right and shore up some centrist floating 2010 Tory voters? What would and what wouldn’t put these voters off and how can or should they be slotted into an “Ed’s Converts” based strategy?
Finally – just as part of a starting response – what can and what should we be promising the left in order to keep it united? When does the left’s optimism become the naivete of stereotype? I think we have more scope than some, but we’re not going to be living in or building a brave new world come 2015. Many of the problems that are stymieing Governments of all kinds all over the world will still be ongoing. It will not be simple and it will not be perfect. If this is the framework for a new coalition of the Left, forged under a Labour banner, how do we make sure it doesn’t just win, but lasts?
Those are a few questions I think need to be looked at as an ongoing part of the Fabian’s excellent work. I am incredibly excited by this, and the way you can tell is that I’m questioning it. Strengthening through questioning is – to my mind – the best possible way to support the growth of an idea. I’ll be hoping to contribute further to the Fabian’s ongoing work in this area, and I look forward to more like this.
I want to believe!
I haven’t been the happiest of campers lately. I’ve been frustrated at the disorganisation of Labour’s journey of change and frustrated by our inability at times to lose some of the worst habits picked up in Government. At times I, like others, have questioned whether Labour has a proper theory of change and a sense of how to implement it.
But today, the role of Labour optimist will be played by… me! Yesterday I read same interview that Mark Ferguson read and agreed with Mark’s assessment that the intent should be congratulated. I completely understand Mark’s caution about whether these words are enough on their own. However, they don’t come on their own. Because elsewhere in the Guardian is a practical innovation being considered by Ed that could be revolutionary in its implications.
The idea that Labour will become a conduit through which people can save money on their energy bills has several important implications.
Firstly, this gives Labour a whole new way of relating to voters. It’s not just saying “we understand your pain” when talking to people who know how hard it is to make ends meet (a conversation that is ultimately frustrating and peripheral for both parties). It’s offering a real and practical solution. Labour may actually go onto the doorsteps with an offer for – rather than an ask of – voters.
Secondly, this is not a solution that requires Labour to be in Government, but does (from what I understand of the way the scheme would work) require us to reach a critical mass in local communities. It’s something that will help us to make a practical difference to people’s lives in ways that aren’t cruelly curtailed by a change of Government. While at the same time the need to build up a large enough customer base to make the scheme work will need Labour to be and remain outward focused in constituencies and communities in order to deliver the promise.
The critical mass needed will also be a reason for voters to talk to each other about Labour. This scheme may well be a way of developing relationships with people not normally accessible to Labour. I have to admit that I was unsure about the idea of the Labour Supporters Network. I wasn’t clear what the relationship would be or how, other than in terms of money, it would differ from a membership relationship. But this idea has energised my understanding of how Labour can change its staid understanding of relationships. I can see how, by becoming a champion of people’s consumer rights not just in policy terms as I have been promoting for some time, but in delivery too, labour can develop all new relationships with people unwilling to join a political party.
This move also puts real flesh on the responsible capitalism bones. And by delivering this project, Labour will be actively shown not to be anti-business. It won’t be stopping anyone from consuming, but will be supporting them in consuming wisely. Businesses that are nimble enough to recognise that will, in fact, benefit. It’s a working example of the translation of these values from speeches that please wonks (eventually) to delivering on promises.
Finally, this truly reinforces Labour’s local election message “With you in tough times”. I’m not always a big fan of political slogans. Too often they are a meaningless babble of vague but positive sounding words (Forward, Not Back anyone?). But if Labour pursue this idea and see how it and the ethos it exemplifies can be developed, maybe we can live up to this basic promise in a way that reenergises our relationship with business, with our activists and members, and most importantly with voters.
This post first appeared on Labour List