Tag Archive: Socialist Societies


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I support Harriet Harman’s suggestion that we formalise the lucky situation we find ourselves in at the moment where we have a balanced representation at the top of the ticket. If anyone feels that it isn’t necessary to do this in the modern Labour Party, I tell that that I was called a “Barmy  Ballbuster” by a fellow Party member on Twitter for even suggesting it’s something we could look at.

All Women Shortlists have served us well and should remain until we find that we have achieved stable gender parity. I think quotas are vital in the world we live in. As has been shown by the dreadful recruitment rate in the Lib Dems and the lack of A-list success in the Tories, All Women Shortlists has consistently been proved to be the method that works best in ensuring that we get a more and increasingly representative party in Parliament.

But great women candidates don’t appear from nowhere. There need to be far greater support for women taking positions in the party at all levels to give them the experience and confidence to come through and challenge – particularly in areas that have traditionally been male dominated. We also need to make sure working class women are also coming through, and getting the support and networks that they need to continue to make our representative of the working class.

I support the idea of a 50% quota for women in the cabinet. The idea that this will stop “the best candidates” is a straw man. For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential category. In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing.

We have a great deal of talented women in Parliament – certainly more than enough to make up half a cabinet of experienced women in Parliament, and a new generation of women in the new intake who can be inspired to take these leadership roles on. A cabinet with for example – Anne Begg, Karen Buck, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Harriet Harman, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, Meg Munn, Dawn Primarolo, Joan Ruddock and Joan Walley – is not a cabinet stuffed with also-rans but is vibrant and interestingly diverse in terms of political positioning (something I think would be an inevitable part of making the pool you are choosing from smaller).

I hope this wouldn’t be a permanent measure, but one designed to permanently change the culture until it makes itself unnecessary – like All Women Shortlists.

Anyone unlikely to vote for a party based on this issue alone, is always going to be unlikely to vote Labour. On the other hand, this single measure gives us back a sense of radicalism and transformative politics that has been missing from the Labour Party for a while. It could have the power to further inspire the base, particularly the women, and to bring in a generation of women who see Labour taking real and direct action to improve our reflection of them in Parliament.

Traditional models of political engagement for the working classes have largely broken down. It used to be that the unions were the best recruiting ground, but with workplaces becoming smaller and more atomised, unions have had less reach to the 21st Century working class, the telesales workers and shop assistants who are being exploited as much, if not more, than ever. The Labour Party must work – with unions where possible – to bring together small businesses and entrepreneurs with the workers they need to find solutions that ensure decent wages and lifestyles but also allow economic growth and don’t stifle the best of industry.

Unions have some work to do on themselves to transform into 21st century vehicles for the aspirations and needs of the modern working class. Labour should support them as close but critical friends in this process. The union link is essential to Labour, but equally we need to represent the majority of Britain. We need to help unions to find a way to do that with us.

A supporters network is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it is the solution to why busy people aren’t getting involved in politics. I believe Labour could make far more of the Socialist Societies who already offer those with a particular interest to engage with Labour on a less formal basis. Socialist Society members who are not members of other parties are already allowed to vote as part of the affiliates group in Labour’s electoral college, and if the Societies are better strengthened and promoted they can work in much the way a supporters network would while allowing a legitimate route for policy engagement from sympathetic non-members.

We should also work with unions and Socialist Societies to engage their members in questions about the Party. Asking unions to survey their members regularly to find out what they expect from their affiliation fees would be a useful and interesting and nuanced exercise and would tell us more than simply expecting their General Secretaries to speak for them.  

At their best, socialist societies act as a perfect bridge between expert communities and the party. On housing, environment, science, law, education, health and with LGBT, Jewish, Tamil, Chinese, disabled, student and Irish communities, Christian socialists and the broad interests of the Fabians and the Labour Clubs, the Socialist Societies offer the unique combination of practitioner and campaigner expertise and Socialist beliefs.

There is a wealth of knowledge in these organisations, and a depth of commitment to bettering the policies of the Labour Party as a result. We can be proud historically of the contribution we have made to debates both in our own expert contributions and our ability to pull in knowledge from outside the party.

I bow to those better placed to talk about community organising, and look forward to hearing about how the Movement for Change is going to work. I add the caveat that it must be real and genuinely of the grassroots. If it becomes another way for the well connected to add a feather to their already over-stuffed caps it will fail.

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Constituency Labour Parties vary wildly as do their individual issues. It is the case that the most active and vibrant CLPs are to be found where there are also elected Labour members. However, it has been my experience, that those CLPs without elected representation are often those who came to feel most disconnection from the central party and least able to have any say at all in how the Party is run, how it formulates policy and how it governs. With no MP over whose final vote the CLPs might have an influence, and with policy seemingly presented to them often as a fait acompli, these areas lost members and energy because all but a very loyal few could see the point of their membership.

If – as I hope – we are to open up decision making to members far more and make that process more transparent, this may start to attract those members in the Tory heartlands whose active membership is essential to giving Labour voters a sense of some Labour presence, but whose rewards for doing so are often scant at best.

I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to managing CLPs. There isn’t a magic bullet that is suddenly going to make CLPs across the country lively and vibrant places to be. There are however plenty of good ideas out there. So far the Party has presented CLPs with a somewhat binary choice for change: remain with a GC structure or open up to all member meetings. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and work for CLPs of different sizes and characters.

I suggest that the Party produces a booklet sent to every CLP Secretary and updated every 5 years with a series of menu options of differing approaches to local structure, and best practice advice for each. At CLP AGMs, as well as choosing officers, CLPs could also vote on how to conduct their business over the forthcoming year, picking and choosing from different parts of the booklet and deciding how they want to run themselves. While this might make the AGM a lot more procedural, it should avoid procedural wrangling during the rest of the year, as procedure – as well as those who implement it – is chosen by all CLP members.

I suspect it would not lead to massive upheavals year upon year, but would give members who felt their CLPs were not operating at full capacity a chance to debate how to change that without forcing an officer’s position on them, something to which not everyone is inclined or suited, nor always able to invest the time and energy required. 

Doing this annually also gives CLPs an opportunity to test what works and what doesn’t and a duty of CLP secretaries should be to report this back centrally for further compilation and discussion. This helps the Party to be an enabling framework, rather than a rigid bureaucracy, but also ensures a realistic amount of two way communication and responsibility.

Labour need to look not just at affiliated unions, important though this is, but also at the Socialist Societies and how they can help to link in with community groups. For example, local and active members of SERA are likely to be an excellent bridge to local environmental campaigns which are tied to the community.

While it is essential that Labour is involved in local communities, we need to remember that people – particularly in the 21st – engage in communities far beyond where they live. The world is changing, and the Labour Party needs to change with it. New ways of linking with people that a decade ago we wouldn’t have known existed make it much easier to make real and valuable human connections on a global scale. In light of this, Labour needs to look again at what we mean by communities and community activism. We need to recognise that the way people identify as communities is evolving.

In the past, it was only those with money and considerable leisure time who could engage in communities of interest that were not geographically based. Now anyone interested in a particular issue can learn from and engage with others and these groups bear all the hallmarks of communities. Labour must engage these communities too as we reach out to look outside of ourselves to broaden our appeal.

Thankfully, Labour uniquely already has an excellent vehicle for engaging with these communities of interest. Labour’s Socialist Societies make up a wide range of communities and interest groups formally affiliated to the party. There is a wealth of knowledge in these organisations, and a depth of commitment to bettering the policies of the Labour Party as a result. I have been proud to run one of the societies in my time, and now serve on the Executive of another and am always proud of the contribution we make to debates both in our own expert contributions and our ability to pull in knowledge from outside the party. I am also currently the Secretary of the Socialist Societies Executive, a group formed to ensure cross society cooperation in the best spirit of the Labour movement. We work together on projects to bring together policy expertise, for example on green homes, or the effect of education on health outcomes.

I am not and haven’t been a councillor, so I feel my opinions on this section should carry far less weight than those who do dedicate their time and energy to the party in this way. However, I do feel that there can be a compromise between meeting held for their own sake and no meetings at all.

Labour Housing Group are currently trying to organise regionally based networks of councillors with housing responsibilities or opposition housing briefs to share best practice, campaigning and policy expertise. This is an uphill struggle, as it is at present almost impossible to get the national party and the staff to assist in the promotion of such an event (I don’t mean dedicating staff time, but sharing email lists with trusted affiliates (or even sending email invitations on their behalf)) that few others are even attempting what could be a valuable way of having councillors network, inspired, better informed and working together to formulate Party policy.

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Labour’s Missed Trick

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By Emma | No comments yet.

This column first appeared on Labour List:

The world is changing, and the Labour Party needs to change with it. Our methods of communications are infinitely more sophisticated which open up new worlds of opportunity for everyone. New ways of linking with people that a decade ago we wouldn’t have known existed make it much easier to make real and valuable human connections on a global scale. I have real and genuine friends made online, who I met in the flesh for the first time at my wedding (also to a man I met online). I spend hours debating online with people I have never and will never meet. And where ten years ago this might have been considered odd, it is increasingly the norm.In light of this, Labour needs to look again at what we mean by communities and community activism. While I am excited by the valuable work being done to recognise the importance of Labour engaging in local communities, and would in no way seek to change or downgrade this work, we need to recognise that the way people identify as communities is evolving.

In the past, it was only those with money and considerable leisure time who could engage in communities of interest that were not geographically based. Now anyone interested in a particular issue can learn from and engage with others and these groups bear all the hallmarks of communities. Labour must engage these communities too as we reach out to look outside of ourselves to broaden our appeal.

Thankfully, Labour uniquely already has an excellent vehicle for engaging with these communities of interest. Labour’s Socialist Societies make up a wide range of communities and interest groups formally affiliated to the party. We combine expertise in a variety of key sectors with reach into the relevant communities of interest. At our best, socialist societies act as a perfect bridge between expert communities and the party. On housing, environment, science, law, education, health and with LGBT, Jewish, Tamil, Chinese, disabled, student and Irish communities, Christian socialists and the broad interests of the Fabians and the Labour Clubs, the Socialist Societies offer the unique combination of practitioner and campaigner expertise and Socialist beliefs.

There is a wealth of knowledge in these organisations, and a depth of commitment to bettering the policies of the Labour Party as a result. I have been proud to run one of the societies in my time, and now serve on the Executive of another and am always proud of the contribution we make to debates both in our own expert contributions and our ability to pull in knowledge from outside the party. I am also currently the Secretary of the Socialist Societies Executive, a group formed to ensure cross society cooperation in the best spirit of the Labour movement. We work together on projects to bring together policy expertise on green homes, or the effect of education on health outcomes.

While we live in an ever more interconnected world, people’s interests are becoming more separate. I believe one of the reasons for the decline in mass party membership of all parties is the tendency for people to pursue their individual passions through niche organisations. The Socialist Societies have in the past proved an excellent recruiting tool for the wider party, and I know several people who joined SERA first and the party second, convinced through their experience of an active Socialist Society of the wider value of party membership. The party could gain not just expertise and links to wider communities, but if they promote the Socialist Societies more widely, an excellent recruiting tool too.

We have often served as a bridge between frontbenchers and the communities of interest. However there has been less engagement between the societies and the policy development team within the party. This is an area I and others will be urging Peter Hain to look at during the review of our policy making processes. With Labour so under-resourced, it would be a tragedy not to take the fullest advantage of a loyal and dedicated group of expert volunteers.

Perhaps we are Labour’s own Big Society, one that actually works.

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Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,

As you set of on your hols I thought I’d give you a few thoughts to chew over. I know you’re getting advice from every quarter at the moment, but with all of you expressing a greater commitment to listening and to party democracy, I thought I’d add my twopence worth.

I’m a fairly ordinary Labour Party member. I am probably a bit more active in national bodies than I am locally, but I am not important or influential in the party (hands up who stopped reading at that point), I have no money to donate (still with me?) and no strong faction to bring to the table (hello?!). But I understand the Labour Party and its members. I was born into the Labour Party and my parents – especially my Dad – are the kind of grassroots members who keep us going and whose intervention and shoe leather stopped us falling all the way off our cliff in May.

I live and breath Labour politics. I discuss endlessly with my colleagues,  friends and family how Labour could win again, could be better and could win/win back the support we don’t currently have. From these conversations, and my own observations I offer you the following pieces of advice:

1. Be a leader, not a fighter.

You will have plenty of colleagues who will be able to take the fight to the Tory coalition. You will need to be a figurehead who is see as above that. Yes, attack at PMQs will be important, as will rebuttal. But wherever possible, you must delegate this, and use your platform to inform and inspire. The more you can be seen as a real embodiment of a positive Labour message, the better.

2. Give up some of your power

If you want to have the ultimate authority of becoming Prime Minister, what you really need is a strong team behind you. Not just the bright young Oxbridge Grads that scoot around after you as you go from husting to husting, but the army of Labour members, who may understand they are the foot soldiers, but still want to play a vital role in policy making and in steering the direction of the party. Let them.

Sure, we may end up with a few policies you think will harm us in the Daily Mail, but then we are never, ever going to win over the Daily Mail. We will definitely end up with a considerably more energised and committed party willing to fight and fight hard for a victory they really believe in.

3. Use the resources the Party has ignored for too long.

One way of doing this is to be more sensible about how the Labour Party utilises the resources it has. One great example of this is the Socialist Societies. These are single issue groups full of people who really, really know and understand both their policy areas and the way these impact on the core Labour values of fairness and justice. As the party currently lacks money for research, this vacuum could be filled by these groups, providing not only a wealth of expertise, but also a great way of offering to members a way of getting engaged in the issues they really care about.

4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities

I have been banging on for years about the value of changing the CLP meeting structure and getting people out on the streets, cleaning up graffiti and litter or painting dilapidated play spaces or eyesores. I suspect you as leader could be far more influential in changing our meeting culture to that of activism as well as policy engagement.

5. Chill out!

The coalition may well be here to last for 5 years. Relax and stop obsessing over the polls. Be Labour in the face of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express while in opposition, and you will be able to govern with a strong agenda and mandate. Also lead by example with your work life balance. Get a hobby, take holidays and enjoy your families. You need to be a person as well as a politician.

6. But don’t be someone you are not.

When I say get a hobby, don’t – for Gods sake – focus group it. Do something that interests you, not what a clever pollster tells you the public want you to do. If you actually have terrible taste in music, that’s actually OK, no one will vote for you on the strength of your music taste (though I am impressed with your love of the Wedding Present Andy!).

7. Read something you disagree with every day.

It will raise your blood pressure, but will also keep your skills of argument sharp. I make a point of reading Conservative Home and Lib Dem Voice regularly. Knowing what the other side are talking and arguing about can only make you stronger.

8. The “other side” is never your own party except Frank Field.

The Labour Party is a broad church. You won’t agree with everything and they won’t all agree with you. But that’s not the point of leadership. Never attack your own members. But you should cut Frank Field loose. He’s an embarrassment and we need better party discipline from our MPs.

9. Cut out the dead wood.

This will be really difficult, as it is natural to turn to our predecessors for advice, but the following people need to be nowhere near the Labour Party for the sake of cleansing our brand for the foreseeable and indeed distant future: Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, James Purnell, Charles Clarke. The following should be left on the back benches: Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Caroline Flint. I’m sure they are interesting and have much to offer, but the hard political truth, and what they would be advising you were it 20 years ago, is that talent is no match for the stigma they bring.

10. Don’t forget each other’s good ideas

There have been plenty in this leadership campaign. Remember to be both magnanimous and sharing in victory, then coldly pinch all that was the best about your combined talents!

I hope this advice is helpful to you. I promise here and now I will continue to work and fight hard whoever wins, and I hope you all do the same.

Yours in Socialism,

Emma.

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