When I ask people why they joined the Labour party few ever claim it was for the meetings or leaflet rounds. Most talk inspiringly of their personal journey - whether horror at election results, a family tradition of party activism or a burning desire to right a wrong whether poverty, housing, inequality, cuts in services for young people or the future of the NHS. All these stories are different but they share a common thread- we want to see a different world and we want to be part of making that world a reality. The question of how then to make that happen sits at the heart of the future of the Labour movement. In particular many of the new members I’ve been talking to – especially those who are now part of Young Labour- then ask how they can turn their anger into action.
For me the answer lies not in waiting until the election or the manifesto process to speak up for the causes and communities we serve. Neither does it mean relying alone on MPs or councillors to make change happen. We need more than a small group of people in the centre. We need a movement of people able to lead this action at all levels of the party. We can start now in organising the fightback – and all of us can in different ways be part of campaigning across the country to show the difference labour can make.
Members from all backgrounds always amaze and impress me with their creativity and passion for the change they want to see. Yet many express bewilderment at how they as an individual can do something- and others tell me they don’t have the confidence or the capacity to lead this work. To help address this, developing campaigning planning skills is critical. This is why I have been using my previous experience of community development techniques to run workshops with CLP members, women and young activists over the last few years.
As the next Deputy Leader, I want to support more such activities so that more of our members feel empowered and enabled to lead actions themselves. That’s why this week I ran my first youth leadership campaign bootcamp for sixty young members. Within 90 minutes the group had planned nine campaigns around a range of issues, with ideas for how to do this and who to target. At the end they voted these top three their best proposals:
a) A new union movement for call centre workers, cleaners and supermarket staff
b) A campaign to improve access to mental health services for young people
c) A law to require all lawyers to undertake a pro-bono case each year
Helping develop campaign skills in this way is about more than the merits of individual issues- though it has to be said that all of the campaigns they developed generated excitement in the room because they were so good. It is also about how to encourage that spark of social justice so many members have and turn it into a fire for practical outcomes as well as collective action. In short how as individuals they learn to debate, discuss and decide with each other what to do next. The exercises in them are designed to help them help each other channel their ideas and energy into identifying not just problems but solutions, so that their campaigns are rooted in being able not just to identify injustice but act upon it.
We should always challenge the idea that only those people sitting on the green benches in parliament or in a town hall have all the answers for the country. We need to draw on the talents of all our members. Of course as part of any campaign including elections, leaflets and meetings may well play a crucial role. But as part of becoming a movement again we must be ready to build the talents of those in our movement - and continue to work in a way that nurtures them on to grow. Fostering leadership in this way isn’t incidental to our electoral prospects, its integral. Not only does it help motivate members, it helps them in turn become people who can help recruit others to action and grow our strength. Certainly, from what I saw on Wednesday and the young members involved, we can do more than angrily oppose the government. We can fight to change the world, and we can win.