It’s a number of months since we lost the election in May but still, for many of us, the pain of losing is unabated. With five long years stretching ahead of us, watching the Tories dismantling the welfare state, demoralising people working in public services and destroying opportunities for our young people, our challenge is to turn that pain into determination – not despair. This doesn’t have to wait until 2020 – as the American trade unionist Joe Hill once urged in the wake of defeat, “don’t mourn, organize”.
In the course of a leadership and deputy leadership contest, there will be much debate over character and policy. But one of the lessons we must also take from our election defeat is a willingness to ask if our campaigning approach, which saw thousands of volunteers working incredible hours to knock thousands of doors, needs to change too. Too often, a member’s knock at the door will be greeted with a reply that “we only ever see you at election time – you just want one thing”. This rarely does justice to the years of hard work that elected representatives have put in, but it poses a very real challenge that the party has to meet head-on.
Voters need to know that Labour is not simply a machine that kicks into gear at election time to get some of us sitting on a green bench in parliament, but a movement of people across the country committed to social justice. As deputy leader, I want to bring a track record of innovation and creativity to complement our tried and trusted methods of working with the public. To help Labour become a movement again, not a machine.
The efforts I led to crack down on legal loan sharks like Wonga would never have been successful if it was just me. We built a campaign with thousands of people across our communities and our country – and we won. Now we must do the same for the Labour movement itself. Being out of office does not mean we are out of power – we can campaign now for change to show the public what we stand for. But imagine what more could be achieved if we are returned to power. To do that requires us to ask how best to use the energy and expertise of all. We need to have new leadership, not just at the top of our party but throughout, by rebuilding a movement of 250,000 leaders, each being supported to develop campaigns and collaborate with their colleagues in organisations like the Fabians on the causes that brought them into political activism in the first place.
Much current focus is on who Labour selects as candidates and on having a wider pool of possible MPs – but becoming a movement means thinking not just of future candidates, but future members and what support they need to take on this role. That’s why I am proposing measures such as a development officer for Young Labour, to help us build the leadership skills of our younger members and supporters to be able to in turn recruit their peers to Labour. We also need an academy for campaigning to help build the skills and networks of future Labour activists including councillors, organisers and CLP secretaries.
Helping support the leadership skills of our members as they campaign locally can only take you so far – you need a strong message and compelling leadership too. But advances in technology make it possible to change the way we campaign, so that we can really get to the heart of what makes voters tick, and build long term relationships with them as individuals. This doesn’t have to cost the earth: my own CLP in Walthamstow, and other CLPs like Edgbaston, Gedling and Copeland have all experimented with new ways of using data. And it doesn’t mean everyone has to carry an iPad as they canvass. But it will make a big difference.
So alongside using new technology in a different way, and new techniques for training members, using cash to help support grassroots activism will also empower our activists. As well as a dedicated diversity fund to support the involvement of those currently underrepresented in our movement, I want us to directly match-fund new campaigns and projects to engage with communities. Members, supporters and affiliates often have great ideas – offering financial support will not only help us support such activism, but also incentivise fundraising and enable them to link up with local campaigners who may share our values but not our membership card.
Renewing our movement in these ways and more will take time, patience and a passion for working with our people to get the best out of them. You cannot undertake this from a backroom in Westminster, but have to want to be out on the frontline going CLP to CLP, community to community. But I know it can be done.
I have the passion for social justice, experience of securing such change and confidence in our movement to be sure that if we work in this way, we can win again in 2020.