In this guest post, Ian Kearns introduces the new Labour Values campaign, which will share experiences of successful activism, and advocate that the party changes to help build a mass participation movement.
In the early phase of opposition, the Labour Party must both choose a new leader and begin a fundamental review of policy. It must also, however, do something else. It must reform and rebuild itself as the most effective community campaigning organisation in the country.
In many parts of the UK today, though our local branch network is still strong, active, and sustained by passionate and committed party members, the party is troubled. We have lost touch with many of the communities we are supposed to serve. Talent, members, money and, more importantly still, our capacity to be a presence in the lives of the people that really need us has withered. We have forgotten our own past as a progressive social movement working to bring about change out there in the community, whether we are in power or not. We have also turned our backs on thinkers and activists like the great American community organizer, Saul Alinsky.
It is time to reverse this trend and to re-visit these perspectives and traditions. Our society will not change for the better only by picking a good communicator as leader or by adapting policy on immigration, housing and welfare to win back the votes of the semi-skilled voters we lost in the marginals.
Amidst the overall general election defeat, activists in a few key constituencies like Birmingham Edgbaston have shown us what else we need to do. Where we work hard over long periods and build partnerships with others beyond our own membership base, we win even against national trends.
We now need:
A party that becomes a mass participation progressive movement:
The Party must develop the culture of the permanent campaign. To bring about change it must reach beyond the party base to make common cause with other progressive forces at work in our communities. We must work hand in glove with trade union activists, environmentalists, and faith and community groups to address local challenges in locally specific ways, whether an election is due or not.
A party that empowers members, activists, and supporters with the tools and resources to transform their communities:
This means being a more open movement but also valuing members, listening to their views, and working hard to educate, train and support them in the their work. It means finding ways to include all members in decision-making and policy-making more effectively and it means directing national party resources into building the local capacity to bring about change that people can see on their own streets.
A party that invests authority in the people and groups that deliver this change on the ground.
This means allowing local activists to run local campaigns based on local knowledge, not attempting to straight-jacket everyone into the same stance or into using the same campaigning materials on an issue irrespective of where they live.
To change our country we have to change our party and the way it works. Please visit www.labourvalues.org.uk , sign up, and help us shape the future of our movement.