In two week's Sometime this month, may be today, maybe in four weeks' time, Labour's new general secretary Iain McNicol, is expected to set out to the full national executive committee (NEC) strategic proposals to consolidate the party's position in the mainstream of British politics poised to win the next general election. (Correcting timescale - some NEC sources hint at today, some later in the month. Whenever, change can not come soon enough.)
His annual conference speech was I was told by his supporters a must read. Yesterday At the weekend in a speech to the Scottish Labour special conference, drawing on his own experience as a Labour Party and TU organiser he insisted:
You have to get organised.
You need to raise funds.
You need to knock on doors.
You need to listen.
You need great candidates rooted in their communities.
You need policies which speak to working people’s aspirations and dreams.
Let's hope every member of the PLP and every aspiring candidate for public office as a representative of the Labour Party get's a grip on that. Careerists beware.
He then went on to set out three insights inspired by Labour's Victorian founders:
The first is that the Labour Party was created as a specific reaction to the failure of the Liberal Party to deliver progressive change for working people...The second insight is the amount of effort the Labour pioneers spent on calibrating the right organisation for their new party....The third insight from our founders was their great sense of optimism.
Not surprisingly for my avid readers, I'm interested in how he developed his insight into organisation. Iain offered a glimpse:
The key insight is that Hardie and the rest created a form of organisation suited to their times. The system of branches and delegates mirrored the other organisations they were involved in: the churches, the unions, the Temperance Movement.
This begs a question are forms of civil organisation any different today? for those Labour Party members who are so engaged, the answer has to be not a lot. I attend church. It has a parish council. It has agendas and minutes. Ditto the house group in the block of flats in which I live. Ditto the arts association. Ditto the social enterprises that I am or have been involved in. Ditto my trade union branch.
Paradoxically, or may be not, Iain did not continue in that vein. Instead he said:
For most socialists back then, attending a Labour Party meeting would feel familiar and normal, because so much else was organised on similar lines.
I don’t believe we can honestly say that about today’s Labour Party structures. They don’t feel familiar to our new members, they can feel bewildering and alien.
Few would disagree with him in that regard. But why are they unfamiliar? Professionalisation and the emergence of a political class dominating mainstream political parties, trade unions and civil society in general may account for that lack of familiarity with the structures. Lines of accountability have become blurred. Scope for members to have a say have been stifled. Annual conference has become a political trade fair run for profit, not the deliberative assembly our founding forebears would have recognised.
With a flourish in the direction of social media, Iain concluded his remarks about organisation proclaiming:
So our structures need to reflect the way people live their lives.
I regularly interact with members via Twitter. I talk with our party staff via email. We are embracing the digital revolution in politics, and it changes us.
So of course we need to reflect these changes in the way we conduct our campaigning.
Campaigning, it has to be remembered, is a facet of organisation. On that note Iain gave little away. But then he was in Scotland and the state of Labour Party organisation on the ground is what might be loosely described as thin.
Returning to his opening call, how should Labour members respond? As secretary of the Labour Democratic Network (LDN), I found myself thinking, Iain, if you really mean what you say, then the Labour Party has to organise from the electoral ward up. In that regard, I recommend reading LDN's Manchester Declaration signing up and get organising.