I'm struggling with what to say, beyond the usual welcome and signposting, to all those people who have just joined the Labour Party,. They have now been assigned to a local Labour Party branch based on their postcode. I wonder how many of them knew that when they filled in the application form and paid their membership fee? I have a dual responsibility as local branch secretary, as well as secretary of the constituency labour party (CLP) - all the detested aspects of 'Old Labour' rolled up in an official function - booking rooms, drawing up agendas, assembling papers, finding speakers, writing minutes.
I'm already drowning. How do I explain a branch? Ditto a constituency? My branch is City of London. It covers 25 electoral wards. Elsewhere some are contiguous with a local government electoral ward from which councillors are elected to the local councils and so I could go on.
My experience of Labour Party life is that the majority of members pay their subscriptions as an expression of civic engagement and that's it. They have lots of entitlements such as choosing candidates for balloting, whether for public office or internal positions, like currently that of Leader, and helping shape policy. On the other hand the vast majority of staff who work for the Labour Party believe members are for delivering leaflets, and knocking on doors - fullstop. According to one apocryphal tale - the Labour Party should be 'massive, but passive'. Their latest wheeze is not even to send out nomination papers for Deputy Leader, when Rule 4.2.D.i says:
When the PLP is in opposition in the House of Commons, the election of the leader and deputy leader shall take place at each annual session of party conference.
I know it came as a bit of shock to some people that we might not win the 2010 General Election. But we are where we are - in Opposition. So given my tasks this morning, assembling all the information cascading in about elections - Leader, Deputy Leader, National Executive Committee - Division III CLPs, Party Treasurer, Auditors, Conference Arrangements Committee, National Constitutional Committee, National Policy Forum Division 1 CLP section, London Mayor, not forgetting the CLP Chair's report, 2010 General Election Report, Westminster City Council 2010 Election Report, Treasurer' Report - you may discern my dilemma. Mark my words, if I omit any prospective candidate's statement for any one of the offices cited above, I run the risk of being accused of a 'stitchup' by someone in the Labour Party who does not share my views either about governance or policy.
In the meantime, those eager new or returning members are awaiting encouragement (or, perhaps, not). So it's time to hit the eMail/telephone and find out. I think that should be my first priority. But.... the paperwork. Procrastination, yeah. But it's all in a good cause. I just hope my initial contact is warmly welcomed. Our branch has what I like to think of as a healthy blend of campaigning, debate, fundraising and socialising. There's a risk. The idea of meeting with an agenda could provoke glazing over, and bewilderment. It just that the campaigning, debate, fundraising and socialising don't just happen - they require organisation. We could revert to the leitmotif of new Labour - sofa government - no written agendas, no minutes. That worked didn't it? Oh, stop it, Kenyon, get on the blower.