Volunteering to take part in the Labour Party takes may forms. Simplest is to pay a membership subscription, and sit tight. Do absolutely nothing. Of course, one is meant to be on the electoral register. But who's checking? Then, of course, there are those pesky events requiring a cross in a box.
It's just so easy to get judgmental.
What? Join a political party, but not register to vote!!! WTF?
In Tower Hamlets on Thursday those people who are registered to vote will have an opportunity to chose a Mayor. As a keen new media social networker I have been bombarded with messages exhorting me to assist in the campaign for a Labour elected mayor. As indeed I have as secretary of a neighbouring constituency labour party (CLP).
II was a member of Labour's National Executive Committee at the time that the Labour mayoral candidate was imposed by a majority of my former colleagues. Asked to comment by Guardian blogger Dave Hill, I described the decision as "another example of the institutional folly of Labour in ignoring natural justice.", ie the person against whom complaints were made was not given any opportunity to address them before the NEC took a decision to replace him with the complainant was taken.
As my words "institutionalised folly" imply the Labour Party has form. In one Tower Hamlets Labour Party branch, it is said that local members have not been allowed to choose their own candidates for the local council for 16 years. What must local members in that borough be thinking? We know some have felt sufficiently strongly about the issues to have sacrificed their party membership by supporting a candidate of their choice, who is now not the official labour party candidate. Others felt sufficiently strongly about their objections to that person to have done everything in their power to persuade the NEC to overturn the results of an all-members' ballot to chose the Labour mayoral candidate three weeks earlier. The majority - are they currently campaigning for any candidate? What concerns me is that there are underlying issues in the conduct of members, elected public and party representatives, as well as paid Labour Party staff that do not seem to me to be consistent with (re)building a mass membership organisation.
By definition such an organisation will comprise a majority of people or their relations whose careers and/or ambitions to hold elected office either public or party will not depend on their membership of the Labour Party. Membership will be for most an expression of political values, and a willingness to make a financial commitment to promote them. That as I wrote at the outset that could be the limit of some individuals membership commitment. All such members deserve the same respect as those members for whom their Labour Party membership is a job, or a full-time volunteering commitment.
For me as a branch secretary that respect takes the form of ensuring that each member in my branch receives each month (except August) an invite to the next meeting with an account (minutes) of the last. Boring, boring. Well you can be judgmental if you like. But what I now know is that Maria, for example, is 98 year old but insists on paying the full rate subscription and appreciates regular local party news, Fred is going into hospital for a major operation on Wednesday, Jessica has just had a hip replacement, and is being cared for by husband Jack. (All names changed to protect identities) In the meantime, the able bodied and active are waiting for the next edition of City Rose from the printer so that we can leaflet every residential property in the City of London with details of our NHS campaign and other news.
What tends to mark the 'active' out from other members is that some experience in life has enabled them to cross a threshold. It may have been nothing more than a welcome note on joining. Actually, that could be doing the 'inactive' a great disservice. How does any of us know what each other says to anyone else in the interests of the cause in the course of a day? Beryl in the chip shop on the corner could be the best communicator on behalf of the party in the district. Never goes to meetings of course, clashes with her opening hours.
So more respect, less judgmental behaviour would seem basic pre-requesites in the remodelled party. I'm grateful to Paul Cotterill for triggering this blog with the first part in his blog post 'Reclaiming membership'