Monday, March 31, 2008

Labour's Winning Hat-trick For Victory

Last Monday the Labour Party National Executive appointed David Pitt-Watson as General Secretary. We wish him the best and need to work closely with him to steer the party successfully through the genuinely uncharted waters of current British politics - none of us have ever been into a second decade of Labour Governments. So lessons drawn from history might not be a guide to the future.

To be successful we need a party which has three real qualities.

It needs to be much more open and outgoing, engaging with members and supporters. If you think that's rhetoric, just try going on the party website and finding the number of your Regional Office! We need a massive cultural change at every level!

It needs to be much more competent. The days of failing to comply with or even understand our own (half-baked!) legislation on financial declaration need to end. We need to learn more from both other voluntary and private organisations in bearing down on costs and how we organise the voluntary efforts of our members. The third, and perhaps most important, quality is to give real inspiration to our members and supporters - a reminder that ours is the party committed to fairness and social justice and we will be bold and imaginative in pursuit of these goals.

A party which guarantees that the hours spent leafleting, going to meetings and fundraising are not wasted but genuinely contribute to a better way of running society.

That inspiration is vital for us. Only by a massive deployment of voluntary effort that we can outweigh the Tories' massive financial advantage - put simply they can afford to pay the postage for their direct mail, we'll have to deliver it! They will pay canvassers - we'll do it ourselves!
That three-fold approach of openness, competence and inspiration can renew every aspect of our work.

On policy making we need to ensure a set of radical, imaginative and practical policies which can appeal to every part of the Labour community - the traditional Labour supporters, the marginal AND the people who have never supported us in the past. If anyone tells you it can't be done just remind them about our 1997 manifesto and radical policies for tackling unemployment, low pay and public sector investment which resonated in every part of the country.

On fundraising, people will only donate if they believe in what we're doing and that the money will be properly spent. Our expenditure has to be based on our core income - membership subscriptions and Trade Union affiliations. We can't afford to return to the dire financial position of a few years ago. For me, there's nothing wrong with state money to help finance certain aspects of our work - policy development, candidate support, education for democracy. The model is already there with the Westminster Foundation, which provides support for our links with progressive parties in emerging democracies. Just getting the state to meet policing costs at Annual Conference would be a big plus. The one thing that remains vital about our finances is to make clear that the link with the unions is not for sale. The link with organised labour is a defining characteristic of the party and we are both at our strongest when the link is close.
Inspiration is also required for re-building our campaigning in the communities. There are countless branches and CLPs who show that with the right approach its possible to attract new members and supporters - but we won't hold them if our meetings are cliquey, shabby and unfriendly - and that's something that’s well within the power of all of us to change. Its also something that's vital if we are to attract Labour's missing generation of activists - the 30 and 40 year olds bringing up kids; holding down busy jobs and putting a roof over their families' heads.
Labour people are thoroughly practical people - we have to be to get things done. That doesn't stop us having strong opinions about the society we're building - quite the opposite! If we're to win the next election we need to inspire our members to do the sheer hard graft which will make the difference.

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