Sunday, May 16, 2010

Listened in Manchester Saturday 15th May

At times like this its good for Labour Party members to get together and discuss politics and the way forward and its vital that the NEC understands the feelings and views of members.

For that reason I am arranging a number of meetings for party members and supporters and I am also inviting local politicians to drop in-the understanding being that it's mainly for members to put their views.

We held the first in Manchester on Saturday. Its always difficult to judge turn out at these things. I booked a room that could take 50-guess what? Over 100 turn up so we had to seamlessly re-locate.

We were joined by Lucy Powell, candidate for Withington at the election, Tony Lloyd MP, Ivan Lewis MP, Andy Burnham MP, Julie Hilling MP and Arlene McCarthy MEP.

One of the issues I was keen to get feed back on was the timing of a leadership election and there were differences of view between those who wanted a quick election, ending in July and one ending in September at Annual Conference.

There was complete unity that we needed a fair, open and transparent election. Party members are not in the mood for being bull-dozed!

Every body who wanted to speak got the chance, that was 30 in all, and points made are given below. Apart from a very valid point about deteriorating environmental and water quality most of the contributions fell into three groups:

a) The General Election

There was general relief that the election results had not been much worse with well earned praise for party workers, supporters and trade unionists who worked hard against the odds.

There was critiscism of the lack of vision and forward offer, with one member describing the manifesto as a "shambles" and views that we need to sort out our message and attack lines. Cabinet ministers were calling for a tactical Lib Dem vote at the same time as we were correctly saying that a Lib Dem vote would let in the Tories.

The impact of the debates had thrown us and people felt we could have been more decisivee.g. ruling out a VAT rise.

There was much criticism of the lack of women in prominent campaign positions-one member suggested a quota of 50% for women in the shadow cabinet.

There was also a view that we had failed to institutionalise political change-establishing regional assemblies, returning power to local government. The contributions were frank and honest but there was no rancour and there was an understanding of the difficulties of defending a Government after 13 years. We need to be proud of and build on the good things we have achieved-Labour politicians must not trash our legacy!

b)Current Situation

There was anger at the way the Lib Dems had dropped any pretence at radicalism and put the Tories in power. Particular outrage was expressed at the attempt to impose a 55% requirement to dissolve the House of Commons. Despite the hype about how they love each other this figure has been arrived at solely to stop them stabbing each other in the back.

People were clear that we need to be defending our communities from tory/lib dem attacks from day one. An important point was made that we also need to be aware of the needs of the private sector. We cannot just be a lobby group for the public sector.

It was suggested that we elect a shadow cabinet straight away to lead the party in Parliament.

c) The Party

The good news is that party members are in surprisingly good heart with no wish for a return to the rancour of the early '80's. There was a wide spread view that we had been far too 'top down'
and centralised and changes are needed in our policy making and communication. Members need to be trusted much more-problems of disunity were at the top not amongst the membership.

We need to transcend the old, artificial devisions-New/Old labour,Brownites/Blairites.

There was also a widespread view that we had, as a government, been too administrative and not seen as being on the side of the people.

We need to look at how we communicate as a party-both with our members and supporters and the wider community. There were criticisms of the high cost of membership and we need to remove the barriers to participation,especially to encourage new members and young people and women-the support of women is crucial.

We need to be very dynamic about recruiting. The £1 membership for young people was appreciated but needs extending 'The Tories?-Get rid for a quid!'

The mood of the meeting was that the members are in reasonably good heart-they want to be supported in their work for the party not obstructed from above.In terms of the leadership election they want to have a reasoned and open campaign. The future is very much in our hands.

I have arranged another feedback meeting in Liverpool next Friday, May 21st, at the New Friends Meeting House, School Lane. L1 3BT at 7pm. All welcome, Lucianna Berger MP will be there, possibly Andy Burnham and I am inviting other local politicians. Any leadership contenders very welcome!

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