Blazing a trail

Approaches to leadership evolve, and one man's vision for an art centre enriches the whole community

In recent weeks there has been a series of meetings organised by the Foundation and the New Findhorn Association (NFA), on community building. The theme of the latest was Leadership. I did not go to this meeting, so I will not write about it - but it has got me thinking about leadership in the community and how it’s perceived.

Leadership is a word that comes up often here. It features in the titles of workshops and meetings - and is generally a topic of interest. This is perhaps not surprising as we don‘t have really have leaders in the generally understood sense of the word. The Foundation has a management group who make decisions about budgets and policy and so on. Their function is basically administrative which is not the same thing as leadership. This is not to say that members of Management aren’t leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily go with the territory. In any case, Management’s writ does not run outside the Foundation and the majority in the community are not Foundation staff members.

In the early days, leadership was very straightforward. Peter and Eileen Caddy with Dorothy Maclean founded the community through following divine guidance. Eileen got the guidance from a higher source and Peter, to whom God did not speak but who had utter faith in the validity of what came through Eileen, carried out whatever that guidance suggested. The style was autocratic but appropriate for the time. Without Peter’s intense focus, the community might never have been built.

This changed when Eileen received guidance that she should no longer give guidance to the community. Her inspirational messages could be found in her books but she no longer gave practical directions to the community. It was now on its own and had to experiment with new forms of leadership.

Today the concept of leadership has evolved into the idea that anyone can be a leader. It is not dependant on position or popularity or divine authority although inner authority is a necessary part. For me, leadership is demonstrated when someone has a clear vision that they firmly believe in and then take the necessary steps to bring it into being. If the vision is a good one and the timing is right, support will naturally follow.

A good example of this is the Moray Art Centre. Until very recently the arts at Findhorn were housed in a few shabby pre-fabricated bungalows, which apart from the pottery, were little used. Randy Klinger, a painter who lives here had a vision for a proper art centre, one that would serve not only the Findhorn community but also all of Moray. There would be studios, exhibition space and room for craft shows, classes and lectures. It would be a focal point for the arts in the area. It would not be cheap.

Randy had no money himself and the Foundation were unable to help, but he held to his vision even through times when support was lukewarm, found supporters and funding and the Art Centre is now a reality. Not yet completed nor totally paid for, it is already active and providing a venue for the arts at Findhorn.

I find it very inspiring to see how one person, without financial resources, without sanction from any other ‘authority’ has a vision and makes it happen. That is real leadership.

An inspired individual is one thing but the question that comes up for the community is, how do we, as a collective, demonstrate leadership. Guidance, group process, being the change we want to see—these are among the elements that go into the ongoing work of defining and embodying that elusive quality known as leadership.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.