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19 May 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:19am

Not all doom and gloom for Labour

Top Tory targets held and town hall gains made. A new website tries to explain what happened on elec

By Will Straw

As David Miliband put it on Monday, Labour “lost, and lost badly”. But although election night was bleak for Labour activists, there were moments of cheer as results came in from a series of surprising pockets of resistance.

In top Tory targets such as Birmingham Edgbaston and Westminster North, the incumbent MPs held on, while in Blackburn, Oxford East and Birmingham Hodge Hill there were unexpected swings to Labour. And as the council votes were totted up on Friday morning, Labour had gained 15 town halls. A new website — labourvalues.org.uk — tries to explain part of what happened.

There is good evidence that some of these performances were down to vibrant, local campaigning. Where local activists got together, talked to voters on the doorstep, and encouraged people to turn out, Labour’s vote held up or — at least — did better than expected.

This is consistent with a series of studies carried out by Yale University. Professors Alan Gerber and Don Green found that leaflets can increase turnout by 1.2 per cent; volunteer phone calls can add 3.8 per cent; and door-to-door canvassing delivers a sizeable 7-11 per cent.

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Labour Values — set up by a group of London-based activists, including myself — aims to share the experiences of successful activism and campaigning from the recent election. It also encourages the Labour Party’s hierarchy, and indeed the leadership candidates, to think about reforming the party’s grass-roots work in line with three principles.

First, the party should become a mass-participation, progressive movement, one that is always working for change in local communities. The website calls for an expansion in the level of engagement with local groups such as trade unions, and faith and community groups. The goal is to make constituency-level parties the hub of organisation in the local community.

Second, it calls for members, activists and supporters to be given the tools and resources to transform their communities. Getting dormant local parties to become active, or active parties to become hubs of the community, will not be easy, so training and encouragement will be required.

It should also be easier for people to engage with Labour on their own terms. For example, people should be able to get involved with the party where they work, as well as where they live.

Finally, authority should be invested in the people and groups that deliver this change. As Labour members become more engaged in their communities and active in campaigning, they need to become more involved in the party’s decision-making at all levels. The website is not prescriptive about which practical steps should be taken, but a number of recent campaigns — including one on a greater role for members in policymaking or a place for using primaries to select candidates — could all be relevant here.

We’ll be asking each of Labour’s leadership candidates to set out whether they agree with these aims and what they would do about it. If you agree, sign the petition now. The Labour Values petition and case studies can be found at labourvalues.org.uk. Ideas for new case studies can be sent to action@labourvalues.org.uk

 

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