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  1. Politics
5 June 2015

It’s not just what Labour does, but how the party does it, that needs to change

The way Labour does politics must change - or the party will simply lose again.

By Stella Creasy

Einstein’s definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result. Given the shock and scale of our election defeat we owe it to everyone who fought so hard for a Labour victory – and the millions who will now suffer under the Tories – to ask whether the way we campaign is right for the modern age. 

Most tell the same story; we had more people out on the ground than the Tories, a more motivated activist base than in 2010 and the highest contact rates for a generation. And on polling day we looked on in horror as we came short in seat after seat. Despite the year in, year out work many do, we all heard the complaint ‘we only see you when you want our vote’.

There are many reasons why we lost but it is little wonder activists are beginning to question long-established campaign practices. Mike Kane MP is right to say the four million conversations we claimed to have had with the public were one way traffic. Andy Charlwood is right to ask whether our Voter ID activities are effective.  Emma Burnell is right that our activists are vital in reshaping our future.

This deputy leadership contest is our opportunity to turn the page and think afresh about how best to win in 2020. To do that we need to recognise the role we can all play in achieving that ambition – starting with why we all turned up in the first place.

Ask yourself why you joined Labour – and the last time anyone enquired this of you. Responses are often inspiring and deeply personal. Rarely does anyone say they wanted to sit in a minuted meeting or receive multiple emails.  

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This motivation to take part and how we honour it matters because it is what helps keep our members involved – and active. Too many feel Labour is not a movement of people across the country committed to social justice, but a machine that only kicks into gear at election time. Difficult though it is to accept, for the millions who share our values, Labour is no longer seen as their voice for change or the vehicle for delivering it. In a country where a third of us regularly volunteer, we face a losing battle for their energy, ideas and help.  

We need a culture change that goes far beyond the issues on which we campaign. This is about purpose not process. Labour is not an alternative to Greenpeace or Oxfam as a single issue pressure group. Politics at its best is the way we show not just anger about injustice but answers to it. We seek power to be able to help enact those solutions and move our country along the road towards a more prosperous, equal and compassionate future. The more people we involve in that conversation about what the answers are and the actions required, the more likely we are to make both happen. 

This is Labour at our best. We have always been able to achieve change from the grassroots up, as well as on the green benches of Westminster. Even in the last parliament, whether changing the law on payday lending, ticket touting or child protection, we have won vital victories for social justice that shows our capacity to be a force for good. But we can do so much more by getting into government.

Of course voter ID and canvassing to find Labour voters and ensure they get out on polling day is crucial to our electoral success. It will remain so. But we need to complement and develop what we do canvassing with fresh techniques on and offline to engage with the public. For years we’ve talked about refounding Labour – yet this all too often ends in suggestions of coffee mornings and additional meetings on top of our current structure. 

Our future lies not in one model of working but many. What works in Walthamstow will be different to what is effective in Edinburgh, Exeter, Esher or Eccles. But all around Britain CLPs are rethinking how they interact with members and supporters to build relationships around common causes – from Copeland planning action workshops on child poverty, to Croydon South asking local community groups to present to the GC on how they can help there are new ways of doing things that can reignite that first spark of why people joined.

The passion for social justice that made our founding fathers create the Labour party beats strong within us all today – it just needs to be reawakened. Anger at the actions of the Tory Government will no doubt fire some up, but we don’t have to wait five years to change our communities. We can harness the desire of Labour members for change now. Labour HQ made a start on some of this over the last five years – but I believe we can go further. Since the election last month over 30,000 people have joined – if we ignore them until an election comes round, we do them and the cause we all serve, a disservice. Our members are our biggest asset – as the election showed we must change to truly harness their potential. 

I want to help our movement do this as deputy leader and if you believe the same then please go here to support me.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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