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  1. Politics
3 June 2016

Why we need Labour Together

This new group will be instrumental in winning back power. 

By Polly Billington

We can’t repeat the lessons of our recent losses enough. Otherwise we are doomed to repeat the losses themselves. It is striking how, when I tell the story of the three way fight in Thurrock, life-long members of the Labour Party assume that Ukip drew most of its support from disaffected Tories, oblivious to those drawn from former Labour voters and traditional non-voters. 

Many Labour activists understand how this happened. They have seen the reality in their relentless and often joyless door-knocking for a decade. From Gloucester to Ipswich, Bury to Thurrock, Nuneaton to Carlisle, Glasgow to Dundee, their insights are essential to the renewal of our party.

Some have been lucky enough to know what it feels like to gain and hold power locally. In the decade in which we have seen successive defeats in Westminster and Holyrood, locally we have won. Elected Labour politicians, forced to make tough decisions at local level by a Tory-run Whitehall, are showing what we can do when there is less money around. They have insights from which Westminster and the rest of the Party can learn.

And we now have more members than ever before. 400,000 people willing Labour to win, equipped with knowledge from their communities, could be transformative.

For too long the assumption has been that the renewal of the Labour party is a top-down process. The reality is, while we are out of power in Westminster and the country is changing so much, it is essential that the Party learns from those who lost in 2015, and those who are winning and shaping a Labour vision at locally.

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This is why Labour Together is an exciting opportunity to focus our collective mind on averting a long-term decline in our electoral support and on rebuilding our ability to create a secure, stable and more equal society that champions opportunity.

Successful approaches, such as those in 1997 and 1945 had at their heart an understanding of the problems we were seeking to solve and the outcomes we wanted.

But Labour’s playbooks are out of date. The temptation to revert to what we know is strong but must be resisted. We need to write a new one.

Labour Together is a deliberate effort to do what needs to be done in a way that addresses the current circumstances, not the ones we have faced before or the world as we might wish it to be.

That unsentimental approach is necessary if we are to build a coalition in which everyone can see what they get out and what they put in.

It will require hard intellectual graft and a relentless focus on whether our policy solutions are answers to the big questions facing us now.

The questions we have to answer must be understood as much in the community hall as in the seminar room. How do we deal with the Uberisation of the workplace? How do we answer the evolving skills demands of technology? If our economy demands immigration, how do we manage the anxieties that it produces?

Research that Labour Together has supported indicates that a disconnection has developed between the party and the ambitious, working class Brits we were established to represent.

To address this challenge I am most excited by The Community Fund and the establishment of a Labour Academy to develop a pipeline of local leaders.

In previous eras, the trade unions spotted talent on the shop floor and trained people up. That pipeline has dried as union membership has declined. Campaigning is tough in communities that are cash-poor and short on skills. Those with skills are time-squeezed and can’t afford to give their time for free. Ignoring this reality means our movement is not up to scratch. We fail our communities and our politics by failing to grow local leaders. The Labour Academy should enable us to improve our record on this.

The Community Fund is a deliberate decision to reverse the top-down trend of the Party, by offering local members with local solutions to intractable challenges the resources to expand their ambition and test new approaches.

Grassroots organizing, local solutions and leadership: the traditional values of our party fit for the 21st century. Labour Together’s initiatives should enable us to find not only what works electorally, but what achieves the ends we crave: greater equality and fairness, better life chances, and a stronger sense of community that thrives when people value each other and the contribution they make to society.


Polly Billington was Labour’s candidate in Thurrock in 2015. You can find out more about Labour Together her

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