Daniel Shaw reminds us that the roots are in the branch.

WARNING: The following post contains heretical references to Labour Party organisational structures, which references are not usually suitable for activists under the age of 65.

You can’t get more grassroots in the Labour party than your local branch meeting.?? Traditionally, they’re quiet affairs – attendance limited to an ancient party stalwart, the local nutter, an earnest Labour student type and a cat.   And discussions tend to focus on how best to defeat global capitalism and bring about unilateral nuclear disarmament, before getting onto the serious business of who’s going to bring the biscuits next time and the latest grudge match between Councillor Hatchetcracker and Brenda, who’s been secretary since 1952 and once met Clem Attlee, you know.

They’re not exactly hubs of political dynamism.  ??Part of this can be blamed on the party culture over the last 12 years – top-down message, limiting the influence of constituency Labour parties (CLPs) at conference, ignoring motions from branches and general committees – which did little to encourage active engagement at the grassroots level on national policy and campaigning.

But the branches themselves are often just as much to blame – obsessed with procedure and minutiae on the one hand, and with easily dismissed political idealism on the other.

Time to change all of that.  ??If we’re going to win the next election, and take back wards, councils, constituencies and mayoralties in the meantime, this is where, as activists, we need to focus our energy.

In the recent general election I saw a (tiny) group of energised young activists working on a ward level and making a huge difference to the results – literally delivering a majority’s worth of votes (in a very Tory area) all by themselves by working their patch the old fashioned way – on the doorstep, voter by voter – and having fun while they did it.

Slowly but surely they attracted more and more members to their group, and come polling day their hard work and hyper-local knowledge meant they got their vote out – and it made a huge difference to the end result.??  They did this in spite of an unpopular leader, expenses scandals, a shocking national campaign and all the baggage that comes with their party being in government for 13 years.

The lesson here is simple: where we fight, we win.  ??Local candidates with strong grassroots operations held their seats, and even increased their majorities in some constituencies. But they didn’t do it alone, or through bussing in activists or paying people – they did it because they have strong local branches and members and activists who are engaged, enjoying themselves, and putting in the hours and the campaigning miles between elections.

There are some tired CLPs out there in desperate need of new life – and the branch is the place to start. It’s pretty hard for a couple of activists to make a dent in a whole constituency – but a couple of new members can breathe life back into a branch, and start making a real difference locally.

Your local branch can be an unrivalled forum for sharing local news and campaigning ideas, coordinating with the wider constituency/borough/regional campaign, and, crucially, having fun and talking politics with people who all live near your local.

Get it energised, working and campaigning, and from there, we win elections.??  So sod the leadership elections – grab your closest friend, go to your next branch meeting, eat the biscuits, ignore the nutter and the naysayers and get stuck in. Cos any fule kno branch level politics is where the real fight is at.

Daniel Shaw is a pseudonym.

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2 Responses to “Daniel Shaw reminds us that the roots are in the branch.”

  1. Leigh Albone says:

    I want to know where my cat got the money for his subs from…

    But seriosly have only rejoined the party recently after a long absence for personel not political reasons

    Having said that since i rejoined i have had no information from the party as to where and when my local branch meetings are held, i guess its up to me to find out

  2. AmberStar says:

    My son volunteered for the Edinburgh GE campaign. The LibDems threw a huge amount of money & effort into their campaign. The enthusiasm & hardwork of the Edinburgh team won the day. My son enjoyed himself immensely & is looking forward to volunteering for the 2011 Holyrood campaign.

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