Labour must bin its ‘Point of order, chair’ culture if we want a campaign machine that will beat the Tories

by Anthony Lavelle

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Just 11 years ago, we had a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street, but even for a 26-year-old like me it feels much longer. In that time, we have lost four general elections in a row – the last, in 2019, disastrously so, securing the lowest number of Labour MPs since 1935. In the 12 years I have been a party member, only one of them has seen us in government. The rest have involved crushing defeats.

I remember attending a conference back in 2011. It was my first, and also the first time it was held in my home city of Liverpool. I was the youth delegate for my CLP and was the last delegate to be called to speak in a debate about ‘Refounding Labour’. I talked about why we must look to our traditions as a community-based movement where the voices of individual members were always valued. But we must also widen our horizons and never become inward-looking.

It was vital, I argued, that the public had a say in the future of our party and that we always reflected their priorities, channelled their hopes and desires and provided an open and optimistic vision for the future of our country; one that was inspiring but also rooted in relatable politics. If we do not listen, what chance do we have of being listened to?

Anyway, the rest is history, and here we are, a decade on and no nearer to power than we were back then. Despite a proud record of achievement during its thirteen years, the New Labour government lost its way and ended up with hundreds fewer councillors, thousands fewer members, and had five million voters turn away from us by the time we lost the 2010 general election.

By the time I got involved, the activist base had been seriously depleted and many members felt deeply disillusioned. Yet we need to remember that we are always the party that embraces hope, equality and prosperity for all, and that the Conservatives will always be the party of the few over the many (as they have shown with their National Insurance rise). It is cities like Liverpool, and communities like mine in Croxteth, that get a bad deal and suffer the most when Labour is not in power.

So, after too long in the political wilderness, and too much bickering in recent years, we must put our political differences aside and work together for a Labour victory at the next election, which may be only 18 months away. In recent years, however, many local parties have been taken over by activists who, in too many cases, perceive Labour’s time in government in a wholly negative way. There was ‘nothing to be proud of’ prior to 2015. The Iraq War is, and remains, a running sore (for understandable reasons, but the left does not have a monopoly on that).

However, New Labour’s entire economic policy is breezily dismissed as ‘neo-liberal’ or ‘Thatcherite’, despite the fact it delivered the longest continuous period of economic growth, creating millions of jobs, delivering a massive redistribution of wealth and tackling childhood poverty, as well as securing record investment in schools. (In fact, I was a direct beneficiary of this large-scale investment, thanks to the Building Schools for the Future programme – one of the very first things the Conservative government scrapped when they came to power in 2010.)

To dismiss achievements that have transformed millions of people’s lives is destructive and unhelpful. From Sure Start to pension winter fuel payments, from full employment to the 0.7% international development pledge, there was much to be proud of from Labour’s thirteen years in power.

So, let us start with the basics. The party needs to be welcoming and open; one of the points I made when I spoke at a conference a decade ago. When I first joined, we usually had a handful of the same members saying the same things at every meeting. These days, we have a handful of members who deliberately come to meetings to cause mischief and create an atmosphere that disenfranchises other members.

Meetings have become more aggressive and suspicious, with ‘Point of order, Chair’, becoming the key buzz phrase. These types of members, both past and present, are the ones you rarely see on the campaign trail or working in a marginal seat. All too often, campaigning becomes a second-order priority for them, which is to say, not a priority at all.

Too many local parties are afflicted by ‘resolutionitis’ – a belief that you can change the world from inside a CLP meeting. Too often, campaigning, or a discussion on local and national issues, are not even on the agenda. I do not mean to sound dismissive, but that sense of entitlement, cossetted in a comfort zone of the like-minded, will keep Labour in opposition forever. It only takes a clique to poison a local party, and lots have been, to the detriment of Labour’s electoral chances.

But campaigning is the only real priority. Politics is about winning in order the change things. Even when the Tories have been able to rely on spending more at election time, Labour’s superior ‘ground’ game has often helped to level-off their financial advantage. But this is based on our local party organisation being in good shape. Our members and their grassroots campaigning are our secret weapon. I have seen it time and time again. In tight elections, the ability to keep on trudging up driveways, knocking on doors, calling people up, and stuffing leaflets through letterboxes, right until quarter-to-ten on election day, is what makes the difference between winning and losing a tight race.

Therefore, divided and ineffective local parties have a bottom-line consequence for Labour. If losing an election comes as a surprise, then you have not looked into the eyes of enough voters. It is that simple.

This is the irony of the swell in membership from 2015. In many respects, it has not led to a boost in activism across all constituencies. There is a focus on internal meetings but not an increase in campaigning. In that respect, the actual size of the membership is not a marker for the strength of the party. Granted, it has helped to improve Labour’s finances, and I would never wish to argue for a smaller party that excluded people. But we must be clear that the priority is not ideological purity, or recrimination, or hero-worship, but getting a Labour government and Labour councillors elected for as long as possible and in the shortest possible timescale.

I think it is essential that we foster a happier, more tolerant and more inclusive culture across the party at all levels; one that is outward-looking and willing to meet the electorate on their terms. We must select candidates to represent us based on competency and experience, and we must promote ideas and policies that will change lives and reflect the best of Labour and its abiding values. It is only by facing up to our flaws and listening to the mood of the country that we will find our winning ways again.

There can be no more equivocation about it, for the sake of the people in this country, who desperately need a Labour government, we need to get serious again as a party and get back to winning elections.

Councillor Anthony Lavelle is a member of Liverpool City Council and ran to become the elected Mayor of Liverpool earlier this year.


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12 Responses to “Labour must bin its ‘Point of order, chair’ culture if we want a campaign machine that will beat the Tories”

  1. But Anthony doesn’t ignored ‘point of order’ and other checks on party democracy end up with right wing Labour controlled local government having the police called in over corruption allegations? With right wing Labour national governments we end up with illegal wars and PFI of course. You do remember the Iraq war don’t you Tony?

  2. John P Reid says:

    Danny

    But The Judean front-we have to pass a motion to have a agenda to have a motion to see if it’s discussed at next Wednesdays meeting

    Was prevalent leading up to labour getting elected in 97 and after

    The whole people forming their own branches to pass motions without having the membership list so they can create a Facebook page to say their local party feels X , when it hasn’t been Agreed by their constituency at a party
    Is a tactic momentum got from militant
    they’ve been using

  3. Ann Onnimus says:

    Translation: “We should just throw out democracy, rules and natural justice, and members should just do whatever the people in charge tell them to (provided the people in charge are on the right wing, of course).”

  4. A.J. says:

    I never saw much democracy in action during my young activist days. Quite the reverse. Just a few chums passing notes under the table. Reelecting useless, middle-of-the-road, don’t-rock-the-boat union dinosaurs whose aim in life was to raid the drinks cabinet at County Council HQ.
    Labour is going to have to bite its tongue, swallow hard and throw in its lot with the Greens (and, most likely, the other odds and sods that might go to make up a ‘Rainbow Alliance’): pro-EU, identity politics, ambivalent about the police etc. The likelihood of getting ‘Blue Labour’ is so remote as to be laughable. With Starmer? No chance.

  5. A.J. says:

    The ‘Conservative’ machine, by the way, may not be as well-oiled as you might imagine. In my neck of the woods, it creaks so loud you can hear it coming down the street – often in the guise of one man hoping somebody will agree to take a leaflet.

  6. Tafia says:

    It was vital, I argued, that the public had a say in the future of our party

    Do you mean the ppublic, or do you mean rank & file party members.

    The public already do have a say in the future of all parties at election times. Parties that the public thinks are garbage lose. The more they ;lose, the more garbage they are.

  7. When i was running my local labour in Essex , Because white collar public sector workers commute their Union the PCS is not affiliated to Labour Party we had no real factions to help or represent
    and because there’s very few BAME people in Essex
    and no young labour wing existed if set up a LGT wing. then if there was a mad idea about trying to get mythical Liberal Democrat’s to help the labour vote
    but it was a area no one voted Libdem so people went and canvassed in chingford Ilford instead

    Rushanari Ali in her Failed stand for labour deputy leader in 2015 said labour should scrap all factions, apart from the Co-op trade Union That’s not to say open labour Fabians, compass shouldn’t exist but they shouldn’t be part of Labour
    That included scrapping BAME labour or constituencies have a BaME Rep
    6 years ago are Renie Anjrh.AshSarker, Tele Lawal, Jenna Davis said there’s no such thing as BaME Jenna pointing out at at BHM meeting it was all Caribbean food and of African heritage she didn’t like it, and they were older( of course Caribbean heritage peoole don’t all like Curried Goat) but what’s a hard drinking Sikh , Hindu male got in common with a university educated nigerian Heritige 1st generation female 25 middle class suburban liberal
    Let alone the Muslims in Birmingham who didn’t want their kids Taught Trans stuff
    6 years ago Harriet harman had totally disagreed with Hazel blears who was saying Decrim Sex workers, More The milie-Tent (Wimmin ) views Where even now that’s not
    Labour’s view on women , where labour now it doesn’t know what A woman is
    (A human Female )
    And 10 years ago someone like Julie Bindel could represent her brother’s in the name of gay men , no one asked us about adding the Letter T, yet labour looks at disabled white working class women as a enbaresment , so these cliques get taken over, David lammy worried about militant mark 2, deselecting him now gangs around with people he couldn’t once Stand like Lee Jasper so he’s whispered to by the Claudia Webbe types same as the younger black middle class University educated liberals “ anti semitism in labour doesn’t exist @ they all came together so women’s labour ,BAME labour LGBTtQI+ and the local constituencies in the inner Cities of white midfle class liberal areas,have reps to push for labour conference to have Palestinian flags,say the working class scum, call WPUK and standing for women a hate group Stop brexit have decrim for sex workers not twigging The public watched the last 3 labour conferences thinking the party was mad,
    Ben Cobley mentioned yesterday that Keir Starmer should’ve at conference got up said scrap all factions The argument was years ago Methodist church, working men’s clubs Manual trade unions were used to get working class candidates
    They all ended up being heterosexual men not interested in women or gay rights,so labour had all women shortlists( till men won them) and then the clique that was flavour of the month ( then labour fiends of Israel), now anything but that ,
    and then Fabians,co-op have their own youth factions of BAME and labour will end up with councils with not 1 labour councillor if it’s bald men fighting over a comb

  8. A constituency is based on its members to pass a motion they have to take over the executive such as only having a middle class educated student liberals and not a working class from a council estate for the youth rep,
    not have a working clas disabled woman who’s middle age from a council estate as they’re embaressed ot be seen with as the womens rep no have a young atracitive middle clas univsistry educated as the  
    Working class is not a target Core vote
    only have a young posh Nigerian rep as the BAMe rep not either  ghanan or a working class hindu or A muslim or A Caribbean and then the woman’s rep not even a lgBt person and a heterosexual wmoan as the LGBT rep and reigned The area thinks the trans person talks for he gay and lesbians and the women’s rep and no is there a wokring clas rep, its so embaresisng or a amns rep who about someone who doesn’t just use it a sacred cow and makes a motion on Palestine or the trans experirnce and a 2nd referendum for remain

  9. Anne says:

    Thank you Antony, agree with this article. Perhaps, written before we heard about the terrible death of Sir David Amess. This is within 5 years since the death of Jo Cox. What is happening to our society when these appallingly events occur.
    Abuse and threats are not only being directed at our MPs but at Drs, school teachers and police. This abuse is not only verbal but is turning into physical activity. There is no excuse for such behaviour.

  10. Tafia says:

    The EU has a massive – and worsening problem with internal trade within itself. The introduction of OSS has been mishandled by most of their member states on a truly epic level that makes our civil servants look reasonably competent.

    Some member states are way ahead of others on implementation, which is making movement of goods between member states impossible due to systems incompatability and duplication of both the new system and the old.

    Goods are stuck in warehouses all over the continent because nothing can be done faster than the slowest member state in the chain once stuff is moving between EU nations, and this is being further compounded by a huge and disproportionate shortage of HGV drivers at critical ‘choke points’ and supply nodes across the EU.

    Bizarrely, because UK had to get ready for OSS sooner due to us no longer being a member, major UK exporters are now reporting that they can get their goods to a customer/client in the EU faster than EU member states who have stock can to each other, (by road, 2 days for deliveries in France, Germany & Benelux, 3 days elsewhere across the EU, as opposed to 7 days and more for stuff moving between EU member states) It is now faster to move goods from the UK to a client in Germany for example, than it is to move the same item from a supplier in France to the same German client. This is because we (UK) ironed out all the glitches at the start of the year (remember the lorry queues and the massive HMRC ‘are you ready’ TV and radio campaign) and after a steep learning curve our paperwork is now invariably correct, goes straight through and is rarely questioned by EU border officials.

    (OSS is the automated system of balancing different VAT rates in different EU countries and texternal trading nations and who owes what – https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/vat/vat-e-commerce/oss_en)

  11. Tafia says:

    Labour has announced the results of its “Future Candidates Programme” – the training scheme for the party’s next generation of local and national candidates . To stand as a prospective candidate at any level from Local Authority upwards, you have to have been processed through the scheme.

    Journalists have noted that almost all the succesful ones so far are pro-Remain and pro-open borders. So far, none of the potential candidates chosen backed Leave or even opposed a second referendum. They are nearly all liberal middle class, metropolitan, pro-EU, pro-mass immigration southerners, with no connection to the voters that you need to win back.

    Nearly all succesful candidates named so far were party careerists with little to no ‘real world’ experience.

    So Labour not only remains the Party of rejoining the EU and unlimited immigration, with a public face of middle class, metropolitan elite, but is now busily re-inforcing that.

    The tories must be howling with laughter at watching a once great party utterly shred itself of any dignity, relevance or importance, adopting a position of insulting the working class, insulting the indiginous population and insulting the leave voters.

    It’s almost as if the Labour party now regards working class people and northerners – and what they want, as nothing more than an albatross around it’s neck that ot is doing it’s level best to alienate even further, deliberately.

  12. @ Tafia: The Future Candidates Programme may well have just chosen just remainers but what we know for sure was that no one from the left was selected. This was a purely factional choice. When challenged an un-named Labour spokesman said those who failed were “piss poor”. Someone is certainly taking the “piss’. I see Luke Akehurst’s name mentioned quite often in discussions about it.

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