Posts Tagged ‘community’

Dan Jarvis is right. We must show the Tories are the gamblers

10/03/2016, 10:37:13 PM

by David Ward

Maybe I left my Yorkshire tea bag in too long, but on Thursday morning I had a vision. There I was at the kitchen table with the radio on, listening to Labour MPs cheering the defeat of the government on Sunday trading. Fair enough you might think, we’re winning less than Manchester United at the moment.

But then I was transported to 2020. I could hear the next Tory Prime Minister. “At this election we’ve got a choice. Do you want a stable economy, a strong future? Or do you want the danger of the unholy alliance of Jeremy Corbyn and Alex Salmond voting down the will of the country as they’ve done 20 times this parliament. It’s a risk I don’t think we can take.”

Of course it’s right that Labour opposes legislation like this that harms working people. Angela Eagle has done a fantastic job to win the vote. But you don’t have to be a genius to work out the Conservatives will fight the election on security.

If Labour are going to win we need to do two things. First, deal with our weaknesses. That means stop banging on about Trident, or admitting people with dubious backgrounds. These only give credence to Tory charges against us. As we found in 2015, if people see us or our leader as weak then tactics like the ‘tartan scare’ will work.

Second, we need to reframe the debate so the Conservatives don’t equal stability. That was the case that Dan Jarvis made on Thursday. “When you hear George Osborne say ‘long term economic plan’, what he really means is ‘short term political gain’.”

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Rooted in community: Labour should listen to Orwell – less ideology, more local action

30/12/2014, 11:07:43 PM

In an occasional series to run through the new year, the “Rooted in community” posts will look at those practical, local activities where Labour values are transforming peoples’ lives.

In this post, Paul Dulley gives some historical perspective looking at the importance of a community approach to one of the left’s great heroes: George Orwell

In his 1935 review of Tropic of Cancer, George Orwell praised Henry Miller’s novel for its ‘Whitmanesque enthusiasm for the process of life’, describing it as a ‘remarkable book’. It certainly was.

Published in France in 1934, the novel’s near pornographic depictions of life amongst the Parisian underclass saw it banned in America, Canada and Britain. Orwell’s own imported copy of the novel was seized by two detectives in 1938, a rather sorry letter to his publisher Victor Gollancz reveals.

What is perhaps surprising is that Orwell should have been so enamoured of this work, given Miller’s diametrically opposed view of the world. At the time of his review, Orwell was a member of no political party, and had yet to take his formative trips to Spain or the North. Nevertheless, he was becoming very proactive kind of socialist, his determination to enter unfamiliar communities and witness events for himself contrasting sharply with Miller’s brand of quietism. The one meeting between the two authors perhaps illustrates this difference more than any exposition.

Christmas, 1936. Orwell had resolved to travel to Spain, ostensibly to write war articles from a Republican perspective, but with an itch to ‘kill fascists’. He used his stopover in Paris as an opportunity to pay a fan visit to Henry Miller, who was holed up in a local hotel.

Although the meeting was a cordial one, Miller poured scorn on Orwell’s ideas about defending democracy, countering that civilization was doomed and that there was nothing that individuals like he could do about it. Nevertheless, he was impressed by Orwell’s determined self-sacrifice and, as a symbol of his blessing, gave him a corduroy jacket with which to keep warm on the front line.

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Rooted in community: Labour succeeds when it is local, personal and practical

30/12/2014, 05:49:53 PM

In an occasional series to run through the new year, the “Rooted in community” posts will look at those practical, local activities where Labour values are transforming peoples’ lives.

At a time of cuts and public spending restraint, Labour can still make a difference by going back to its community roots. Today, Jake Sumner describes how an old piano factory in Camden Town became a hub for social change that is rejuvenating the local community

Labour is strongest when it is connected to communities. It seems obvious but it is often overlooked what that fully means.

Knocking on doors is one way of course, and for candidates and local parties it helps with understanding and acting on people’s concerns.

One idea I picked up in the USA on the Obama campaigns is starting on the door with: ‘Hello, I’m a volunteer [with the Obama campaign]’. Saying you’re a volunteer sounds normal. Millions of people are volunteers in all walks of life. And being a volunteer has other gains: volunteers aren’t expected to know everything, giving more latitude on the doorstep, and it is easier to recruit volunteers too.

In the USA I asked everyone voting Obama if they wanted to help out and I recruited about 40 volunteers. Asking people to become a volunteer is a much smaller step than becoming a member. But, above all, a volunteer reflects more what many Labour members actually are: committed members of the community. Some PPCs I’ve talked to like the idea and are using in their areas.

A tweaked introduction is one thing, more fundamentally I’ve always thought of the Labour Party as a movement of volunteers and community champions. This idea can be the party’s strength and the basis for approaching policies and action.

Woven through Labour’s DNA is community politics. Labour has been a movement for change, a vehicle to campaign for social improvement, to bring people together in collective and common good.

Many local organisations have their roots through the work of Labour members from local advice and community centres, advocacy organisations, local charities and groups covering tenant, environment, BME, heath and education issues. National organisations too, have their roots in Labour – like the Ramblers Association and the work that GHB Ward began in Sheffield demanding public access to the local moorland.

Many of these organisations aren’t party political but they are imbued with Labour values and the Labour Party in turn has been shaped by them. It has also made Labour stronger and makes Labour better at campaigning.

There is a question as to whether Labour is still the movement it has been and how can we rekindle this to make the party stronger?

Today, there is an increasing focus on seeking elected office to Parliament. It is often seen as the sole way to achieve social change, obscuring the idea that through working via community organisations a considerable and tangible difference can be made. If we are serious about decentralisation then we must be less Westminster bubble focused, less-Parliament-centric. Community politics and action should be the bedrock and foundation of what we do. This is something Arnie Graf has talked about and looked to rebuild with the Labour party.

It brings huge opportunities. It is the story of the possible and it is what I will now outline through my involvement with my community organisation where I live in Camden.

Nearly 30 years ago local people in Camden Town in north London put down the roots of Castlehaven Community Association (CCA) converting an old piano factory to a community centre to plug the gap of the lack of facilities and services for older and younger people. It has provided many different services for the local community from an under-5s drop in for mums to a youth club and days out for pensioners to local history talks.

I’ve been involved for 15 years first as a local councillor and over the last decade as a member of the Board and Trustee.

The organisation has grown quite a bit since it started out and we now employ more than 20 staff, we’ve four acres of land which houses two main buildings (one a purpose build youth centre) a children’s playground, football pitch and park space.

But the organisation is at a crossroads. Funding is ever tighter. The Government has cut funding to community organisations, while Camden Council’s budget is severely squeezed through the huge government cuts to councils which affect cities and areas like ours the most. Other grants from third party and philanthropic organisations are also much harder to come by.

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More social housing, not a bedroom tax, is the answer to our housing shortage

27/03/2013, 04:24:06 PM

by Helen Godwin Teige

We know that economics alone cannot dictate the shape of our society and despite living under the most regressive government in modern times, we expect human considerations to be included in coalition policy. In the case of the “bedroom tax” it seems that Cameron’s Tories have reached a low ebb in disregarding those who require help from the government.

Growing up in the 1980’s on a small, very green and very pleasant housing estate around a third of the inhabitants had taken up the right to buy option. The street was a mix of young families and older couples, rehoused from post war prefabs. There was no sense of the temporary in our street, owner occupiers and tenants lived, worked and played together; only the council paint palette on the front doors gave away which houses were still local authority owned. Gardens were manicured, hanging baskets tended and everyone looked after each other.

My point is not one of nostalgia; but rather that this world does still exist. The current governments obsession with demonizing those in social housing or claiming housing benefit threatens to tear apart the very fabric of communities across Britain through the bedroom tax which will force people to leave their homes; or face a further financial penalty during some of the toughest times in decades. It is also prudent to highlight that many commentators have little understanding of the benefit of this policy, given the lack of smaller housing stock., confirming that this policy is purely a fiscal one and will do little ease the demand on social housing. Rather, as we all know, the answer is to build new social housing and pull together communities through job creation, renewed confidence and ambition.

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YourKen: can a website really change the game?

27/08/2011, 12:24:47 PM

by Adam Richards

This week marked a big step forward for Labour in London and Ken Livingstone’s campaign to win back City Hall, with the launch of his campaign volunteer website, YourKen.org.

YourKen.org is clearly inspired by the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, my.barackobama.com which did so much of the mobilising of his support during the Democrat primary contest, and to a lesser extent the SNP’s campaign during the recent Scottish elections.

The website is built on the same technology from the US-based company, NationBuilder. The founder, Jim Gilliam, talking about his tools said ‘too often, online efforts are seen as a sideline to the offline efforts of a campaign’.

The success of NationBuilder is bringing online and offline communities’ together, empowering volunteers and energising campaigns. And it works. One example makes the point. Thanks to an ingenious system 50 SNP party supporters instantaneously signalled on Facebook their “like” for a speech by Alex Salmond during the buildup to the Scottish elections; simultaneously a video of the speech appeared on their Facebook news feeds. That clever device meant that 60,000 people instantly became aware of the speech and had the opportunity to view it. Pretty powerful stuff.

The key theme that runs through YourKen.org is community  which is important to consider in light of recent events in London. Outside of the micro-community of the [extended] family the key next two obvious communities are those of interest and those of place- both in quite obviously in decline. Fewer people know their neighbours names now than in decades past, especially in London with its high levels of residential churn and population mobility.

In my view there is a third kind of community though, the most important- that of time-based, or temporal communities. These are communities that come together either intentionally or serendipitously, often as a one-off and to make a formal decision or declaration to take action at a moment in time. Like an election. (more…)

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Hope, help and community

12/08/2011, 01:30:03 PM

by Stella Creasy

Fear is a powerful motivation for action. As I stood on Sunday night with other terrified and angry residents and watched looters turn up and trash Walthamstow I wanted it just to stop. This was our home. Our shops. Our people frightened. Nothing justifies this and ever will.

Since then I have worked with police, outreach workers, residents and the council to try to restore order and calm to our streets– to sweep up the glass, separate internet fact from fiction, account for the welfare of people and try to assess the damage. To channel this fear into something positive. To draw strength from a commitment to the capacity of collective endeavour to restore and replenish rather than demolish and destroy. Because to do otherwise is to give up hope.

Those who label these events indicative of a sickness in the areas where they happened get short shrift in Walthamstow. Only a strong community could put together a pop up canteen for all those helping to keep our community safe. Springing up overnight, with hundreds of volunteers we are providing cakes, tea, hot food and friends for our police and outreach workers. That tells you what we are capable of – not the broken glass outside our local bank.

Following the weekend, young people have played cat and mouse with the authorities in Walthamstow. They are setting fires, taunting officers, frightening residents and damaging local businesses. My community, like many others in the UK, is now dealing the fact that the looters have unravelled the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour.

Changing this isn’t about shutting down twitter, or handwringing about liberal elites. It is about restoring those boundaries and showing those testing them there are consequences to their behaviour.  That’s why speedy justice and strong sentences are important as a means to illustrate to those rioting and looting- and those who help them- that it isn’t worth it.

It is also about our increased police presence. Our Borough Commander Steve Wisbey and his team have had less sleep than anyone, working round the clock. Only when the calm has held for several days will the emotion of this time dissipate- and so too the rumours driving the tweets, bbms and texts which are fuelling disorder and fear.

Yet it is too easy to see this as solely about criminal acts and mindless thugs. On Sunday night there were agitators who instigated events, exploiting tension and technology to organise criminal activity in a way not seen before. But a strategy that only deals with these people is one which only sees half the story. (more…)

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We are communitarians, so Miliband can lead us as Cameron can’t

13/07/2011, 08:10:46 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality”.

Denis MacShane sought to console speaker Martin by writing to him with the words of Thomas Babington Macaulay at the height of the expenses scandal. But was this quotation really appropriate?

Weren’t the British people right to be aggrieved by elected representatives defrauding them? Aren’t they also legitimately angry with, as Ed Miliband put it, “bankers who caused the global financial crisis” and “those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t”? And can there be any doubt that the revulsion of the public against the News of the World is justified?

The spikes in outrage against fiddling politicians and phone-hacking journalists, as well as the slower burning resentment at welfare cheats and fat cat financiers, makes a nonsense of Macaulay. The people he mocks instinctively know right from wrong. And in this intuitive grasp we see ourselves for what we are: communitarians.

The philosopher Julian Baggini foreswore ivory towers and spent six months with the people of Rotherham before concluding that this is the philosophy of the English. It was, incidentally, in the same town that Gerry Robinson tried to “fix the NHS” and Jamie Oliver “taught the poor to cook”. This is a worldview that stresses the responsibilities of the individual to the community. Membership of the community entitles rights and privileges but responsibility demands that these be reciprocated.

We are a nation that wants to see itself made up of; hard working families who play by the rules. We want those who play by the rules to be supported and to get on. We want those who don’t to be punished. The ascendency of Thatcherism, with its win-at-whatever-cost individualism, has obscured the extent to which we see ourselves as members of social groups to which we owe allegiance and the execution of responsibility.

Those who can work have a responsibility to do so. Those who can work but don’t should be penalised. Law makers have a responsibility not to be law breakers. Just like everyone else, including journalists and bankers. And they should feel the full force of the law when in breach of it. These professions are, however, held to more exacting standards of responsibility than legal compliance alone. Their integrity demands more than this. The irresponsibility of hacking the phones of grieving families is about much more than breaking the law.

As Ed Miliband’s advisor Greg Beales tweeted last Wednesday: “Today Ed Miliband spoke for the country because David Cameron can’t. Very important moment”. Tony Blair drew applause from a Progress audience last Friday by saying: “Ed Miliband has shown real leadership this week”. (more…)

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Real lessons from the actual doorstep

16/05/2011, 12:00:44 PM

by Tom Keeley

One year after a general election defeat, a resurgent Labour party has taken 800 council seats. With the exception of Scotland, up and down the country people are back in love with Labour.  People are hearing and agreeing with the party message that we are “your voice in tough times”.

Those parts of the electorate who briefly flirted with the Tories are repentantly coming back.  An unpopular prime minister has been replaced with a fresh credible opposition leader, with new ideas.  National control is all but a certainty in 4 years time.  Right?  Well the doorsteps of Birmingham suggest something different.

The Birmingham city council elections were a success for the Labour party.  Lib Dem and Tory seats were taken in equal number.  Not one seat was lost.  Some wards considered safe Tory strongholds like Harborne and Edgbaston were taken, or pushed to the absolute wire.

However, even amongst this unqualified success, the message from the doors and the phones was a mixed one and certainly not the message above. We must listen and learn from the feedback on the doorstep. (more…)

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The glorious game has become an inglorious free-market free for all

14/04/2011, 01:30:44 PM

by James Mills

“‘Tis a glorious game, deny it who can, that tries the pluck of an Englishman.” Is the chorus annually sang at the start of the Shrovetide football game, a precursor to the modern day version of the ‘glorious game’, still played every year in Derbyshire on Shrove Tuesday, which demonstrates the key community ties that link the origins of our national game.

Similarly, many of the modern day football clubs originated from community based teams that grew into the social sinews of their local areas. Although many of them nowadays have ballooned into monolithic globally recognisable brands, they are also national treasures as well as assets that employ thousands and inspire millions. Most important of all in a globalised world they remind us of the most important thing of all, locality.

On Monday the banking commission laid out plans to prevent another banking collapse by protecting retail banking from investment banking, which a few years ago exposed some of the fallacies of free-market economics. On the same day, Arsenal, known as the ‘the bank of England club’, was added to the growing list of foreign owned clubs in the Premier League. Could you imagine the streets of Paris, Munich, Milan, Madrid or Barcelona staying as quiet as the streets of London are, if this was their club? (more…)

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Sam Bacon embraces the armchair activist

18/05/2010, 09:51:29 AM

It’s often said that things happen in threes; and so it proved for me during this election.  At three separate events, and with three distinct people, I had the same discussion about the party and its supporters.  And despite being at events intended to inspire passion and support for the campaign ahead, I left each one with a heavy heart and sense of defeat.  It wasn’t because the speakers were poor or I feared massive electoral defeat, but because the conversation kept revolving around the ‘problem’ of ‘armchair supporters’.

The general point being made was that these big set piece rallies were weren’t ‘real’ campaigning, and tended to attract an undue number of ‘armchair supporters’.  What we needed, or so the logic went, was committed, passionate, proper Labour supporters, not people who would come out to see a Minister speak, but wouldn’t knock on doors in the driving rain.  What right did they have to attend these events? And why did the party flirt with them like this?

Many will have encountered similar attitudes at Labour meetings, events and discussions.  You may even have thought – even said –  something similar.  But the election defeat should teach all of us who have time for such arguments one thing: if we’re ever going to experience victory like ‘97 again, we’re going to have to be the party of and for the people once again.  And that means taking all comers with whatever they bring to the table. (more…)

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