Sam Bacon embraces the armchair activist

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.

It’s sometimes hard to look beyond our own experiences.  And when we are surrounded by hardworking, tireless activists, and yet are still facing near impossible challenges and mountains of work, the easy response is to be dismissive of anyone who claims support for the party but doesn’t seem to do the work to show it.  But if we are going to re-energise the party, and connect back with the people we want to represent, we have to stop demanding more than people want to give.   We need to approach our supporters with humility and thanks, and recognise that giving any time, and any support, is of value.

Now of course, we need roles filled and work done; but to do this, we need to create a warm welcoming environment that supports people in whatever they do. Small steps can lead to long journeys, and the supporter who only comes to the free lunches or evening rallies may be donating money to the party in secret, or working tirelessly in their home or workplace to spread the word about the party and its priorities.  There’s a whole host of reasons why they may or may not be campaigning for us, and yes, for some people it is just a little too boring to really inspire them. That’s a truth that we have to face.  But ultimately, they are hopefully doing the biggest task we could ever ask of anyone: giving us their vote.  And for that, we should be thankful.

As activists we need to stop assuming that the way we feel about politics is the right and normal way to feel.  We may love the party enough to get up and deliver leaflets on a cold early morning, but if we don’t embrace even those supporters who will happy take the rewards for little of the work, we’re going to be counting on an ever reducing number of people.

If we want to deliver change for our country and our communities we’ve got to accept all the help that people want to give us.  Big or small, lots or little.  And let’s be honest, after the results of May 7th, are we really in a position to refuse?

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One Response to “Sam Bacon embraces the armchair activist”

  1. Nick Palmer says:

    Yes! It’s a very good point, and even those who ARE willing to dleiver leaflets on a cold winter morning can become uneasy if they think this is expected as a regular duty.

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