A Million Member Party—Part Two

We invited submissions on what a Labour Party with a million members could be and do and will be publishing some of the ideas we received today and tomorrow.

We invited submissions on what a Labour Party with a million members could be and do and will be publishing some of the ideas we received today and tomorrow. Part One is here.

by Adam Robertson

A Labour Party of a million members could set up a popular education programme in every community.

This would be enriching in its own right, and would represent Labour Party members plugging the gaps in the provision of social goods vacated by the Conservative Government. The numbers of part time Higher Education students have fallen dramatically since the tripling of tuition fees, and students are increasingly pushed towards thinking of their studies as investments in themselves, rather than opportunities to learn and grow for its own sake. Free evening classes, lectures, seminars, discussion groups, reading groups would give people a visible and easily accessible means to overturn the thinking that they have been pushed into since 2010, to begin again to treat education as a valuable good in its own right and not just training for work. Engaging with such a programme would enable people to directly experience how the politics of Corbyn’s Labour Party would transform their everyday lives.

This education programme would also be explicitly political in terms of its content. The school system is petrified of being seen to promote a particular political position, or to be seen to influence the political beliefs of its students. Schools are also under a duty to promote ‘British values’ and to carry out their Prevent duties, which can make it difficult for teachers to find the space or the backing to introduce radical politics in any form into their classrooms. The pressures of the exam system and the high-stakes attached to students’ grades now that teachers’ pay progression is linked to their performance has further reduced the scope to help students to make sense of the world around them as we live through the collapse of a forty year old political consensus and a struggle over what will replace it. A bland and toothless Liberalism is almost entirely dominant in the only educational institutions to which everyone in society has free access.

A community based education programme run by Labour Party members could be a space in which radical ideas are taught, discussed and argued over. People would have the opportunity to be introduced to radical ideas, radical artwork, radical histories, that they have never otherwise had a chance to encounter, that increasingly have become the preserve of those fortunate enough to find their ways onto the right courses at the right universities where the fires of this knowledge have been kept alight. This would democratise this powerful knowledge and enable more people to make sense of how and why they have been made to suffer under neoliberalism, and how they could build a new world in which they could thrive. And more than anything, it would be good fun.

Get Big Money out of Politics

by Fay Dowker

With a mass membership approaching a million members, the Labour Party is in a position seriously to weaken the power of the billionaire class within it. A project of the billionaires over the past decades has been to turn the Labour Party into a US Democratic Party type organisation in which the party and individual candidates are dependent on big donations from lobbyists, corporations and rich individuals. That project has suffered a setback with the election of Corbyn as leader but it will continue as long as capitalism survives. One way to defend the party against it, is to make it party policy not to take big donations — except from unions which are a special case — and a huge membership gives Labour the opportunity to do this. This would have huge campaigning potential. To gain the sort of majority needed to make serious changes to society, Labour needs to attract people who do not usually vote. On the doorstep, one often hears the complaints that parties are all the same, politicians are just in it for themselves and politicians of all parties serve the rich and powerful. All of which judgments have a lot of truth in them of course: people aren’t stupid. A policy, trumpeted from the rooftops, of rejecting all large donations would cut through to many people.

It would also increase fundraising potential in a General Election. The Sanders campaign outraised the Clinton campaign in the latter months of the US Democratic primary with average donations of 27 dollars. One of the reasons his campaign was so successful at fundraising was that he made his rejection of billionaire funding a massive campaign issue.

In order to free local parties from the control of wealthy individuals and corporations, the national party must release a reasonable fraction of membership fees to the local parties - at the moment the amount is risibly small. The same is true of fundraising during campaigns: a proportion of nationally raised funds must be channeled to local campaigns. The “no big donations” policy by the national party would pressure local candidates for elected office to make a similar pledge and gives local activists a good way to judge potential candidates during the selection process. Ordinary members, like voters, are likely to favour candidates who make the pledge.

If we want to see a Labour Government with a majority that is large enough to enact most of the policies in the current manifesto and to build upon it, the campaigning cry of “Get big money out of politics” needs to be adopted at the next General Election.

Make Socialist Feminism a Real Force again

by Elaine Crory

With a million member party, we can set a positive agenda and make a serious attempt to tackle one of the most persistent causes of inequality in our society; gender inequality. The gender pay gap won’t be fixed by having a handful of women in CEO positions. Sure, there’s a glass ceiling, but we should focus on the sticky floor.

Women are financially penalised for taking time to have children in a way men are not, and expected to accept the damage to their earning potential and bear the overwhelming burden of childcare and housework afterwards. The narrative that women are choosing part time work to accommodate their family is a neoliberal fallacy, meant to devalue the fact that caring work is work and most mothers are expected to pull double and triple shifts with little recognition and no reward. Socialism needs to grasp this central question of what constitutes work and move the conversation away from the economic bottom line. We can’t tinker round the edges any longer, it is past time to say that the capitalist economy so many think of as a natural thing is a man-made construct designed to flourish by profiting off low paid and unpaid work. And like so many things, this begins in the home.

Let’s stop the carousel. We must value all kinds of caring work, of children, the elderly and the sick. Let’s demand a socialism that values all contributions to our society. With a million members, we can set the agenda and make socialist feminism a real force again.

Canvassing as Community Organising

by Alastair Gordon

With a million members we could change how and why we canvass in order to build personal-political solidarity between members and their communities.

We have seen competing visions of Labour canvassing at this election. One sees convincing people on the doorstep as inefficient and instead presents canvassing as solely data collection: identify labour voters so we can get them to the polling station when we need them. Getting out the Labour vote for elections is vital and only possible when we have good data, but this approach ignores the opportunity canvassing provides to have unmediated political conversations.

This second, more expansive, vision sees canvassing as data collection and convincing people, an opportunity to convert people to our cause. This was central to the Sanders campaign, which prioritised substantial conversations with voters in swing states.

However successful each vision is on its own terms, both de-personalise politics on the doorstep. By doing so we needlessly give up one big advantage of a large and active party membership – our ability to forge lasting, personal-political relationships with our neighbours.

We should rediscover canvassing as community organising. Labour canvassing should involve regular contact between elections, with the same local party members to talk about politics, channel casework to councillors and MPs, and genuinely get to know their communities. We must embed labour members within their neighbours’ political struggles and, more importantly, embed their neighbours’ political struggles within the Labour Party.

Some councillors already do this, holding door to door surgeries to identify casework and understand their voter’s concerns; but this is often separate from the work of the constituency party and, with ~5,000 residents in a ward, will inevitable be less proximate to people’s lives as if we involved the whole party.

By assigning a small group of members to each cluster of streets or blocks we can reconfigure the relationship between Labour members and their communities. Through building these relationships we could organise struggles around vital issues of affordable housing, protecting community centres and childcare provision. This approach challenges the atomisation inflicted on many Labour voters, who experience precarity in work and housing, by building direct networks of hyper-local solidarity, friendship and mutual support. It would improve our capacity for both electoral and social movement politics.

We must demonstrate the direct relevance of Labour to people’s lives. Quite rightly, working class voters are often sceptical of politicians and their promises. We will not overcome this scepticism by simply collecting data on people, or just trying to convince them during each election campaign.

Become your ward’s membership officer. Convince your ward or constituency to assign members to small areas and give it a go. If that’s not possible, offer to take responsibility for canvassing a particular area over the next year and, with a small group of other local members, see whether make canvassing as community organising can work.

A million member Labour Party could empower political activists in every community, create resilient networks of friendship and solidarity and build power for our class.