How to ruin the Party

Daniel Mann

Image © Don Shall

It’s another slightly grey Monday here, and things seem as they always are. The city wakes up to a new day and a new week. As ever, Labour has control over the City Council, and down in Westminster, the ConDems are as muddling and incompetent as ever. To a certain extent, I think we in the Labour Party still don’t entirely understand why we’re in opposition, at least not from an internal perspective. But I’ll get to that in just a minute. First, let me introduce myself. I’m Dan, 21, BA in International Relations and currently an MSc student in Social Change at a certain North West redbrick university that’s a part of the Russell Group. It all sounds straightforward, right?

No, it isn’t. You see, I’m American by birth, but British by choice. I grew up in New York, but this is the second occasion that I’ve lived here in the UK. I wasn’t here for the 2010 election but, when I was living in London soon afterwards, I witnessed the numbness that we as a Party found ourselves in, having joined in mid-June of that year. But I digress. When I moved back ‘across the pond’, several months ago, I did the natural thing and plunged headfirst into local Party activities here, and I haven’t looked back. One such activity has been my involvement with my local Constituency Labour Party (CLP).

Quite recently, the CLP had its Annual General Meeting (AGM), which was, as ever, held in our Town Hall, an appealing Gothic edifice overlooking the city. As was expected, a great deal of members showed up, including quite a few whom I’d never seen at CLP meetings previous, all but one of which I’ve attended.

Very soon after I arrived, the meeting got underway. It was really great to see so many of the officer positions contested. All went fine until a particular election came round. One of the candidates, whom I know a little, got up to introduce themselves. It was quite obvious that this individual was a little nervous, as would be expected of anyone. This person is a campaign organiser in a nearby borough, and lives in one of the inner wards of our CLP. However, their words got muddled and mistakenly said that they were an organiser in the ward where they live.

To one side, a councillor for that ward happened to be sat. This councillor is known for being extremely outspoken. On one occasion, this individual managed to drive a CLP meeting to a standstill by engaging in a pointless and semantic debate with another member for over an hour. Standing, this councillor loudly announced that the candidate was in fact not a campaign organiser in the ward in question and wasn’t known to the councillor.

Let me stop right here: obviously if someone says something which another person knows to be factually inaccurate, it’s quite natural for them to say something. And when it relates to an election, I don’t suppose there could be much opportunity for polite delay. But it still doesn’t make it this person’s behaviour acceptable. Nobody should be literally shouted down in front of others, let alone by one of their ‘comrades.’

What do I think should have been done? I’ll tell you what I said once the outburst was over. I said that not only is shouting someone down completely inappropriate, but that I found it ironic that it happened during this particular election, as there was a great deal of discussion of how more young people could become involved in the CLP. I pointed out that this was a textbook example of how to alienate people from the CLP.

Well, I think at the end of the day, if we want to win an election in 2015 – or sooner – we aren’t going to win any elections by violently berating each other for minor verbal missteps. The Labour Party cannot win an election without young people. And I don’t mean just as foot soldiers. I mean that the Party benefits from us standing for positions at the local and national levels. Nobody will want to do that if a small minority of people – most of whom happen to be older – start out by talking about how they’ve been Party members before I was born and treat younger members as incompetents who aren’t capable of sticking a leaflet through a letterbox, let alone standing for – and indeed holding – an internal position or an elected office.

I haven’t got the space for it here but, about fifteen minutes after the outburst that I’ve just related, I was the victim of another outburst. This time the attack came from a woman who, in my opinion, has no place in the Party, given her views and conduct, which was vastly worse than those of the Member mentioned above.

I’m not bitter, angry or resentful. I appreciate what older members have done and continue to do. However, I don’t appreciate older members who think that younger members such as myself are incapable of performing and, when they aren’t able to substantiate that view civilly, resort to shouting. I haven’t got the time for it and if they have then I say they need to leave the Labour Party, not only because we are all supposed to be comrades but because there are leaflets to deliver. Voter ID to do, doors to knock on, and members of the public to speak to. That is what will win us elections. Verbal abuse of Labour Party comrades has no place in our politics or our lives and those who think it does are not worthy to carry a Party membership card.

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