It’s time for the party to fête our activists like we do our financial donors
This article was first published on Labour Uncut, 19 June 2012.
David Lloyd-George declared upon the end of the Great War that his mission was to “make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. While we are not at war, fighting in no-man’s land, Labour is engaged in a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the British people, which requires high grassroots morale.
Lloyd-George understood that after years of sacrifice, the country had to improve and mobilise to recognise the value of ordinary men putting their lives on the line. Fast forward, and it’s time for Labour to recognise and reward the many activists who put themselves on the neighbourhood frontline, in various, hours, days, weeks and months, campaigning for the social democratic cause and empowering their local communities.
All of our members have stories and experiences that have the potential to excite and inspire, so let’s create a club with which we can celebrate this commitment and success.
This club would be an equivalent to the Thousand Club – with the difference that it would recognise members for contributing time and effort rather than money.
It would bring the same benefits enjoyed by our generous donors to members contributing significant amounts of time for Labour, whether campaigning, developing Labour policy and ideas within their local areas or empowering their local community.
While not discrediting the Thousand Club in any way, Labour must be willing think outside the box of traditionally rewarding people for financial capital and recognise the importance of voluntary and human capital – proactively rewarding activists for time and effort put in that is equivalent to the amounts paid to the Thousand Club.
This club would be the focus through which members via their constituency parties can tally up the hours they put in over an amount of time and forward it to their constituency secretary who would deliver such findings to party headquarters ahead of the party annual conference.
Campaigning completed per person could be displayed on a subset of the Labour website, where people could check on their comparative campaigning performance (Ken Livingstone’s innovative mayoral campaign recently tried something similar on “YourKen”).
Like the London marathon site, this should encourage comradely competition. Such a piece of technology works wonders for the marathon, creating a greater sense of viewer engagement that Labour would do well to adapt.
This is another step for Labour to up its organising game. In the fast paced world of community politics, Labour activists need to be long-distance runners, instead of short-distance sprinters, and such league tables would surely incentivise activity from our comrades in preparing for long-term activist development by involving themselves in such activities.
The hours could be calculated from the resumption of parliamentary business in October through till July of the following year. Ideally there should be a celebration at conference with members present to collect prizes for their hard work, as well as invitations to subsidised social and entertainment events to reward hard working campaigners up and down the country.
Like the annual Academy Awards, the Labour party needs to treat its members as stars deserving of a red carpet as they enter the conference hall. Subject to discussion amongst ourselves as comrades, the awards should range from top individual awards such as best youth rep, best BAME rep, and best women’s rep, as well as best organiser, as well as longest amount of hours volunteered; regional prizes should be provided to recognise the work of councillors and groups of activists who make a clear and definitive change to their communities’ circumstances.
The online hub of the club could also include a forum for members to share their campaigning experiences and testimonies over the comradely assistance and support provided through the club, with the option for members to donate funds to support the group’s activities.
The urgency of such a proposal rang true recently when Iain McNicol announced that he wanted to train and recruit 100 new parliamentary candidates in the next 12 months and have 200 party organisers working in local communities by 2014 to boost the resourcefulness and strength of our grassroots.
In the words of Refounding Labour,
“…change cannot be achieved from above. Yes, leadership is needed, but unless we all participate in the work of refounding our party it won’t truly happen. We need to strengthen our long term relationships in the local community, not just to enhance our short term electioneering capacity, but to be a party more representative of the communities we seek to represent.”
Celebrating our activists as we do our financial donors will help generate the frontline motivation and commitment needed for Iain’s goal to become a reality.
Prem Goyal is vice-chair of Bermondsey and Old Southwark constituency Labour Party