Sheila Gilmore says putting the skills and enthusiasm of our many new members to work in our local campaigning could be the key to finding the unity of purpose we need after the leadership election.
We have recently emerged from a huge leadership election which featured many large gatherings of members, most of the largest for Jeremy Corbyn. Let’s just imagine for a moment what could have been done had Jeremy used just one of those leadership rally dates to get his supporters out campaigning for Labour instead.
First, his team could have contacted the local CLPs for intelligence on the local area and issues. Then they could have printed up some campaigning materials, possibly with a freepost survey to make the communication two way. They’d set up a few street stall meeting points to speak to local residents, and from these locations sets of leafleting teams could fan out. Get one thousand people delivering around 130 leaflets each and that is 130,000 leaflets delivered in an afternoon. It would cover at least 2 complete constituencies.
If practical, they could include some door knocking – a hands-on training experience for those who have not had a chance to do this previously. And there would be plenty of other roles for people to staff the stalls, or hand out and check off bundles of leaflets, or help to organise the post-activity event – there has to be some socialising fun at the end – or volunteer to help with the survey returns when they come in afterwards.
Yes, it would require some organisation, but so do rallies, and this is the party which can run a pretty impressive by election operation. Imagine the impact of just one day of a well-organised influx of capacity in your CLP.
Back in the real world, many local parties simply are not seeing a ‘bounce’ in activists from the large number of new members, which has been lauded as one of the main achievements of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. In Scotland this year we had our Scottish Parliament elections. We were successful in our constituency, running an effective ground campaign, but the members we saw out time after time were largely the same as those who had been active in the May 2015 General Election, the same ones who deliver leaflets year round, and help fundraise.
We won the seat, but how much better might we have done had more members come forward? We might even have been able to help out in other constituencies in the area. Our experience was echoed in many other places. Parliamentary elections are not won on the ground campaign alone, but this year we had a good overall political message which was considerably to the left of the SNP manifesto.
On paper our local membership has nearly doubled, so why are we taking more than a month to get a post-Brexit leaflet out to 37,000 households? Currently we are about half way through, and that’s with a number of the old hands delivering 5+ leaflet runs each. We’ve held new member events and socials, run campaign training events and sent out skills audits. Regular emails go out from the MP, the MSP, the CLP and Edinburgh Labour.
Traditional campaigning methods are not enough in the digital age. Some of our newer members may well have skills to offer and I am sure that most CLPs would welcome an offer to help us up our game.
Local campaigning isn’t simply about elections – in Edinburgh we have run campaigns on payday lending, on the cost of childcare and our next campaign will be highlighting the shortage of GPs. But campaigns like this need members to help spread the word and engage with our local communities.
And crucially it’s only 8 months until all Scotland’s councils are up for election. Councils are the front line of defending public services.
So Jeremy please make it your first call to your supporters to get stuck into local campaigning in their constituencies. Apparently you had 40,000 volunteers to phone for you. That is an amazing resource which can now be turned outwards.
This would be a truly practical way to bring the party back together at a local level. So not just general calls for unity – the message to your supporters must be to respond to the next campaign email and get stuck in. If your CLP isn’t actively campaigning, get along and start activities up. Campaigning together we will get to know one another better and reach out to the people who can make or break us next May – the voters!