By Mike Phipps
By the time of the 2015 general election, Labour’s membership had plummeted to record low levels. Over the next months and years, membership trebled as tens of thousands of people joined the Party to help elect and support Jeremy Corbyn, making Labour the largest left party in Europe. Following the 2019 general election defeat and the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn, many members are having second thoughts about staying in the Party. Here are some reasons why they should.
- Leaving is what your right wing opponents want. Tony Blair has said that for the Labour Party to change, the membership needs replacing. A lot of what the right wing are doing – and have been doing for years, as shown by the leaked Compliance Unit report on the activity of Part HQ during the 2017 general election – is about demoralising members in the hope they will give up. Then the Party’s bureaucracy can go back to running things as they would prefer. Let’s not give them that satisfaction.
- Only a mass membership party can keep the Party grounded in the communities it needs to serve. A layer of the Party apparatus would prefer a smaller, less troublesome membership, which would make it easier to overturn the popular policies that have been built up over the last five years. They don’t need the members – except for canvassing at election time – they would prefer to raise party funds from wealthy donors as they did in the Blair years, with all the conflicts of interest that entails.
- Being a member gives you the opportunity to select your parliamentary candidate. In safe seats, that may be more important than voting! Dawn Butler’s selection in ahead of the 2015 general election hinged on just a handful of members’ votes. Every vote mattered.
- Party members get to select local council candidates. They also get to deselect them! When Brent Council closed half of its libraries a few years ago, local members successfully deselected the lead member responsible in his own ward. The only way to get better councillors is to be a Party member.
- Being a member is also a way to hold local councillors accountable. Councillors who ignore the wishes of the local community find it easy to sidestep protestors outside the Civic Centre, but are a lot more rattled when they have to face sustained criticism in their own Party branches.
- You can influence policy. Resolutions passed by constituency meetings can go on to be discussed at the national annual conference. Members can also take part in borough-wide Party consultations to help shape local party manifestos.
- Party members get to elect the leader and deputy, as well as the constituency section of the National Executive Committee. What does this body do? Well, in June 2020 it voted by 18 votes to 17 against local branches and constituencies having formal decision-making meetings online. This is because the right control the NEC and they do not want an active membership making its critical views known.
- Being a Party member is an opportunity to bring the political work you are involved in elsewhere, be it Friends of the Earth, the London Renters Union or the trade unions, to a wider group of socialists locally. But it allows you to get the Party that claims to speak in the name of working class communities to give public backing – from motions of support to direct action – to the campaigns and activities that are challenging this Tory government on a daily basis.
- Party membership allows people to see that the problems they face are not unique to them as individuals but are institutionally faced by the whole community. You get to work alongside other socialists you might not otherwise meet. Some branches and CLPs have quite a rich and diverse political and social life, including book and film clubs. If your doesn’t and you feel that would be a good way to recruit or meet new members, why not set one up?
- Party membership enables you to work with specialist groups inside the Party to change the way the policies and processes of the Party. Labour CND, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour for a Green New Deal are examples.
- Being an active member holds the possibility of running for office, Many of our existing local councillors were first selected at a time of very low membership, when branch meetings, if they occurred at all, were in single figures. If you’ve got the socialist values, believe in democracy and accountability and have the commitment to work hard to improve the lives of people in the community, put yourself forward as a local candidate.
- Like it or not, Labour is likely to stay one of the two main parties in our political system for some time. If you want to have any say at all over what it does, you need to be inside, determining policy and holding elected office holders accountable. Walking off to start a new party may impart a sense of purity, as you are no longer contaminated by the compromises of the leadership. But it rarely ends well: breakaways from Labour are invariably dominated by individuals or small cliques, as was the case with Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party or George Galloway’s Respect. And when they fail electorally, they are subject to the same sense of demoralisation and blame game that Labour members put themselves through at times of defeat.
- Labour members should stay and get active. Here are some useful resources that Momentum has produced to help you do this:
(a) A brief guide to getting active. What is a branch? A CLP? All explained here https://peoplesmomentum.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/guides/Getting_active_in_Labour.pdf
(b) Labour Party A to Z Jargon Buster. What’s an affiliate, a trigger ballot, an LCF? All explained here https://peoplesmomentum.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/guides/Jargon_buster_v3.pdf
(c) A full guide for new members. This explains everything – from how different levels of the Party interact, to how to write or amend a motion. https://peoplesmomentum.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/guides/Guide_for_New_Labour_Members.pdf
(d) Other useful materials are available here https://peoplesmomentum.com/resources/