“Working class communities, already suffering the needless impact of austerity measures that have seen our hospitals and libraries closed, our school budgets decimated, our wages slashed and our workers’ protections and rights eroded, need the support and energy of their CLPs, not just at election time.”Mish Rahman, #GrassrootsVoice
The loss of Labour’s ‘red wall’ seats has been the focus of much discussion since December. Support for Labour had been in steady decline since 1997, apart from the 2017 surge, which brought us within less than 2500 votes of a majority Labour government under Corbyn. In 2019, a perfect storm of longstanding mistrust of Westminster politics, Brexit, and anger at a destructive neoliberal economic system that disinvested industry in those areas and instead poured wealth and power into the capital, led to a devastating Labour defeat.
Top down politics alienated millions of people who had previously been loyal to the party, and they let their feelings be known at the ballot box.
Labour now has an urgent task of reintegrating our politics into working class communities, of installing our campaigning back into working class life and the culture of working class people. That includes a recognition that the working classes aren’t just white. We are black, we are Chinese, we are Bangladeshi. We are gay, lesbian, trans. We are disabled. The Labour Party must understand and celebrate this and we must endeavour to liberate the whole of the working class in all of our brilliant diversity.
We need practical strategies to do this, and here I want to focus on two constituency models I’ve visited in recent weeks, Broxtowe and Liverpool Walton. These are both working class communities in the North of England with strong socialist roots whose impressive work could and should be replicated in other parts of the country.
Liverpool Walton Labour Party members are rooted in their community, workplaces and local campaigns. Labour activists are involved in community initiatives such as Foodbanks in the Fazackerley Fed to the L6 community centre, run by Cllr Gerard Woodhouse and his team, which has the biggest foodbank operation I have ever witnessed. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the L6 have provided over 50,000 food parcels throughout the city of Liverpool. Their school uniform bank has served 8,000 children in the city, providing every item of uniform including socks, underwear and shoes – all brand new! The level of deprivation in the constituency is amongst the highest in the country. This is a part of the country neglected and stripped to the bone by austerity, but which also has the strongest resilience and utmost loyalty to Labour because of how rooted Labour activists are in their community.
Members of Liverpool Walton CLP take part in community activities such as Gardening Clubs, Allotment Groups, Street Teams and Homeless Kitchens while also regularly joining picket lines throughout the city in support of striking workers calling for better pay and workplace protections.
The role of MPs is also vital. Dan Carden relocated his constituency office to a struggling high street in the heart of the community, which has a high footfall area. The office is used as a social hub, advice centre, law clinic and community centre, for the benefit of the whole community regardless of their political affiliation.
Broxtowe CLP in the East Midlands also uses their office as a community hub, delivering all sorts of activities, including a mutual aid group, in a central location in the constituency. Unlike Liverpool Walton, Broxtowe doesn’t have a Labour MP, which makes this hub central to the process of rebuilding support for Labour in the area.
Broxtowe Labour Community Hub, as it is called, runs a no referral food bank, open to the public for collections and delivering food parcels three times a week. All packed and delivered by members. They provide a hot meal once a week, delivered to over 150 people, supported ably by their young members, and also a niche concept known as ‘baking bags’ which is a recipe plus all the ingredients provided to families so they can cook meals together.
Every Saturday the members run a street stall which is open to the public to help themselves to excess stock or near dated food in return for a tin of food or a box of cereal. They have a baby bank providing nappies, milk formula, baby wipes etc to new parents in need. They also run a stationary bank to help families struggling with the expense of children returning to school. The CLP meetings, branch meetings and councillors surgeries also all take place at the hub – aptly named the Solidarity, Unity, Community project.
Members aren’t glorified leafleters or canvassers who only knock on doors six weeks before an election. They’re an active and integral part of the community where they reside, and they stand by those communities through thick and thin. That is how Labour will win back trust: ward by ward, constituency by constituency, with members at the heart.
Every CLP in the country, whether it has a Labour MP or not, needs a physical, permanent space as in Broxtowe, to organise in and support the community it represents. Constituency offices should be seen as community spaces, open to members and to the public, rather than an extension of the MP’s parliamentary chamber, only open for surgeries and election committee rooms. A Labour Party member pays on average £50 a year in subscriptions of which approximately £3 goes to CLPs while £47 remains in party coffers for staff, technology, election fighting equipment etc. However regional offices are understaffed and the campaign technology is unfit for purpose. CLPs need a greater share of subscription money to enable them to fulfil their potential. This money needs to be distributed to CLPs fairly, based on proposed activities and the willingness of members to participate in those activities. Committing a greater share of subs to CLPs is an investment the party urgently needs to make.
It’s vital every CLP becomes a dynamic, campaigning organisation, standing up for the most vulnerable in their areas. Working class communities, already suffering the needless impact of austerity measures that have seen our hospitals and libraries closed, our school budgets decimated, our wages slashed and our workers’ protections and rights eroded, need the support and energy of their CLPs, not just at election time.