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Mobilise Labour’s Grassroots for a Socialist Agenda – Gemma Bolton, Labour NEC. #FightBack2021

“This decade & beyond will be defined by multiple crises facing our society. If Labour is to be relevant to the millions of working people that we want to vote for us, we must offer bold & serious solutions to these crises.”

Gemma Bolton

By Gemma Bolton Labour National Executive Committee member & co-chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. This is an edited version of her speech at the recent ‘Fighting Back in 2021’ event, which you can watch in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj9k_ypCuTY&t=4983s

I was elected alongside four other socialist candidates in this summer’s NEC elections with a mandate to pursue a socialist policy agenda within the Labour Party and have been working to this end since our election a few months ago.

The central message that we’ve been making during the campaign and since elected is that this decade and beyond will be defined by multiple crises facing our society. And, if Labour is to be relevant to the millions of working people that we want to vote for us, we must offer bold and serious solutions to these crises.

The title of this panel is how we mobilise Labour’s grassroots, trade unions communities and the movement. I feel I’m best placed to speak about how socialists should approach the Labour Party and mobilise its members and activists for change.

Why are socialists in the Labour Party and why should they stay in the Labour Party?

A lot of people have felt really despondent since the general election defeat in 2019, and the loss of the Labour leadership almost immediately after. People have been leaving or asking what the point or purpose is of staying in the Labour Party.

And of course, since these defeats, we’ve seen a watering down of the socialist policies that would deliver for working people in favour of policies that offer piecemeal change or very little change at all, and an approach which, in my opinion, fails to properly oppose the Tories and their agenda.

This is despite Keir being elected on a broad platform of being committed to keeping the policies of the Corbyn era.

Yet this is as revealing as it is a serious cause for concern. The broad base of Labour’s membership, even a large proportion of those who voted for Starmer, do support a socialist policy agenda and a socialist response to the multiple crises we are facing.

For example, when Labour members are polled or asked to engage in national or regional elections, they will regularly vote for candidates that stand on such a platform, and candidates who might not be so committed to this platform often soften or hide their approach as they know they are unlikely to be elected by Labour’s members unless they appear committed to more progressive and radical ideas.

The recent NEC elections show this. The method of election was changed to Single Transferable Vote precisely because it was known that socialist candidates would be popular amongst Labour’s membership. And yet we still ended up winning 5 out of 9 seats in a proportional system, which is a serious achievement and shows that clear socialist messaging can win for socialists in Labour.

In other words, when Labour members are asked and balloted on whether they support a socialist policy agenda, they will consistently vote for it.

This is important. Socialists are in the Labour Party and have been for over 100 years because it remains a mass membership party, formed from the organisations of working people (the trade unions), and with hundreds of thousands of working people that understand that free market capitalism and neoliberal responses to the problems we face will simply not cut it.

And if as socialists we continue to make our case, we can win over this base of people to our politics and move forward. We can mobilise Labour’s grassroots to achieve a socialist agenda and a socialist Labour Party.

Specifically, I would encourage activists and members to use the avenues that currently exist. Party democracy in the Labour Party is being trampled on, we should be clear about that, but there are still avenues through which to push and make our voices heard.

Keep passing motions in your CLPs and sending them to the NEC / leadership (these are compiled and sent to us regularly so it is a good way of giving the leadership and NEC a sense of what the grassroots are feeling); continue to organise for internal elections and elect socialist candidates to national, regional and local committees; organise for party conference as this will offer us an opportunity to make policy and organisational demands of our party; and campaign to select socialist representatives on a local, constituency and regional level.

If we want to make the Labour Party a socialist party, rather than a party with socialists in it, we need to put in the hard work that it will take to do so. This means not willingly conceding the ground but occupying the space, being active locally and in our CLPs.

It means building from the ground up, being involved in CLPs, making them more oriented towards communities as well as elections.

This takes hard graft and requires that people give up their spare time but it is the only way to build a socialist party that is capable of transforming society.

Don’t leave Labour. This is our party. Let’s fight for our values and fight to keep socialism alive in our party.

  • Labour Outlook is pleased to host a weekly column from Left-wing members of Labour’s NEC.

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