“The exclusion [by the region] of local members from any role in admission caused frustration for members denied access.”
By Mike Cushman, Streatham CLP
Many of the problems faced by Streatham Labour party members in getting into their 2021 AGM flowed from the lack of a proactive approach to inclusion by the Region who took control of the meeting.
Holding meetings by Zoom has a major potential for greater inclusion than traditional meetings held in a hall. People with young children do not need to find a baby sitter; those with caring responsibilities for an adult do not need to find an alternative carer; mobility problems are no barrier; no money needs to found for fares; anxiety about being on streets late in the evening is avoided.
These gains are welcome but the disadvantages need to be addressed.
Problems with anonymous Zoom screen names are well known. It is not difficult to change your name if you know how but many people are unfamiliar with he process. It is straight forward to attach a sheet, or a link to a sheet, with clear instructions on how to change your screen name on Windows, Macs, iPhones and android phones along with the invitation to the meeting.
It would appear that a disproportionate number of people with names that did not align closely with ‘British style’ names faced problems. This was exacerbated by having outside staff, unfamiliar with the Streatham membership as gatekeepers. Local members would have been familiar with the names of many members and more able to link a name to a known member. The exclusion of local members from any role in admission caused frustration for members denied access. Even if control were demanded by regional staff, having local officers involved who could have advised on uncertain names would have eased many problems.
There should have been a well-staffed phone help line which people stuck in the waiting room could have called once the bulk of members delayed simply by overload on the admissions staff had been processed. At that point a message could have been sent to all those still waiting, inviting them to phone. Attempts to communicate by email in such situations are far more stressful. People under pressure are not certain their emails are being received, read and acted on and ambiguities may need a series of messages to resolve. Understanding is more easily reached in a voice conversation and admission allowed or its refusal fully explained and hopefully accepted.
Admission would have been far easier if there had been the option of prior registration. Many of the problems would have been sorted in advance and the load on the staff on the evening of the event lightened and made far more manageable, befitting both members and staff.
It is to be regretted that these measures were not in place for the Streatham AGM. It is vital the region adopts them for any future constituency Zoom meeting they manage; that they are circulated to all CLPs as advice on how they can run their own; and that they are shared nationally as good practice.