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|Labour Neighbours: The Plan|
|CSM is at the forefront of the debate about what it means to be 'local' and Labour. This paper unpacks how these 'Labour Neighbours' projects could develop.
|Labour Neighbours: Mission not Meetings|
|Andy Flannagan sets out his vision of a key dynamic for the future of campaigning, of local politics and of how CSM and Labour might learn from local activists making a difference around the country.
Mission not meetings
By Andy Flannagan
At the Christian Socialist Movement in the last few years we have noticed a surge of interest from young people and twenty-somethings. They are to a large extent the “Make Poverty History generation”. The oft-quoted statistic that 80%of those who marched in Edinburgh were from Christian groups is certainly being born out in our experience.
Also far beyond the confines of the church, in the thriving NGO sector, there is a river of energy flowing containing many folks who are naturally left-sided, but who need some confidence-building measures before engaging in party politics.
Hence CSM’s “Do not send this postcard” campaign. It encourages those for whom campaigning and postcard-sending have become second nature, to see themselves as future recipients of postcards, in positions of responsibility, rather than acting on a presumption that they will always be shouting from the sidelines. The hookline is “Don’t send. Be sent.”
There has been a great response to this, confirming our suspicion that the instinct of this generation is to participate rather than to always complain. They understand that structural change needs a partnership between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside”. This has been evidenced by the exponential increase in CSM volunteers since we moved to Labour HQ. People respond to an opportunity to serve a bigger purpose especially when they see that efforts are being made to integrate, rather than separate.
This has also been occurring at a local level. CSM members have been key players in the Hope08 teams that were set up in 1500 different centres around the UK.
The churches noticed a stark contrast. When previously they attempted to come together to organise a combined church meeting, much discussion and bureaucracy ensued, as there were often 12 different ways to construct a service. However, when coming together to serve their communities, they realised that there is only one way to dig a garden, or paint a playground. Strong relationships were built in the context of a shared mission. The stories of mass mobilisation and transformation of communities are genuinely inspiring.
These teams have lasted beyond the events themselves, as churches realised the power of doing things together. In many places, the co-ordinating team have become incredibly useful to local authorities who need “point people” to communicate something widely, or seek assistance on an issue. A full account of the success of the project is available in their independent report. Because of the enduring impact of the teams HOPE is about to be re-launched as an ongoing project.
This generation also struggle to engage due to the perception that local politics consists of endless boring meetings of lifeless people, which compared to a local campaigning group or church action group that are actually making a practical difference, seems pretty unappealing.
Looking at the deterioration of membership across all the political parties, and the experiences of many CLP chairs and secretaries, branch and ward meetings are dying on their feet. If they are not dead now, they certainly will be in 10 years time.
Can we imagine a better future, where we as Labour lead the way in the transformation of both what it means, and importantly the perception of what it means to be involved in local politics? Imagine 10 years from now, a situation where Labour members join to become involved in local teams that practically serve their communities. In the midst of these actions they get to know a much wider spread of the local community, and become known as those that “do” rather than those that merely “come after me when they want my vote”.
It is known that folks get into politics to serve their communities rather than gain positions of influence, turning the tide in the wake of the expenses scandal, now long forgotten.
The challenge of reconnecting citizen and state is enormous. To begin with, we must understand the perception of the roles of citizen and state in 2010. In an age of selfish consumerism, reality TV and unbridled choice, when people read “connections between citizen and state”, they subliminally assume you mean mechanisms to help them communicate better what they want the state to do for them. They assume a connection going in only one direction. We need mechanisms to make a two-way street tangible. We need easily accessible ways for citizens to give to their local communities. These service teams could work in partnership with local voluntary agencies, but be clear about their connection to the wider labour movement. This would provide a tangible link between “politics” and “local service”.
This would be an unashamed attempt to bring the word “service” properly back into the national and local lexicon. The concept of national service is beyond a new generation. There is a culture of media-led high expectation of how we should be served, but fewer frameworks for how people can serve.
One of the knock-on effects of this lack of “a mission” for citizens is the decline of “well-being”. Purposeless people are the most disgruntled people. A mission also brings people together in a way that nothing else can. We all know the most meaningful relationships in our lives are those that have been forged while working to achieve a common goal, for example with sports teams or teams that carry out work in developing world contexts together.
We believe the results could be healthier, happier, and more integrated communities, for whom it is the norm, not the exception to be “politically” involved.
Andy Freeman, 13/07/2010