“Of the 30,000 people who have joined or rejoined Labour this year, a third were disillusioned Lib Dems, and others were longtime supporters who now feel that voting is not enough. Over 40% are women, a third are under 30, and they are keen to discuss and influence policy.”
Taken from the report from the latest NEC meeting.
It does not, of course, say how many of those Lib Dems were members rather than merely people who have voted Liberal Democrat in the past. The rest is interesting, though. I joined Labour this year and am a woman, under 30 (until October 21st, anyway) and keen to discuss and influence policy. They know this, because when the national party phoned to welcome me, they asked and I said so. People in my local CLP know this too, though I haven’t really found a place for myself there yet, with the information about local meetings and happenings so far not really appealing. Those I have met at hustings and the women’s event are lovely people, but I don’t want to discuss my local area much (I hate it) or the council or go to meetings about things that don’t interest me all the time or stuff envelopes. It would kill my passion for the actual politics. I also don’t want to deliver leaflets or ring people or go door to door – in part because I put all the leaflets that come through my door unsolicited in the recycling straight away and I don’t want to subject other people to either that or cold-calling of any kind, even if I could steel myself to do it. I turn callers and leaflets away because I can’t stand the intrusion, so I cannot be part of that. Do as you would be done by.
I joined because I’m interested in policy, mostly at a national level, and I want to change things. I don’t care that much about branches and wards and local cliques, it’s not what I joined for – it really appeals to some people, but not me, and not a lot of the newer members I met at the Milibands’ hustings. Andy Burnham makes some good points on that score in his recent Labour Uncut interview:
“I think you’ve got to rethink through what is a young person’s introduction to Labour when they join. And I don’t think we should immediately assign them to a branch or a ward and then a constituency. I think the first contact they should have is from a young Labour group in their locality. Because I think too many might fall at the first hurdle. They get the first contact and go to a meeting that they basically don’t relate to and we’ve got to rethink our introductory approach to people joining the Labour party. They’re joining it to change the world and to change policy. And we’ve got to make sure that their first experience of Labour is inspiring, why they think they’ve joined. And we also have to think about how we can connect them immediately to the policy discussion and how to change the world. Sadly, the party’s not done what it says on the tin. That’s what they thought they were getting when they joined and they often turn up at meetings finding they’re talking about the minutes of the last meeting or the yellow lines by the chippy or something like that. That for me…we’ve got to rethink what is their introduction to Labour.”
It was something that came up time and again at the women’s event, both in our small groups and when chatting to candidates, that the system and hierarchy is off-putting to young members, new members of all ages and people whose interests don’t necessarily mesh with turning up to regular meetings of their local party, and it contributes to drop-off in interest and a lot of people never really getting involved beyond owning a membership card, or even just not bothering to renew. “We get ‘em in for a pound and then they don’t really stay” was a point someone made about students and young members. I joined for a pound, I want to stay, but I want to be valued as more than someone new to do donkey work or another dutiful member who turns up every month. I want to change the world.