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Challenges facing new Labour Party Organiser

The Hastings & Rye Constituency Labour Party (HRCLP) have appointed a new party organiser. HOT’s Sean O’Shea discusses some of the challenges facing the appointee in developing a more open, democratic and inclusive culture in the local party. He argues that the development of a party which is genuinely ‘for the many not the few’ could be the key to Labour’s future electoral success.

 “A starting point for all our actions as members of a party and a movement is to treat all people with dignity and respect. This applies to all our dealings with people, offline and online.”

Labour Party, Social Media Code of Conduct, 2017

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Cameron McKiernan, a Labour Party activist and former Councillor from Staffordshire, has been appointed as the new Labour Party Organiser. The purpose of the job is to increase the number of local activists, support and develop party members in a range of activities, training, events and meetings; and to ensure Labour wins the 2018 Borough Council elections.

To achieve these aims Mr McKiernan will have the unenviable task – not specified in the Job Description –of trying to change a very dedicated but somewhat exclusive, and defensive party culture, in which the few not the many still appear to make most of the decisions. It’s also important that party officials, regardless of their status, can be persuaded to embrace change and not consider themselves as above criticism.

New members – a still untapped resource

Local party membership has reportedly increased in the last two years from 450 to over 1800. Therefore an important preliminary task will be to recognise, identify and mobilise the varied talents, knowledge and experience, which such a large new intake potentially brings to the party.

The sheer scale of this exercise will require a facilitative style of leadership (Note 1), and the creation of an environment in which people are given maximum opportunity to apply and share their skills through a greater degree of involvement in decision making, activities, projects and campaigns.

However moving towards a more horizontal, participatory, member-led structure will potentially disrupt the established hierarchy of power and status within the party. So, initially at least, it may be met with resistance by those who have become attached to their current positions, and to the traditional top-down approach to party management.

The temporary discomfort experienced by a few, at the implications of successfully inducting such a large new membership, could be far outweighed by the benefits of an increased contribution from this relatively untapped resource. And the creative energy thus released could have a transformative effect on the party.

Training priorities: Anger Management, human relations strategy

“Responding to hatred by further hatred only maintains the cycle of vengeance and retaliation.”

Pali Canon

There are still those within the Labour Party who don’t seem to appreciate the difference between appropriate assertion and aggression or abuse. Therefore I would urge that Anger Management Training and a refresher course on party policy on hate-speech be placed high on the list of training priorities.

I would also recommend that the promotion of core humanist principles such as respect for persons, tolerance and empathy be included as key elements in a renewed human relations strategy. These are the values which have inspired visionary democratic socialists like Tony Benn, but which are sadly in decline in our increasingly irrationalist, hate-fuelled political culture.

For example, earlier this year when I enquired if the HRCLP felt that reference to political opponents as ‘vermin’ that should be ‘eradicated’ was acceptable language for a party member to use, I was informed that it was a forceful but reasonable way of demonstrating strong disapproval of an opponent’s political position. See: www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/sos/say-no-to-hate-speech

I was dismayed at this response regarding it as both a breach of party policy, and also an attempt to justify the dehumanisation of people with whom we politically disagree, and effectively exclude them from the moral community (note 2).

Incidentally, the party member about whose language I’d expressed concern at that time, later actually retracted his remarks and conceded that his use of such language was inappropriate.

A problem to be addressed – new rule change on hate speech    

The often light-handed or avoidant approach to party discipline on Anti-Semitism & hate speech has been acknowledged by the Labour Party leadership as a ‘problem to be addressed’. And at the Labour Party Conference held in Brighton in September 2017 a change to Chapter 2, Clause 1, Section 8 of the Labour Party Rule Book, was backed unanimously by the NEC. An implication of this rule change is that the use of hate speech towards others on the grounds that they hold different ‘beliefs’ to ourselves will no longer be tolerated {See full text of this rule change in note (3) below}.

To ensure that I correctly understood party policy on this matter I contacted the Labour Party Governance & Legal Unit, and they confirmed to me by email that, and I quote: “…we are clear in the view that reference to political opponents as vermin that should be eradicated falls below the standard expected of Party members and would likely be regarded as a breach of rule 2.1.8.”

Hopefully, members of the local party who may still consider misogyny acceptable (see: www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/sos/say-no-to-hate-speech-reaction), or the above example of hate-speech as ‘reasonable’, may take note of this and reconsider their interpretations of party policy.

A local party – for the many not the few

Some new Labour Party members rallied to support the recent general election campaign and much credit is due to them – as well as to the Green Party – for Labour’s achievement in almost toppling Amber Rudd. However, there are also many more who have remained uninvolved, or have felt put off by the current culture and arcane protocols of the party. From my observations, this silent majority would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to a more inclusive, truly member-led association.

Whether Mr McKiernan rises to this challenge, and gains the support he would need to make the required changes to party culture and structure, remains to be seen. His progress with this undeniably difficult task however may well determine the party’s electoral prospects.

Notes

(1) For an account of this model of leadership see my recent article: www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/sos/momentum-the-untold-part-2-january-2016-march-2017 , section entitled, ‘Databases and creative leadership’.

(2) Less Than Human, by David Livingstone Smith, St Martin’s Press, March 2012

“When people dehumanise others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures.” In this way they, “liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”

Words like ‘vermin’ are terms people use when they regard members of their own kind as less than human. Such dehumanisation has made atrocities like the Holocaust possible, and we still find it in war, genocide, xenophobia, racism – and in our own political discourse.

(3) New Clause 1, Section 8 of the Labour Party Rule Book

“No member of the party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the party. The NEC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex or sexual orientation – as prejudicial to the party….”

 

SOS

 

Posted 15:00 Sunday, Nov 12, 2017 In: SOS

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