It can be very easy to dismiss the South East as a socialist no go area. In Kent we have the largest County Council in England which has been Tory controlled throughout its existence, apart from the four years post the 1997 election where the Council went to no overall control. After the 2009 election, the Tories cemented their grip by winning seventy three seats, leaving seven Lib Dems and just two Labour Councillors to form an opposition. Surprise surprise, Kent is not a Labour heartland!
In 2005 Kent had seven Labour Members of Parliament. The County now has none. So the work to reinvigorate the Labour vote cannot be underestimated.
I mentioned the County Council because that is our next big election challenge in 2013. Sittingbourne and Sheppey CLP, of which I am a member, did have one of those Labour MPs, Derek Wyatt, who stood down at the last GE, so we know what it is like to go from an active constituency and Parliamentary MP to the current Tory (majority circa 12,000) who says very little in Parliament and doesn’t get involved in the bigger local issues affecting the constituency.
Our current CLP activist base is 15-20 hardy souls who deliver leaflets, knock on doors and run street stalls. We now have thirteen District Councillors who form the main opposition on Swale Borough Council. There is not surprisingly only one Lib Dem which means you can easily guess the party that runs that show.
Labour Party members are always looking to see how they can attract more interest in their local Parties. What is stopping people from joining or even just volunteering to help with leafleting or letter stuffing? When one talks to people on their doorsteps there is much indifference, but there is also much passion for the politic. How do we as a national and local party encourage those people to get involved in our party? A perennial question.
For Labour to do well in the County election and win the next General Election our CLP needs to grow a much stronger local activist base.
This is why we invited Movement for Change along to talk to us. Kathryn has now been to see us on two occasions. The second meeting a few weeks ago was certainly an eye opener for me, and I have since spoken to colleagues who felt the same way. We talked about our reasons for becoming Labour Party members; something I don’t recall to have ever done. When we occasionally meet in the pub after a branch or Council meeting, we chew the political fat and talk about the news of the day, but we have never really discussed why we are in the Labour Movement in the first place, and I have never given it a second thought as to why I am in that pub frankly debating events with a group of people I don’t personally know that well. Our individual journeys are from very different backgrounds and really do give weight the “broad church” adage for our party. Some have been influenced by parents or friends, activism in unions or in student politics. I recommend all CLPs to carry out the same exercise. It is a great way for members to bond with each other as we never seem to go through the process of ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ as other effective teams tend to do.
Kathryn has set small achievable individual tasks for each of us and we will reconvene again in the next couple of months to discuss progress. The focus is to get us more embedded in our local communities and encourage others to do get involved in the Labour Party. There is no quick fix, but there is little time to waste and much for us to do.
Cllr Adam Tolhurst
Sittingbourne and Sheppey CLP