Catriona Ogilvy, Chair of Streatham CLP, gives her view on the ‘bigger picture’ and what community organising is doing to help transform Streatham activists’ relationships with their community.
I have had the pleasure of working with Movement for Change as chair of my local constituency party since last summer; so when asked recently “What are they doing to win elections” I sighed a little and realised that there is still a lot of work to do!
As members looked to renew our Party last year, a recurring theme in Refounding Labour was to become an outward looking Party, returning to our roots and re-forging links with our communities once again. In Streatham we wrote our constituency development plan with the same view; making our Party more open, accessible and outward looking locally. It is easy to say one thing though and quite another to put things into motion. We often get into the ‘habit’ of doing things a certain way and are sceptical of new ways. However I hope through our actions and what we are achieving we will continue to build support for trying new ways in our Party local.
So, ‘What are they doing to win elections’? Firstly, I would never advocate leaving the tried and tested campaign format of voter ID for community organising alone – after all, we need to know where our voters are come polling day. But my answer would be to look at the closely fought seats we retained in 2010, to consider the impact their community campaigns had on the result and what it means to those communities to still have a Labour MP.
To me, asking what Movement for Change are doing to win elections is the wrong question at this time. Rather I would start by asking what are Movement for Change doing for our Party? Our experience in Streatham, where we are looking specifically around the topic of community safely, is a positive one. Members not previously active have become motivated and engaged in our campaign. Others, officers at EC or branch level are developing new skills and growing in confidence. Our community safety campaign, particularly looking at the experiences of women, is bringing in more women to our campaign and creating a greater gender balance in Party activities. These are just a few examples of the positive impact our work with Movement for Change has had on our Party locally.
Engaged and motivated members who feel our Party is giving something back, are perhaps more likely to go out on the doorstep come election time. And there is that age old question which we have all heard – “I only see you at election time, what are you doing for me?” As activists we know that our elected Labour representatives are busy, year in year out, responding to the needs of their constituents; but we as Party members can support this work. Building relationships with community groups and basing ourselves firmly within community campaigns, Labour will be present at the heart of our communities rather than viewed as individuals on the doorstep with clipboards. I believe together with traditional doorstep campaigning our community organising work will lead to winning or increasing the share of the vote for Labour at election time. For me though, (someone who was once a sceptic), it is more about the process and what we gain from it – being and being seen as the Party we and our members hope us to be.
Chair – Streatham Constituency Labour Party