The membership of the Labour party is at odds with the world. In outlook and in demographic. It is also very powerful, and likely set to become even more powerful.
At this pivotal moment in Labour history, it has to look at itself long and hard, and probably conclude, “yikes”.
When Corbyn says he will not “betray the grassroots”, we have to ensure that does not mean we are betraying our voters by doing so. That the grassroots are not ever more at odds with the people it claims to make a stand for. As arguments are maintained that we are on course for election victory so long as we “unite”, it is becoming clear that the gulf is widening.
It’s not really our fault. It is the nature of a party membership.
Most of us near 300,000 do not regularly consult increasingly dire polls or focus groups like HQ or the PLP or Alistair Campbell. We are not experts on strategy. We are not briefed when YouGov shows 52% of Labour voters want Jeremy gone, and that 1 in 4 will not vote for us at the next election. We do not know that for just a slim majority we will need to win Chingford. There are a very niche few of us who await polls embargoed for 10pm. That regularly consult and consume evidence. That nerd herd are a bubble within a bubble. Most of the membership do not.
We will have unlikely read about Value Modes or MOSAIC or other ways to examine the electorate; segmentation that shows we are at odds with the people we claim to speak for.
We attend events where we only speak to ourselves, only vote on our motions, only drink with our peers. Of course we are gonna think everything is great when we’re singing the red flag in a hall of a thousand people. In that moment, we are a weighted sample.
Even on the doorstep, we -and I- convince ourselves we will be fine. We knock together, we coalesce at the end of each road group, “that was okay, wasn’t it?”. It’s not the same as a focus group because we can choose to ignore it once the door is slammed in our face. “It’s just an unrepresentative road, isn’t it?”, we say.
By the very nature of being an exclusive club of less than 1% of the population, and choosing to be so, we will be talking to ourselves. It is social media as real life.
That puts an enormous responsibility on our shoulders to look beyond our four walls and, importantly, to recognise we are within four walls. This rests on two dimensions: class, as I have written about often; and our realistic chances of winning.
Class because it is an undeniable fact that the membership has long been (fairly, pre and post-Corbyn) disproportionately AB. If we refuse to recognise that we are very detached from the people we claim to speak for, and we do not listen to those voices, or there is no strengthening of instruments for us to listen to people that are not us, we will –as I have said before– become the Green Party.
Our chances of winning because we need to look outward and recognise we are an exclusive club and our fervor for the leader and the sizeable rallies we can muster are not a suitable indicator of public mood. That refusing to recognise the evidence that the rest of the country outside of our club rather loathes us right now, we yield that responsibility in favour of self-indulgence.
This is about that very thing: recognition. Recognition of our exclusivity and our largely disproportionate membership when it comes to voter groups in any way you measure it: by values or class or geography.
Personally, because I do not feel we are recognising that; often times that we are refusing to recognise who we are and how different we are to the rest of the country. I know that when I offer polling data, it is often times point-blank refused. When I plead for my anxieties to be recognised as legitimate rather than malicious, peers online opt for the latter.
I can’t do this anymore. I keep hearing people on council estates and in low-income households say they cannot vote for us. After years of being loyal to the party. It breaks my heart. And yet it doesn’t feel like it’s breaking the hearts of anyone else. We, the members, the devotees, are effectively erasing these people.
Thus, gifting more and more power -as the PLP-less leadership are doing, and will do should they win again- to members is increasingly irresponsible, at least without certain considerations. That’s a pretty controversial thing to say. But by arguing now for such things as deselection , regardless of whether you agree with it or not, the leadership are effectively prioritising the membership over its increasingly disaffected and abandoned voters. By using members’ protests and lobbying of staff to pressure MPs who would have heard negative feedback on the doorstep, we are prioritising the members over constituents.
I can’t really change that. In any other context empowerment of members would only be a good thing. Neutrally, it must be recognised as such. It thus means we have to make sure an empowered membership is also a responsible, aware one. Power is on its way to you. So it falls on your shoulders, as you become more powerful: choose to use it by reaching out and self-reflecting, or condemn the party to death. In doing the latter, you will be condemning lives that are not yours to perpetual Tory rule.
It falls on the leadership to make sure its members know where we are at. To introduce new measures for ensuring ordinary voters are included in our consultations. Ask a Barrow resident what they think of Trident or ask pretty much anyone in the north what they think of Jeremy. Brief the membership, ensure we remain informed and understanding of just how dire our standing currently is. That, or not using Twitter accounts to suggest rallies are a sign of just how popular Jeremy is. This is, of course, against the interests of the leadership. But a leadership that wants to win will not poke fingers in its ears, and it shouldn’t want the membership to do so either.
This isn’t patronizing. I have been told by members, and as said s I have seen reflected from official accounts, that Jeremy is ‘really popular’ and his policies ‘resonate’. All evidence and all my experiences outside the party tell a rather different story. This is post-truth politics being embraced at every echelon of the party, but managed by a top-down trickle effect. We have to stop. We have to recognise the responsibility to fact check unconditional fanaticism where it rears its head. Otherwise we will become a stubborn, immovable cult.
It also falls to the leadership to either expand the membership beyond its usual remit (easier said than done given fewer people still want to vote for us, let alone join us), or ensure, simply, and this shouldn’t even need saying, that voters’ concerns are considered every bit or more legitimate than signed-up devotees. And that members know that in policy-making processes leading up to a manifesto or an election strategy.
But it ultimately comes down to the totemic force of the membership to make a choice to look beyond our own indulgences, the halls we fill, the retweets we seem to use as confirmation of popularity, and the selfies taken with the leader. To consider the question: just because Parliament Square was filled, do our people, our voters, stand alongside us?
The membership is more powerful than it has been for decades. It has a responsibility. It can either choose to listen to people that are not us and save the party for the people; or we can pretend the rest of the world isn’t happening. Opting for the former is the duty we owe to the people we champion. It is my duty as an activist.