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Arnie Graf’s campaigning vision: just another script?

Luciana Berger with Jake Morrison and Liverpool mayor Joe AndersonArnie Graf wants a “relational” Labour party. The former “mentor” to Barack Obama, hired by Ed Miliband to reinvigorate the Labour grassroots has made it clear that political campaigning should be about more than winning votes. Labour must place itself at the forefront of community campaigns across the country, if it is to keep the members in the tent.

Conrad Landin was right to argue before that this isn’t radical enough to reverse Blair’s hollowing out of the Labour party, especially when caked in such gobbledegook. Yet Arnie’s principle is the right one: that the party “had to stop treating members as drones rather than leaders”, as Rowenna Davies put it in an interview with the Chicago-based community organiser.

How ironic, then, that Arnie’s name is now being used by the party establishment to get grassroots members to toe the line. In the past few days it has emerged that Labour MP Luciana Berger placed Liverpool councillor and constituent Jake Morrison under significant pressure by email after he announced that he would not seek re-election in the 2015 local polls.

Morrison says that it goes back further. He stated that Berger is “privately-educated MP from London who has come to Liverpool to make my life a misery“.

We don’t yet know all the details – and doubtless there are other tensions and disagreements that are yet to emerge. Perhaps some never will. So I won’t pass judgment on the overall picture. But parts of Berger’s letter to Morrison demand attention, and concern, regardless:

…we have had a training session with Arnie Graf from which the Wavertree CLP Members’ ID scheme was launched, and we now have a very comprehensive agreed script and process… You have not visited the office to collect a copy of the script, which includes a list of all the forthcoming CLP events which we are inviting members to.

Scripts are hardly unusual Labour canvassing sessions. There’s certain information that must be extracted; certain questions that must be asked. Makes sense: then the party can sort out the information it has about potential voters, rather than simply accumulate a mass of qualititative data that it would take a budget the size of Progress’s to sort through.

But the seasoned and perceptive canvasser knows that the best way to get someone’s support – and voter ID – is to be natural. You might ask the questions in a different order. You might skip one of them out if it doesn’t seem appropriate. You might realise that the voter you’re talking to is tired and fed up, and not in the mood to divulge their voting intention. So you might just smile and pass over contact details.

Beyond all his jargon and blue-sky thinking, this must be what Arnie Graf is getting at. The public don’t want robots on auto-pilot when they see Labour members, any more than Labour members want that when they see their leaders.

A large number of Labour members don’t canvass at all – which is very worrying. But no doubt there’d be a good deal more willing to if they saw canvassing as an activity of conversation and persuasion, rather than the data collection it has too often become.

But it seems there’s only one way for certain MPs: stick to the script, and stick to my script. Morrison maintains he was out on the doorstep every single day of the long campaign running up to this year’s local elections. We don’t know how prescriptive this script was, but there’s no getting round a parachuted MP asserting control via a framework intended for grassroots empowerment.

Yes, all of this in the name of the grassroots motivator Arnie Graf, who wants to see Labour – from its leaders to its grassroots activists – thinking outside the box. He sees the party’s culture of taking orders from London as hugely problematic. (“Who is Bill Shankly anyway?” as someone once asked.) Will he comment, or is he too under strict orders to stick to the script?

6 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    Labour is the party of the hard working, not the what? welfare scroungers he’s already had a go at the sick and the disabled before.

    This of course will include all those young people who gave minds, arms, legs, eyes, for the Labour party wars.

    It also includes many people who have been unemployed because of Labour’s love affair with Thatchers Monetarism.

    Labour is now splitting the party into those with jobs and those without, those that fought wars and those that did not, a dangerous mixture for an election.. New labour is alive and well just that Miliband does not see it.

    We do not need people who looked after Obama what we need is simple a leader for the people all of the people, not some meaningless Middle class labour now thinks will win it.

    The problem for Labour the leadership has nothing to offer they are scared of being seen as New Labour or old Labour, then you have to explain to the people what you are what you stand for, not hope the Tories blow up they will not….

  2. Dr Eoin Clarke says:

    Good piece. Don’t know the details. I can say that young Jake Morrison has been an inspiration with regards to the OK Foundation. He inspired many of us with his determination, initiative and hard work. I have nothing but respect for the gentleman.

  3. Gary Elsby says:

    I can’t wait for the next Labour canvasser to doorstep me.

    I will ask of Labour’s spending plans for the future.

    I pray to God that the script is stuck to and the unfortunate canvasser informs me of Labour’s intentions to copy George Osborne’s spending plans for ‘credibility’ purposes.

  4. Rob says:

    I just watched Byrne talking about cuts to welfare setting a cap, he’s asked would you cut welfare benefits he says this is the key, will you cut it well this is the Key, what is the key…no reply

    Then he attacks private landlords well why do we have private landlords he then says because we have no social housing, who’s fault is that.

    Labour are really sinking

  5. Patrick Coates says:

    This goes to the heart of the matter, MPs are the problem, the CLP is the soveriegn body of the Labour Party.
    All MPs should be picked by the CLP, the rules state this, and ALL MEMBERS of the Party have agreed to this.
    Liverpool are in the Premier Division and mine is in the Ryman Premier Division, so what we all have the same aims and should stick to the rules.

  6. John says:

    Patrick, I kind of agree, but look at the rules in council election, where 1 in 3 candidates in a council ward has to be a woman, in an area where region doesn’t care less about us,it’s hard enough to get a dozen prospective council nominees who are prepared to put the work in, and if we had 3 males who were going to, and in the run up to the election also campaign, and one isn’t selected, then we might not win that council ward, if a woman who doesn’t put the work in, is selected by default,

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