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Reclaiming our Labour party – from the bottom up

red labourJAMES WEST reports from the inaugural meeting of the Derby Red Labour group

Recently, a few members of my local Labour party in Derby met up to discuss how we can make Labour more representative of our class, and of our communities. The meeting took place under the banner of “Red Labour” – an informal network of Labour Party activists which started out as a single page on Facebook.

We need to work to make our party stronger and more relevant to the people who so sorely need a Labour government to bring real change and better life outcomes for them and their families. Our local group, Derby Red Labour, has this as a mission statement of sorts: “Red Labour is about working to build the Labour Party we deserve – socialist in nature, and more representative of the working class and of the communities in which it’s rooted. It’s about coming together to help build a more vibrant and active party, more effective, democratic and relevant.”

Easier said than done of course, but useful terms of reference when working to reform and reposition a party which can sometimes seem to act with indifference to – if not acquiescence with! – the government’s austerity agenda. We are fortunate in Derby. We’ve got two active and effective Labour MPs, two busy CLPs and a city party organisation which campaigns and fights year-round.

We can always do better – and certainly, we should – but we’re at a better starting-point than many. Points made at the meeting will of course be most relevant to Derby – but I think they’ll be useful for other groups across the country. We talk of how Labour doesn’t represent its members, don’t we; of how its policies are not reflective of its members; and their collective outlook?

But the Labour party is our party. It shouldn’t be something which happens to us, a one-way transmit – as members who want to make a difference, we need to be the Labour party. We agreed that where there are vacant positions – and branches will have vacant positions – members should take on the responsibility of filling these positions and playing active roles in the party where possible. There is a real opportunity to take on roles and work within them to make a more responsive and representative Labour party – from CLP chair to ad-hoc branch functional officer – and it’s an opportunity which should not be missed.

Often as a socialist within the Labour party – often even just as active members – one can feel isolated. We do our best and keep the flame burning, and we keep in touch with our own networks and circles locally – but outside this it can be fairly lonely and dispiriting. Especially when emails from central office seem to consist largely of communiques featuring a grinning Rachel Reeves or Tristram Hunt and their “proposals” for the next government.

It’s often the case that we do not communicate enough with other members, sharing tactics and ideas and supporting each others. We certainly do not act as decisively and assertively as we might when putting our socialist case forward, and rebutting the proposals of the Tories and other parties who oppose us. This is not good enough; we’ve ample channels of communication, including social media, open to us to enable us to effectively communicate, co-ordinate, and set out our stall. We need to use these.

There are some real obstacles to overcome if we’re to achieve the goal of more working-class representation. As a party we talk frequently about this – but what do we actually do about it? Almost certainly not enough. Middle-class candidates often have clear advantages – financial means, confidence, education, contacts, just to name a few – over working-class candidates. Everyone will have experienced or heard about selection processes where slicker, better-organised and better-financed (though not necessarily objectively “better”), middle-class candidates have cruised to an easy win.

This isn’t necessarily a “stitch-up”; it’s just the likely outcome of any process in which these advantages are at play. We need to level the playing field and support and develop working-class members who wish to stand as candidates – not just tokenistically, but as credible, serious contenders, who can win selections and then elections. This may mean working more closely with the trade union movement and together actively supporting candidates on a more frequent basis, it may mean identifying likely candidates and explicitly working towards this end, to intensively develop, educate and make them stronger; whichever way though, this is imperative if we’re to build a party which is more representative of its members and its supporters.

Following on from the need to help develop and build good candidates, everyone in the group agreed that there’s a crucial need for the party to play a role in development and education. Most of us were aware of organisations like the WEA and Ruskin College, and a couple of us had attended training events with our unions – but these apart, there’s very clearly a large gap within which no education is offered. Certainly, such political education as exists within the party at the moment, for example, is often uneven and woefully sporadic.

To make a coherent, compelling case for socialism as a party, we need to vastly improve political education within the party and build members’ understanding. There’s a wider imperative also, though; our movement has traditionally played a strong role in helping working-class people attain a level of educational development in a broader sense than just the political; how can we work as a movement and within our party to educate our class and help people fulfil their potential as human beings?

Another important point made was the party’s need to work in – and serve! – our communities as an organisation. We must look to (re)build a Labour Party rooted in local working-class communities, to develop a sense of permanence and an ethos of mutual solidarity. In some areas this is already happening, and we see strong local parties which are a part of the community.

Where it’s not, and the Labour Party is just something which turns up mid-April, touting for the vote, we’re not only risking electoral defeat – particularly in the face of the far right, who fully understand the importance of organising in the community – we’re also fundamentally letting people down. These are our communities, this is our class – if our party is not woven into this, and does not play its part in this, it will be rendered irrelevant in our communities and both party and community will lose out.

The five points we came away with, then, were:

  • Get active in the party
  • Communicate more
  • Support working-class candidates
  • Educate ourselves and each other
  • Work in our communities

We need to rebuild a Labour Party which is not only fit for purpose, but seen to be fit for purpose. The discussion on the night suggests that this should be a distinctively and unmistakeably socialist organisation, which will avowedly campaign and fight for working-class people. The challenge now is to keep thinking and discussing, building alliances and developing ideas while working to put them into place within our local party.

Although the discussion on the night, and the solutions which were proposed, were largely – and rightly – rooted in the context of the Labour Party in Derby, there’s an element of universality to them. Other branches, CLPs and party groups will almost certainly have many of the same local issues – I really hope that more members will form Red Labour groups and look to get more active, organise and make a difference within the party.

The party’s not lurched to the right overnight; this took years of sustained planning and patient hard work by those who have an interest in tearing the Labour Party from its position as the party of the working class. Make no mistake – it’ll probably take just the same amount of time, planning and work to recover and return it. But what this shift of the party away from the left tells us is that if we do organise properly, put the effort in and work cleverly at it – then we’ve every chance of being similarly successful.

Red Labour can be found on Facebook here. Send the group a message if you’d like to put out an ad to see if there’s interest in your area.


  1. Mr jeffrey l davies says:

    but they were blue yellow brown not red ties this party is a joke to the working man blair done this damage taking labour to being little tories yes he did just that it could very well mean that the unionsstart another party up under a redbanner you see you got millionaires in charge whot do they now of hunger or starving for a job that paid money that didn’t one have to claim a benefit yet are we goimg to change this ugglysister back jeff3

  2. Robert says:

    I truly wish you the very best your going to have to fight the big political interest in labour, the Progress group for just one, then the money people within labour,

    good luck

  3. Robert says:

    Jeffrey I belong to the GMB have been for 44 years, the Unions will not ever start up a new union it would never take off these days.

    The best you can hope for is that Labour will lose the next election then they will bring in the big Progress guns and if they lose then and only then the party may look at where it’s going.

    1. Mr jeffrey l davies says:

      im sorry Robert I cant always put my words down hasi like but I meant that unions put forward a new labour party mps up for election other than labour they so far to the right im afraid they lost the plot I think otherwise more doom

  4. Will Tabatn says:

    Good luck , you will need it we’ve been ditched up by Tory Blair . I truly believe that until we the working classes ALL get out to vote and be more active we don’t stand a chance .
    The word Socialism has been made into a bad meaning through the right wing media and unfortunately people believe them.

  5. julie Lowe says:

    What seems to be missing here is ‘outing’ Progress people at the Ballot. It would help if Red Labour simply put Red Labour on their statement, photo, manifesto so that Members and supporters know who they are. In 2013 we saw Progress Members and supporters take so many positions and when I asked Members afterwards why they voted the way they did, non had heard of Progress or understood what it was ! The job is bigger than it seems but some straight talking would help. I don’t agree that we have time to do this. People are suffering and dying in this country and we need real change.

  6. John reid says:

    Julie, surely reading people’s Biogs, knowing what part of the country they’re from, who they previously backed for leader,what unions they’ve been in, how long they’re members of the party,rather than if they’re part of a so called wing, or have running mates.

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