I read the best bit of Labour news I'd seen for months yesterday. Movement for Change lives on!!!
Movement for Change was a project set up by David Miliband during his bid to be leader and was the first real attempt I've seen in my lifetime to return grass-roots activism to the Labour Party.
It was easy to be cynical, but meetings were run by ordinary members and chaired by activists. Politicians might be allowed to speak, but it was a movement for the people. Rallies were energetic, electric even. There seemed to be an enormous untapped need for something that gave people the tools to bring politics back to their own communities. Something that empowered them, that said, "Hey, you do it. You don't need us." Something that helped them go into their own streets and ask what needed changing, then gave them the strategies to get results.
When David didn't win the leadership, there was confusion over the future of M4C, but whoever did win had agreed to address a rally immediately after their Manchester conference speech, and I'd been invited to as a M4C guest. The meeting went ahead, and soon the songs and passionate speeches and testimonials of ordinary activists from up and down the country raised spirits and optimism. About half way through Ed walked in and took a seat with the speakers.
The whole point of M4C is to get results. No flim-flam proposing and seconding motions that stay in a dusty draw. Oh no! M4Cers are trained in negotiating and direct action campaigning - and it's not leftie-softy negotiating either. Well, Ed gave a little speech, then went to sit down, but the speaker stopped him. He asked if Ed would commit there and then to M4C, and if he would meet them within 2 weeks to discuss the future. Seemingly a little bemused, Ed agreed and went to leave. As he swept away with his entourage, the speaker (a low paid worker with a disabled child) called
"Mr Miliband! Mr Miiiiliband! Would you wait please, I haven't finished with you."
Uncertainly, Ed and his entourage hovered by the door as the activist finished a powerful testimonial about his own Movement for Change in his own community. At the end, (visibly shaking but adrenaline pumping) he told Ed he could go. Now that's my kind of politics.
I set up this very blog as my response to M4C. I went to London for the training and spent a few weeks wondering how a sickie like me could best put it into practise. Well, I've written, I've ranted, I've encouraged the sick and disabled to move for change in their own ways. I've had the confidence to send my work to the great and the good and to believe that my opinions are as valid as those of any Labour shadow minister. That's what M4C did. That's what it does. In a few weeks, I hope my site along with other disabled bloggers and campaigners will be running a national campaign, based directly on what I learned through M4C, using all the negotiating skills it provides to get real results.
The Labour Party now asking itself where it went wrong, what lessons it needs to learn, could do worse than consider how it completely dislocated from its own members. Not only its members, but the communities Keir Hardy believed it needed to represent.
I still think there's a total misconception at the heart of the Labour leadership. They appear to believe that rumblings of discontent or howls of outrage come only from militant troublemakers straight out of the 70s. They don't. They come from ordinary members who give up hours, weeks, even months of their time as volunteers, only to be ignored and even insulted when it's time to develop policy or give a TV interview.
I've lost count of the disappointed members who've told me they contacted their MP, or wrote to a particular minister or came up with a great campaign idea, but never had so much as a reply. Ever. How arrogant is it to think you can expect people to work for you with no feedback, no encouragement and no respect? If I became disgusted about anything my own party did, it was this.
It's still happening. The campaign against DLA and ESA cuts is gaining momentum daily. On the internet, it now appears to be the main issue that people are reading about, caring about and discussing. Hundreds, maybe thousands of activists have spent months writing, emailing, tweeting, Facebooking and phoning Douglas Alexander (previously responsible for shadow DWP) and Ed Miliband. As far as I'm aware not one has had so much as an answer. "Taking time to listen and learn?" Not so much. To use a tired analogy, the disability cuts issue is now like a pressure cooker. If politicians don't act soon, the lid is about to blow off and the embarrassment of ignoring it could be fatal. Meanwhile Ed Miliband visits the offices of ATOS - the very company activists are disgusted with and praises their work!!!
"Listening" means you interact even when you don't like the subject or what you're being told. It means creating a party that represents its members views and not arrogantly assuming that those views are automatically inconsistent with the rest of the country.
If Movement for Change really does go ahead, if it gains the same momentum it gathered during the leadership campaign, if it is allowed to do exactly what it is supposed to - return the Labour Party to it's roots of championing local causes and empowering the voiceless - then it really could be the change Labour is grasping for. Thousands of dispossessed progressives could start to believe that Labour really will become the party of the people again. With 10,000 community leaders up and down the country, it has the power to change not just politics but every community in Britain.