Regular readers and those sad enough to follow the permutations of politics in the Potteries will know Labour in Stoke Central hasn't had an easy time of it in recent years. The CLP has been paralysed by a drawn out faction fight that was one part personal, one part political and the final part organisational (more here and here). This resulted in the administrative suspension of the entire party shortly after your humble scribe joined (pure coincidence, I assure you). When things seemed they couldn't get any worse, sitting MP Mark Fisher stepped down and in came new MP Tristram Hunt after a selection process that can euphemistically be described as "controversial". This was the final straw for many long-serving members, most of whom decamped shortly before the election.
So it was hard to say what tonight's AGM had in store for the members who turned up. There were many faces not present who were at the (unofficial) CLP meeting I had previously attended to give Mark Fisher his send off. But by the same token there were an equal number there tonight who were absent from that preceding meeting. Thankfully, it was business like and friendly. As it was an AGM concerned with the election of officers, politics, properly speaking, were not on the agenda: that was mostly confined to a few remarks by council leader Mohammed Pervez on the new four-way coalition running the city and bits of pieces from Tristram on his parliamentary experiences.
The votes themselves were all uncontested, apart from the chair's position. However one of the candidates was handicapped by his holidaying in Spain and lost out, which is just as well: it's hard to take over the running of a meeting in Stoke from the sun-drenched beaches of the Costa Brava.
Yours truly ran for the position of political education officer. I wrote a very short stump speech in case it was contested, which I reproduce here for those interested in such things:
Rebuilding Labour is more about recruiting members and winning back past supporters: it has to develop the talents we already have as well. Political education in the party has an important part to play in producing new activists, trade unionists, councillors and MPs.In the end there was no contest so my actual remarks were even briefer and they went down well (no one shouted "he's a Trot! Stop him!")
As political officer I will develop a programme of political education that will deepen our understanding of socialist, trade union and Labour values; learn from the considerable experience members of this CLP have; work with Tristram to bring well-known speakers to the city; and work to make accessible to members the sometimes complex and rarefied policy debates taking place in the council chamber, the think tanks and parliament.
What do I bring to this role? I'm passionate about education. I've been teaching at university level for almost eight years, I have recently been awarded a PhD, and I write regularly on political, social and cultural issues. If you allow me to become your political officer this evening I will bring all my skills and experience to the position.
The AGM took the decision to move from delegate-based meetings to all-members meetings: under the previous leadership this was a major bone of contention and was partly why the CLP was slapped with a suspension.
And that's all there was to it really. I think one member summed it up well when she said this was the first CLP meeting in 20 years which she would be leaving on a high. I get the impression this was more productive and convivial than what had gone before from a number of members. Long may it stay this way.