Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Labour Party Branch Meeting

How many parties hold meetings amid a heady mixture of curry aromas and Careless Whisper? These were the conditions at the balti house Hanley West and Shelton Labour Party met in last night.

The format of Labour branch meetings are different to the Socialist Party meetings once laboriously detailed on this blog (examples
here and here). Whereas the SP's are led by a political discussion on one topic or another with business kept to a minimum, Labour branch is one hundred per cent business: politics is only really dealt with at the margins (they're also a monthly affair as well, which with a monthly CLP means the bulk of members have the opportunity of meeting formally only twice a month).

To give readers a flavour of what happened we discussed the intended pedestrianisation of the heart of Shelton (for outsiders, Shelton is Staffs Uni's student city) as part of the
University Quarter regeneration project. A number of local businesses are concerned it will cut off passing trade and add to the congestion of the two main roads that run parallel to it.

The agenda moved on to new members. Since the opening of the election period ten people have joined the branch, so we looked at how to get them involved. In the SP this was frequently the most frustrating aspect of our work. We always had a healthy number of contacts come through and they would be chased up, but more times than I would care to mention they failed to come to the branch to seal the membership deal (unsurprising really, for people new to politics turning up at a meeting full of people who know each other can be a daunting prospect). I recommended before the next branch we do a bit of door knocking - it will give us an opportunity to know where the new folk are coming from, why they've joined Labour, and introduce some of the branch's faces so turning up at a meeting won't be an entirely strange experience. Further to that the next meeting will immediately move on to a sociable curry at the conclusion of business.

Related to membership matters are the officers' elections at the upcoming meeting of Stoke Central CLP. Branch secretary Brother A made his pitch for the position he's interested in. I also gave a few rambling reasons why I'm running for the CLP's political education officer. The arguments outlined in
this post explaining why political education was essential for SP activists are just as valid for Labour party members. I made it clear I would not be using the position to lecture CLP members for half an hour every month on a hobby horse of my choice: I would use it to bring in outside speakers and encourage members to give their own talks in specially convened meetings. Provided they are sufficiently attractive they could act as recruitment and fundraising tools too.

We then heard a financial report, had a quick discussion about the Co-Op Party, and last of all heard new members have to join the party by September 8th to get a vote in the leadership contest.


Jim Jepps said...

Sounds extraordinarily like a Green Party meeting...

Phil said...

Do the Greens make any provision for members' political education?

Anonymous said...

How many people attended? What was the age and class profile?


Boffy said...

Phil ten NEW members - that's almost as many as some of the sectsd have as a national membership! The good thing about the LP structure I think is that the separation between Branch and CLP means that the ordinary working class people who join, usually enter at the Branch level where the main reasons many of them join - local often very local issues - are discussed and dealt with. That means "politics" can be discussed at the CLP, which tends to attract the politicos.

The main problem is that the LP as an electoralist, Parliamentarist Party, tends to see the means of resolving these community issues as being to hand it over to the Councillors to raise through official channels, or to the MP, or pass it up the Party chain of command. In fact, my perspective has always been that a "socialist" response is instead to try to mobilise and organise the particular "community" affected, to try to frame solutions around their own self-activity. The Councillor should act as little more than a shop steward on the shop floor, acting as a spokesperson for that community, and acting to provide practical assistance - including of course where necessary fighting within the Council Chamber. Its one of the reasons I am interested in the Co-op Party and movement, because that outlook is central.

Our role as Marxists is to facilitate such Co-operative, collective action, and to help those involved to draw out the political lessons, without ramming them down their throats.

Anonymous said...

dog shit politics nothings change in 30 years. I so wish I had not been expelled.

Boffy said...

Anonymous, how offensive to your petit-bourgeois mentality that ordinary workers have concerns about the things that affect their daily lives rather than wanting to engage in the kind of high-minded discussions of the student debating club you are no doubt so accustomed to.

Perhaps you should look for a different working class more to your liking. Oh that's right that's what sectarians continually believe exists somewhere out there anyway.

John Rogan said...

well, it's good that you're able to stand for CLP Politiical Officer rather than have a "Branch Committee" handing down a take it or leave it
An interesting article I found (re the "slate") was via the Weekly Worker - it was on an IMT (Socialist Appeal) opposition site-


Jim Jepps said...

Phil: sorry for delay getting back to you, forgot to tick the email if follow up comments box...

It's up to branches and regions. Most branches in London try to have talks, and events to supplement business meetings although I think this is generally sporadic and depends on individuals being enthused and making it happen.

Also conference (twice a year) has a good selection of training and members led fringes on top of this. Personally I think there's a large room for improvement but it is there, even if it's a bit of a postcode lottery.

Phil said...

Hi Jota, just as I was coy about attendance at SP meetings and membership figures, I will carry on this tradition in my new political home. What I will say is the branch is solidly working class, which is hardly surprising considering the nature of the ward. And every Labour meeting in the city I've attended so far has more women and BME folk than any SP gathering I've been involved with in Stoke.