Rebuilding the labour movement

To really renew our movement, we need to remake it.

If we want people to vote for us, they have to be able to see our values in action. Speeches, slogans, rhetoric, aren’t enough, and too many others – the SNP, Respect, Greens, are trying to steal our heritage.

Our movement is already modernising. The affiliated supporter rule change is renewing our union link, and the Co-Operative Party is full of innovation and ideas following the recent AGM win.

We need to create new labour movement institutions to solve new problems.

There have been a number of new organisations in the Labour family over the past few years, from Progress to Class, and a scattering of socialist societies, but, with the exception of Movement for Change, they are more talk than action.

Stella Creasy’s campaign on legal loan sharks inspired us all. The community organising campaign groups, campaigning on issues from debt to community safety, built by Labour people, should be able to sign up online and get an automatic voice in to our policy making progress, with a say in the future of our party, not dependent on individual shadow ministers or short lived initiatives.

Winning political power is vital, but we are going to be out of Westminster for five years, and we are in opposition in Scotland and in parts of local government across the country too. I care too much about my country to be willing to just protest and campaign.

We have to devolve to Scotland and Wales, London and local government, but devolution cannot stop in town halls, assemblies and parliaments – it needs to go beyond to a vibrant civil society. We need to build the organisations that are needed, with the people that need them, and we need to keep them as part of our movement, so they have a say in our decisions, from policy to leadership.

In Tower Hamlets, where I live, huge numbers of graduates, who worked hard, got good exam results, play by the rules, remain unemployed. Why not put the weight of the Labour Party behind my MP Rushanara Ali’s idea of a million mentors for young people, drawn from the ranks of our members and activists? The best answer I’ve heard to the question of why young people should bother voting – if we support them, we might be heard when we ask for their support in return.

The energy price freeze was a regulatory answer to an important question of spiralling fuel bills.   Caroline Flint’s work on collective switching energy providers was great – can it be built on, as a collective solution to uncertainty in household bills, sharing risk?

Yes we have to be experts in winning political power, and continue to modernise with the best possible targeting, canvassing and communications techniques. But our election winning infrastructure will continue to atrophy if we do not prove to the people we rely on to donate to us, canvass, deliver leaflets, that we have a purpose beyond running state machinery that is itself not fit for contemporary challenges.

The labour movement will represent you in you are in trouble at work, the labour movement will get you a loan with fair repayment terms, the labour movement will run shops, funeral homes, banks, that have people not profit at their core, and we should shout about that more. And we must build the new organisational solutions to the needs of the people of this country, not wait for Whitehall to do it.

Devolving power and fighting for equality

Devolving power to local government, to self defined groups of people and to individuals does not disempower local government. We need a bold manifesto that demonstrates that we trust the British people if we are to win the election, and we need to understand that changing how power works is the only way to make lasting progress on fighting inequality.

Equalities campaigners, feminists and anti racists have always understood this. If you want to deal with inequality, you need to give the power to make change to the people at the sharp end.

This is not an approach that will mean the dismantling of the whole of the public sector as we know it. The interim report of Labour’s Local Government Innovation Taskforce recognises the difference between transactional services that deal with volumes of similar cases and cases of multiple and complex needs, where a more relational approach is needed. The work programme is the well used example of a standardised set of national contracts that has failed in tackling complex barriers to work. Children’s centres are an example of a national programme, with national funding and objectives, where the children’s centres in Tower Hamlets with the best outcomes are the ones where parent and the local voluntary sector had the greatest involvement.

In his article yesterday Luke called on us not to spend another period in divisive debate about public sector reform. No doubt Ed Miliband will do all he can to listen and bring people with him, but no change is not an option. A future Labour government will not be able to stop or reverse all of the cuts we are now facing. Either we slice away at social care, the NHS, police services until they collapse, or we do things differently. Demographic change means that what we need from social care and the NHS is different – more older people, mainly baby boomers with high expectations of quality of life and autonomy.

It is not just that change is needed because the world around us is transforming –change is needed because what we have now is often not good enough. As Alison McGovern has set out, too often people lose dignity, rather than gaining it, when they encounter the state. If simple, transactional services are all you need – a standard operation, the ability to renew your parking permit – coming to meetings may seem like a waste of time. If you are long term unemployed, have complex health conditions, are the parent of a child with significant educational needs, live in poor quality, overcrowded social housing, you will already spend a lot of your time in contact with various parts of the national and local state, and the way you are treated will leave with less and less dignity and power over your own future. There are many examples of voluntary sector organisations that start from a belief in the agency of people and communities to transform – our task is to entrench this approach in core service delivery.

The way services work can entrench existing social inequalities.

Whilst the centralised welfare state was essential to the progress women have made since 1945, the way it functions reinforces gendered family roles. Localised, plural service provision driven by those using it could change that.

Back to work support run by and for users, including women, could see skills training routinely run with childcare on site, or social services that integrate respect for the voice and contribution of carers of vulnerable or disabled people with support for carers to work.

I loved my pledge cards, but a 1997 election “retail offer” is not enough to tackle the challenges we are facing, or to cut through the lack of trust people have in politics. We can and must do better.

My Christmas reading

I’m about a year behind in my reading – I had a busy 2013 and am now getting round to reading some of the books I bought at the end of 2012.

This book has some compelling arguments for associative democracy as a means of democratising the economy and creating a more responsive welfare system.  I know that the way you do politics determines the change you can make, and, whilst this book leaves plenty of questions unanswered, it makes a strong case for services and businesses governed in a way that puts the people they are supposed to serve in charge.

Everything I have learnt in my decade in Tower Hamlets has taught me that power and resources need to be in the hands of people seeking to build their own future.

There are plenty of examples locally of people and organisations that changed the world for the better from the ground up.

Matchgirls, dockers, Labour leaders, suffragettes– their ghosts everywhere.

In Tower Hamlets, local government is never boring, and at its best it can achieve so much.

I ran a seminar on the East London Federation of Suffragettes last year,  and this year I’ll edit and publish my account of how east end women united to fight for the vote and for their families and communities before the 100th anniversary of the creation of the federation this summer.

This account  of how local elected politicians, council officers, parents, young people and school governors, backed by national government, transformed education in Tower Hamlets, is fascinating – I hope I can talk to enough people to give a locally rooted version of it.

The battle of Cable  street is well known, the story of fight against the National Front and BNP in east London in the later part of the 20th century has not been fully written.  How can we change that?

There are a number of organizations in Tower Hamlets that hold enormous expertise on how to support individuals and families to change their lives.  I won’t name them without their permission, but I hope to write up some of what I have learnt from them.

On this blog I will try to write as I learn, and I hope that if you’ve read this far you will be interested enough to comment, tell me where I’ve got it wrong, tell me what I should read and who I should talk to.  A huge number of extraordinary people have already made their contribution to creating a united east end.  It is for us to build our shared future.

Thank you – Forward

Huge thanks to all my friends and supporters for all the hard work over the past few weeks and months, and for the kind words since Saturday.

The result of the selection has been widely reported:

Round 1: Rachael Saunders 261, John Biggs 257, Helal Abbas 207, Sirajul Islam 26.

Round 2, after Abbas and Siraj eliminated and second preference votes redistributed): John Biggs 328, Rachael 319.

John Biggs was therefore selected as our mayoral candidate, and we will all now unite behind him to win back Tower Hamlets council for Labour in 2014.

I stood in this selection because I felt so strongly about what we need to do win for Labour in 2014 and move Tower Hamlets forward.  Now this stage is over I will do all I can to contribute to a Labour win, and will continue to fight for a politics that is open and transparent, that values the different contributions that people have to make to this great, diverse borough.

I hope to continue to serve as a councillor and to work as a part of a Labour team to bring hope to Tower Hamlets, through jobs, decent housing, cohesive neighbourhoods and strong public services.

A fourth Labour leader, Dennis Twomey, backs Rachael

Six Labour people have led Tower Hamlets council since we won back power in 1994.  Two of them are standing in this selection.  The other four are all backing me. 

Today I am able to announce the endorsement of Dennis Twomey.  His statement is below:

“I’m backing Rachael because I think she is far and away the best candidate, and because although I don’t support having Mayors, if we’re going to have one I want one who is going to be open and transparent and who will bring new thinking to the problems of Tower Hamlets”.  

The statements of Denise Jones, Michael Keith and Julia Mainwaring, the other three past council leaders backing me, are here: