Labour needs to change

Jordan Carter has pointed me to a letter written by a UK Labour Party member, Melanie Haslam, to her local party.

I feel her expereinces would be echoed in many parts of the New Zealand Labour Party (for what it’s worth, from the Tories I’ve spoken to about this, it sounds like their party has many of the same problems).

This coming Monday there are going to be a big announcement about Labour’s Review. We need to keep experiences like Melanie’s front and centre when we make our submissions and conduct the review.

To the Chair of, and all delegates to, Greenwich and Woolwich GC,

Tonight I attended your GC for the first time. I have been a member of the Labour Party for six years and have been a member of six different CLPs. In that time, I have never experienced such an unwelcoming meeting as I did tonight.

I have been a member of Greenwich and Woolwich CLP for nine months. I receive your newsletters and campaign bulletins, and find them informative and refreshing. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a meeting until tonight, as I study at college in the evenings.

Unfortunately, I do not think I will be returning and I am writing you this letter to outline the reasons why, in the hope that if new members attend your meetings in the future, they do not have the same experiences that I have.

At tonight’s meeting, I was one of only three young members in the room. Two of us had never been to a meeting before. Attendants at the meeting included elected representatives at all levels. Despite this, nobody welcomed us or introduced themselves.

Instead, I felt ostracised to the point of tears. I spent the first five minutes of the meeting trying to find a seat, because they had all been reserved. I ended up sitting in a corner.

I understand that tonight was your annual meeting to elect delegates to National Conference, and make nominations for national positions. Greenwich and Woolwich GC operates on a branch delegate system, which is something that I had hoped Refounding

Labour would change. Still, I expected that this would be the case. I did not need to be shouted at every time an election was held, that “if you’re not a delegate, you can’t vote!” or “only delegates can vote!”. This procedure was explained by the Chair at the beginning of the meeting, I did not need reminding. I saw that the only non-delegates in the room were the other two young people and I. At no point did I try and vote.

The Membership Secretary, in his report, noted that the CLP had seven new members that month. One of those could have quite easily been me. Throughout the meeting no procedures, acronyms or “inside jokes” were explained to me. If I hadn’t been a member for six years, the whole culture would feel alien to me. Unfortunately, it is all too common for young members across the country.

At the end of the meeting, you held a raffle. You asked a young member (who was not a delegate) to draw the raffle, as he was a “visitor”. I hope you understand that no member is a visitor in their own CLP. You then went on to give him a copy of John Prescott’s book, to educate him on “Old Labour”, which I found patronising at best. You then went on to invite the room to the pub. I assume this was for delegates only, as no explanation of which pub you were going to, or where it was, was made. I am not from the area. Nobody came up to me to ask me to go along.

I hope you will take my comments on tonight’s meeting on board. I did not write this letter to shame Greenwich and Woolwich CLP, but do I believe it is important that you understand how the actions of some can make new members feel. It was clear from the meeting that the CLP is an active campaigning force, but I’m afraid that in order to encourage members to get involved in your activities you must be welcoming to them when you first meet them.

I trust you will read my letter out at your next meeting. I have CCd in Iain McNichol (General Secretary) as I understand he will be attending your April meeting), Susan Nash (Chair of Young Labour) and Dean Carlin (National Youth Officer for the Labour Party).

Kind regards,

Melanie Haslam

2 thoughts on “Labour needs to change”

  1. Just read this blog post and made me think of my own experience. Interestingly, and perhaps refreshingly, this young UK Labor member’s experience is the exact opposite of the experience i’ve had with the local level Labour party in NZ.

    When i joined the Labour Party a few years ago Hamilton I received information about the upcoming AGM. I showed up and everyone introduced themselves. Next up was nominations, everyone looked as me as one of the only young (20 something) members in the room and suggested I go for this office or that office. If anything the party was too keen to get people my age involved at the LEC and regional level. Perhaps this is a unique experience from the regions, and not like Auckland or Wellington Labour? Id be interested in your views on that.

    Of course there were *other* issues, like a lack of interest from the community in the brand or in getting involved, a general lack of members and donations, or the fact that many active members, bless them, were old-school superannuitant socialists with hammer and sickle badges dangling from their lapels, but friendliness and involvement of new members was defiantly not the problem, which is one good point!

    1. I’m not sure if it’s an urban/regional thing – I’ve heard plenty of stories of people, including Grant Robertson, being encouraged and indeed elected to party office at their very first meeting.

      I’d hazard a guess and say it has more to do with the culture of the particular committee. If you are organisationally conservative then your natural instinct will be to bury new people under process etc.

      During the 2011 campaign I received more than one email from someone who tried to get involved in a neighbouring electorate and had essentially been turned away. That is so very wrong, and it’s the fastest way to kill a movement. That sort of culture has to go.

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