Here’s some fresh ideas for you…

Over the weekend EdM made a speech to the National Policy Forum that created some excitement.

There was some good stuff in there, I particularly liked the (admittedly non-committed) noises that there should never be a Labour election again where members cast multiple votes. I hope it does become a firm committment because my long-term membership of the party is 100% dependent on it.

During his speech, EdM stated that we’d enter a period of policy review lasting 2 years in which Labour and the public could get involved in shaping the party of the future, even voting in our leadership elections (possibly the worst idea I’ve ever heard).

At the same time he launched his #freshideas website, where people can register to get involved. The site includes a video from EdM talking about why he’s doing this, and allows punters to register their details.

The copy reads:

Everyone knows the country needs fresh ideas for the future. Fresh ideas for our communities, fresh ideas for making Britain the best place to be, and fresh ideas for how we do things in politics. Make your voice heard, sign up and share your fresh ideas.

And that’s it.

Firstly, it doesn’t set out a process of engagement. It doesn’t tell us whether there’ll be meetings, web forums, how our ideas will be discussed. It tells us nothing and I can only imagine that this is either because they don’t know, or because this is a fresh data capture exercise. Either way, reaction I have seen has been very poor indeed. It’s a fairly basic rule of consumer engagement that the consumer understands what they’re getting themselves into, this looks nothing more than a holding message and I think it’s pretty damaging. Saying we need to find new ideas is one thing, but you have to set out your strategy for finding them – without it there is a strong risk you’ll look rudderless and with some of the criticism that has been flying around I think this was massively ill-advised.

So my confidence isn’t exactly 100%, this is further compounded by he fact that, having signed up I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement. Guys, this is basic stuff and it’s not acceptable. If you don’t even acknowledge the sign up how on earth will people have confidence that their ideas will be listened to. You need to fix this right now, and I’m prepared to offer my help and advice to the party gratis to turn it around.

However, then there’s the bigger problem, the one that really worries me. This process is going to take 2 years. We’re not exactly putting up a strong opposition at the moment, during the leadership we had some heavyweights putting it into the Tories and our polling improved. EdB was particularly effective at fighting the Tory/Lib Dems on the economy which is still a major battleground. However, we can’t put up an opposition if we don’t put forward an alternative vision. On cuts, on fees, on nearly everything mostly we’re saying ‘the same, but a bit nicer and a bit slower’.

(Don’t even get me started on Housing Benefit – if Labour support city destroying cut in Housing Benefit then #stay will be opposing them as well.)

And now, as we look for a vision over 2 years the risk is we’re effectively resigning our duties as an opposition. It could make good strategic sense, wait for the Tories and Lib Dems to make a mess of things and flow with the public mood, identifying movements that gain traction and take our vision organically.

Unfortunately there are risks of this holding position. Firstly, if Labour aren’t fighting the government you can bet your arse there’ll opportunists who will. And when a society is suffering, as ours is going to, it’s always the extremists who benefit. Without an effective Labour opposition the likes of the BNP will be gleefully stepping in to fill the void. As Labour councils are forced to make cuts they don’t want to make, they can’t argue that these aren’t ‘their cuts’ if the PLP aren’t on the telly and in the newspapers putting forward an alternative. The extremists will benefit and other parties will benefit, the only people who won’t benefit are the poor who are being punished brutally.

The other risk of Labour waiting to see which movements emerge is this; why should they work with Labour? These movements are going to come alive without them, often in the face of Labour policy so there’s a serious risk that Labour will miss the boat.

What I’ve seen since the speech is not a buzz of excitement but a real sense of disappointment and frustration. What’s worse than someone not listening is someone telling you they’re listening but acting like they’re not.

So EdM if you want my fresh ideas come read this blog, I’ll be sharing thoughts on what 21st Century Labour should be and policy ideas. Or better, invite me for a cuppa or a pint and a chat. Engagement is a two-way street, and as a party Labour has to learn that it needs to engage its membership in ways that are relevant to them. Our members are skilled, passionate individuals but in a world of diminishing party memberships Labour better learn that member frustrations will turn into cancelled Direct Debits.

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Filed under Activists, Campaign, ConDems, Conservatives, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Election, FibDems, Labour, Lib Dems

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