Building an inclusive open left in a period of cultural chaos

We often characterise ourselves as the Party of equality and wear it as a badge of honour, and, when those from marginalised groups highlight discrepancies of process, lack of representation or ask simply that their voices be heard, they do so under a cultural belief that ‘we got this covered’ … but we don’t always have it ‘covered’, sometimes we don’t listen enough, sometimes we pursue policies that do not reach gold standard in the moveable quest to meet the needs of our diverse communities, and sometimes we just get it plain wrong.

Having a culture that is open and inclusive is about listening to those diverse voices, because our communities are in the best position to advise and guide us, as we work together to improve outcomes for all members in the Labour movement.

In our submission to the democracy review we focused our efforts on emphasising the need to build an open left within the party, one that challenges and works to remove cultural and societal barriers to enable full participation and equal representation for all our members. We view the shaping and moulding of culture within the Party as intrinsically bound to equalities and how we build that inclusive open left.  The only way to achieve that is by listening to the voices of our members who have experienced inequality both within the Party and in wider society.

Labour has a proud antiracist history and has long stood up for BAME communities but we feel that BAME Labour nationally should become more reflective of BAME people in CLPs and an organisational link should exist between these grassroots members and BAME Labour.  Members should be able to self-define as BAME (or any other liberation group) and the NEC BAME representative should be elected by an OMOV vote of BAME members to encourage the widest participatory democracy.

We welcome the recent mobilisation of disabled communities on social media and support the equal representation objectives of Project 125.  In terms of what is already evident, we feel that a national access and development fund and some allocated officer time within the Party is an immediate priority.

Why isn’t there a political forum for members with disabilities, many of whom have been singled out and targeted by Tory austerity policies, so they can give us a steer in developing policy on how to ensure fairness and dignity for all those affected?

We, of course, have some amazing examples and a proud tradition worth reflecting on, a tradition that leads the UK on LGBT issues, from the beginning of decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 to the equalisation of the Age of Consent in 2000 and the introduction of Civil Partnerships 2004, which were vital in paving the way for Equal Marriage.

We in Open Labour are resolute in fighting to ensure that the rights of LGBT people are protected and not eroded by any government, and to show solidarity with all LGBT people in being able to live, work and love in peace.

Labour is nothing if it is not an anti-racist party, we must continue to call out racism wherever we see it, including islamophobia in the Conservative Party and the endemic racism of the far right. We have our own issues to work through.  Why do a substantial number of Jewish people feel that we are no longer on their side?  Why are Jewish members – even those who consider themselves on the left of the Party – leaving as we moves leftwards? The antisemitism issues we have struggled with in recent times have been absolutely heartbreaking for so many of us to watch and the abuse faced by comrades, both online and in meetings, is an anathema to those who believe in an inclusive left.  Now that the NEC has accepted the IHRA definition and examples, we hope there will be a period of reflection followed by action to send a clear message to antisemitic racists that there is no place for them in our Party.

We thought great progress had been made on gender equality, but the level of misogyny and abuse directed at women has been startling in recent times and we, yet again, have to reiterate that fighting bigotry and discrimination against women and widening representation and involvement locally and nationally, via means such as Womens Conference, is essential.

Women party members should not just feel free to be involved and make their points, but actively empowered to be part of a vibrant and tolerant culture where debate is on equal terms, difference is respected and recognised, and sexual abuse is properly dealt with.

A new political culture of intolerance has emerged and been exacerbated by the proliferation of social media as a major route to and source of political discourse, and there are ongoing concerns about safeguarding vulnerable communities.

We need to be actively pursuing a Party culture focused less on conflict and more on resolution based debates with models such as collaborative policy making and active listening being the norm and not the exception.  We are partners, comrades, friends, all working towards the same objective, delivering the next Labour government and the culture must change if we are to make this happen.

As we enter the conference period, a priority for the Labour Party must be to ensure strong mechanisms are in place for tackling abusive and bullying behaviour in all areas.  We are Labour and we are the party of equality, but we must also acknowledge that we don’t always get it right: we are in need of urgent remedial action, starting with listening to liberation communities in shaping future strategy, both within the party and beyond, because their voices might well determine whether we are ready for government or not.

Join Open Labour at our equalities fringe event on Sunday, 23rd September at 6.30pm, at the Friends Meeting House. Free tickets [here]

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