Entering Open Labour

This weekend I attended my first meeting of Open Labour. Recently described both effectionally and mockingly as the “non factional faction” and shot to fame (or at least what passes for fame in the world of internal labour factional (or non factional factional) politics after the hugely successful leadership hustings the week before.

I had been a member of Open Labour since December, part of my own search for a way to move on from the defeat, that still hurts despite a feeling of inevitability (what a wonderful thing hindsight is!).

This non factional faction fiction is a fun one, it is false however. Open Labour definitely has at its heart a set of values, beliefs and practices. The difference with this faction is their (or now I should and will say our) beliefs are ones of acceptance, listening, democracy and transparency. The leadership hustings and members ballot are a great case in point,

The hustings involved every candidate, was streamed live and available to all for free, uninterrupted, the chair was an invited guest, and the whole thing was organised by volunteers as, so far, Open Labour employs no one.

The all members ballot is another triumph of the core beliefs and principles of Open Labour. Every member who joined up until a few hours before the close of the ballot was invited to vote, of which 80% did, there was no recommendation from the Open Labour of who one should vote for and indeed before this ballot took place all members were first balloted asking whether or not we should even hold a ballot (though a ballot on holding this ballot was missing but perhaps things must begin somewhere). The executive had made promises before the ballot to publicise the rankings from the vote (using STV of course) which they did and, following a short delay they also published the rounds of transfers that occurred. This commitment to democracy and transparency and genuine listening is not just for show. It sits at the heart of what Open Labour stand for and it is through this that, I believe, we can begin our long walk back to government.

If Open Labour can achieve an all member ballot without any paid staff and publish the rankings I see no reason that our friends in the other other factions and indeed in the unions (whose endorsements are, arguably, far more important as they carry constitutional weight) cannot do the same, I’m sure the Open Labour team would happily help them achieve this.

Both within and without our party we need to do a lot more listening.

Firstly, and this seems pertinent as we are currently in the middle of our – what feels like an exceedingly long – leadership election, to one another within the party. It seems a little trite to say but the Labour Party is, always has been and always will be, a broad church where ideas can be drawn from different traditions in the name of social and economic justice. The Open Labour I saw this weekend is ready and willing to listen to all  and encourage others to do the same as through listening and not shouting down ideas that don’t fit within a prescribed belief can we move forward together as a party.

Secondly, and far more importantly, we need to do far more listening to those who are not in the labour party. Sometimes it feels that this fact may surprise some but most of the population of the UK are not labour party members and, worse still most haven’t been voting for us recently. Both Oliva Blake (MP, Sheffield Hallam) and Alex Sobel (MP, Leeds North West) made the point that their successful election campaigns in 2019 (bucking national trends) were down to a very deliberate tactic or really listening to their constituents and ensuring that their volunteers did the same. They listened to their concerns about local and national politics and had real conversations with people on the doorstep. They built relationships rather than hitting contact targets.

If we can build relationships both inside and outside the labour party perhaps we can keep our time in the cold to a minimum.

The meeting I attended was the AGM of the West Yorkshire branch of Open Labour which I have been adopted into until we can build something here in North Yorkshire. There are branches, growing organically across the country, in Wales and Scotland run by volunteers committed to the values that bind Open Labour together; openness, transparency, democracy and listening, social and economic justice and getting a labour government.

Perhaps there is one thing Open Labour can pick up from the more factional factions in the Labour Party and that is the benefit of a or some paid staff. If Open Labour is to spread its creed far and wide in the Labour movement it needs a level of professional support that busy volunteers cannot always provide so long as that professionalism is there to support the members not manage them and Open Labour sticks, always, to its core principles.

I left the meeting with a “I voted for chaos with Ed Milliband” Tshirt and a commitment to work to make the labour party and the country a better place.

We must be our values in all we do, openness, democracy, transparency and a commitment to genuinely listen must be our creed a better Labour Party and a democatic socialist Britain our goal.

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