Twinning CLPs to foster party unity

At the age of 24, I’ve moved around a lot. By September, I’ll have lived in 6 different constituencies (Reading East, Maidenhead, Portsmouth South, Walsall North, Totnes and one TBC in Stoke-On-Trent). All very different areas, each with their own unique characteristics and issues.

An idea that has been touted by Labour Together (who are hosting an online workshop on the subject soon), which hasn’t had nearly enough attention and discussion is the idea of twinning CLPs. Ideally, this wouldn’t be about twinning with the nearest marginal, but looking beyond the confines of region and nation. Some argue there are local campaign forums for this reason, bringing various CLPs together – but sometimes that’s too homogenous. Zoom has quickly been integrated into daily life for many of us organising during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t continue utilising it when we go back to physical campaigning. If we have the tools, why not use them?

In an increasingly divided society, and a party that is as factional as ever, wouldn’t it be great to show that we have a lot more in common than that which divides us? That doesn’t mean we ignore our differences – they are what make us unique. But it does mean that we should learn about people from other areas and break out of the bubble we sometimes find ourselves in. As an Open Labour member, plurality and collaborative working is incredibly close to my heart but such values are often ignored when sectarianism comes to the fore.

I know from experience that superficially; Totnes might seem a very different place to Walsall North – the former has never been held by Labour; the latter is a Labour stronghold we lost in 2017. If you look closely at the concerns of the people who live there, you quickly realise the differences aren’t as profound they may seem. They share many of the same issues and concerns, good and bad – a strong sense of community, local pride, but equally, poverty, precarious work, and lack of infrastructure.

For many who have only ever lived in one area of the country, especially an area where Labour have never won and don’t look close to doing so any time soon, talk of a strong local Labour presence is far removed from their reality. Being a member of the Labour party isn’t a universal experience. Some people don’t know what it’s like to go door-knocking in a marginal or have 60+ people coming to a monthly CLP meeting – just as others can’t comprehend being part of a CLP where you don’t have a constituency office or regular visits from frontbenchers. It cuts both ways.

So, whilst I’m not claiming to have ironed out all the logistics, the premise is simple. Let’s twin CLPs from different parts of the UK together. Twinning Maidenhead with Macclesfield or Wigan with Wycombe could be a great opportunity for us to bring members together. In her leadership election campaign Lisa Nandy spoke about there not being just a “red wall” – a concept which may be entirely abstract and alienating to those in other areas – but a “red bridge” which reaches across the UK. After all, our heartlands aren’t just located in the North – the likes of West Ham are just as important to our party as Wolverhampton. They could hold joint events (on Zoom depending on geography), have networks for their members, appoint a CLP “ambassador” that handles liaisons between the two CLPs and maybe even host joint canvass sessions. The possibilities are literally endless.

It would be especially great for young members – Totnes has one of the oldest average ages of any constituency in the UK, so getting other young people onboard was an uphill battle. Had we been twinned with a CLP in a Uni town, for example, we could have learned best practice for engagement.

There’s much to work out in terms of how it would work, but it is definitely an idea that should be explored under Starmer. If we’re going to win hearts and minds across the UK, we need to understand what life is like beyond our own constituencies and draw from the lived experiences of others. We have a long 4 years ahead of us, and a party that feels like it is in constant battle. If we want unity, we need to be more creative – now feels like as good a time as any to pilot such a scheme.

Lauren Davison

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