In this article, Calum Redhead reflects on his first few months in the Labour Party fold and looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Party from a new members perspective. Calum is a graduate of Newcastle University where he studied law. He now lives on the Wirral and is studying to become a solicitor. When he isn’t studying or engaging with the Party he likes to play the piano and travel.
I joined the Labour Party in May 2015.
I was actually a returning member. I briefly joined the Labour Party at school but cancelled my membership before going to university. After such a disappointing general election result I felt that it was time to get involved again.
I attended my first Labour event last year. I received an email inviting me to a ‘new members’ event in Merseyside. This gave me the opportunity to meet other members, attend my first Labour meeting and find out how I could get contribute.
The event was inclusive, welcoming and accessible. I met MPs and members of Young Labour. I left the evening feeling engaged and keen to do more. The event was one that the local Labour Party should be proud of – well organised, well attended and engaging.
Having had the opportunity to interact with Young Labour members at the meeting I attended some other local events. The YL members were warm, friendly and passionate. They were keen for new members to get involved and happy to help me navigate the internal systems and terminology of the party. It was inspiring to meet many young members who were so well informed and dedicated to their cause.
These meetings drove me to get more involved. I attended my first public protest at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. I began to read more about the Labour Party, its history and how it develops policy. The friendly welcome I received from the members I had met drove me to do as much as I could.
My overriding reflection for this piece is that the Labour Party has huge strength in the quality and commitment of its members – especially within its youth branch. Unfortunately, I have also had some less positive considerations as a new member.
The well publicised disputes at this year’s Young Labour Conference were disappointing. Anyone who followed the conference in the press, on Twitter or indeed here on LYON will have seen the issues. This wasn’t the first time that I had heard whisperings of internal party disputes at meetings and events, but the YL Conference was the clearest example to date.
I appreciate that as a new member I can only really consider these internal disputes as a relative outsider. I also agree that frank discussions should take place as to how the systems of democracy and inclusivity in the Labour Party can be improved.
Nevertheless, it was disappointing to feel that I had joined a Labour Party that was not united by its aims of making Britain fairer and more equal. Instead it was, at times, internally split. To hear of factional splits within the membership, instead of its collaborative efforts to achieve common goals was disheartening for a new member.
I have also found it difficult to find consistent and reliable information about the Labour Party and its member events. Information is spread thinly between local and national websites, various Facebook pages and events on social media. Indeed, a worrying number of links to Labour Party websites were either broken or empty. That said, the Young Labour information has generally been much easier to find and members are keen to help.
The Labour Party should be making use of new member’s keen to discover the party and contribute where we can. Of course its not the job of the party to force new member’s engagement, but at times its has been much harder than it should have been to find out details of a meeting, or the methods to vote for a delegate, or the structure of CLP and branch meetings – to name some personal examples.
As already mentioned, in my short time with the Labour Party, it seems that that the strength within the party comes from its membership. They have helped, welcomed and inspired me over the past few months. But whilst the people who make up the Labour Party are strong, the systems and internal disputes – at times – seem to weaken the party.
The Labour Party should continue to connect with (and make use of) new members who come to the party with fresh energy and a desire to help. I have no doubt that the members I have already encountered will continue to do this. But it is possible that the party will be damaged by more internal disputes and poor utilization of member’s skills. I see this as something which could diminish the valuable enthusiasm of new members and, in my opinion, this would be to the detriment of the party.