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Bottom-Up Movements Will Transform Labour, And Prepare The Ground For A New Kind Of Electoral Victory

20/09/2017 16:38
Luis Davilla via Getty Images

Labour might be divided on whether or not the result of the general election was good enough, but one thing is undeniable: the party possesses an unparalleled strength when it embraces bottom-up movements.

During the election campaign, I went to Derby North and saw the ground game spearheaded by Momentum. The campaign was relentless and, at times, ruthless, with the effective use of social media. Campaigners had shown remarkable grit in finding ways to talk, listen, and learn. In the words of one organiser: "It helped us to understand and, more importantly, be understood in a toxic political climate." Scores of Momentum activists, campaigning in marginal constituencies, had also helped to drive support for Labour; they also shredded the "Corbyn Cannot Win" narrative. Who can make such claims now?

But above all else, the party offered a radical agenda that broke decisively with permanent austerity, and it inspired young people who had long been put off by mainstream politics. A key trend in the June election was the increased turnout -- the highest since 1997 -- among those elements of the public that were long ignored by the politicians.

This is about doing politics differently.

Corbyn energised voters because he told them an authentic, emotional story and offered them real change. One important lesson learned over the past two years is that Labour, as a mobilised mass movement, offers a space where the voiceless can have political agency. The grassroots campaign method proved that offering a radical alternative does not automatically translate to an electoral calamity. It is a blueprint for a renewed political platform that can deliver nationally.

However, elections aren't the only focus. This movement is about regaining trust, showing commitment, and embedding Labour values across this country. In the long run, attitude matters more than electoral math, and often, attitudes can shift. Activity of this sort is already happening. Inspired movements like Grime4Corbyn and The World Transformed are just a few examples of how Corbyn's leadership is revitalizing voters, but much of this work is done on a shoestring budget and with limited scope. The fallacy is that Labour cannot achieve anything with rallies. In reality, a transformative program can only be won by redefining our consciousness through direct involvement in politics.

As the Labour membership expands, it can take up a multitude of local causes that are vital to a new kind of electoral victory. Corbyn's Labour, with a surging membership and millions of pounds in its coffers, could flood hard-hit areas with new policy ideas, resources, and political events to address the plight of long-abandoned communities. It can also inject this new sense of political participation into the veins of the party's internal structure by democratizing. This means the Labour establishment should resist its bureaucratic tendencies and empower local members to have a say in policy discussions.

For too long, the party has failed to see the mass membership as an asset, which is unsurprising given the barrage of unfair smears and the exclusionary attitude they have faced from the outset. Hence, ahead of its annual conference, Labour must focus on this untapped source of potential as a springboard for building a core that can lay the groundwork for a new political settlement.

The emergence of a new kind of politics means that the task of engagement can be taken up, not by stale mechanics but by political talks with our friends, family, and neighbours. Volunteer groups and solidarity networks can be a space where the marginalised can counteract the social atomisation that Brexit threatens to inflict on our society. It would be a start in redirecting the spirit of this country and shifting the ground on which future elections are fought and won.

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