THE BLOG
15/05/2018 14:57 BST | Updated 15/05/2018 14:57 BST

Labour Doesn’t Have A Leadership Problem - It Has A Membership Problem

For the party’s huge membership to continue being a help rather than a hindrance, the party has to appeal to each corner of the broadest of tents

Darren Staples / Reuters

If the Labour Party was a business, it would have gone from having 190,000 employees to more than 500,000 in just a decade. That’s some serious scaling and any CEO who had overseen such levels of growth would be lauded (and heftily remunerated). But they would also be acutely aware of the new difficulties they faced navigating such a vast machine.

I see many similarities between what has happened to the explosion of Labour Party membership under Jeremy Corbyn to the challenges faced by any business that grows rapidly. My approach as a CEO is drastically different today to what it was on day one of my business, when there were only two or three clients and no employees. The same applies to political parties. Or at least it should.

Size brings complexity. Any leader, whether they be a CEO or head of a political party, has to balance competing objectives amongst colleagues, forecast with less certainty, and make sure no one loses sight of the overall goal. 

In particular, the new influx of new Labour Party members under Jeremy’s leadership has seen the Labour Party become more diverse and multifaceted than ever before. Managing the expectations and priorities of 500,000 people with disparate views would be a daunting task for anyone, whether in business or politics. 

For the Labour Party’s huge membership to continue being a help rather than a hindrance, the party has to appeal to each corner of the broadest of tents. With the dust now settled on the recent local elections, the appetite for Corbyn’s policies was evident throughout the country, but there was some concern on the doorstep about the wider health of the party. Jeremy Corbyn’s key challenge perhaps doesn’t lie with the electorate, but his own membership.

Jeremy and his team will no doubt be wanting to keep the party faithful singing in unity, ready and primed for the next General Election, whenever that may be. There are a number of ways they can do that. 

In particular, they must face up to the complexities presented before them. Structure must be put in place to ensure the membership serves its purposes and doesn’t become unwieldy and dysfunctional. Momentum’s campaign days were clearly successful and they have been the galvanising force at the grassroots, but we need to see greater synergy between Labour HQ and the local teams if they are to target swing seats more effectively and create the kind of information and skills exchange needed to power a successful national campaign once more. 

In addition, the party leadership needs to assess how they can translate the interests and priorities of the membership to the wider voting public. Earnest left-wingers shipped in from Islington talking about intersectional feminism and the linear redistribution of wealth are unlikely to have cut through on the doorsteps in Hull. It’s vitally important that Labour’s leadership stick to the core messages of equality and fairness that strike a chord with the general public and ensure this is translated and championed at all levels. After all, they are tenets that all card-carrying members are likely to feel passionately about. 

If Labour can eke out every inch of potential from its huge membership under Jeremy Corbyn, it puts itself in an enviable position going into the next General Election. Finally after years of debate within the party, it’s no longer the leadership which is seen as most likely to be the cause of its demise. Instead, how they harness and coordinate their committed but wide-ranging membership could prove the variable between Government or a lifetime spent waiting in the wings. 

Kevin Craig is a businessperson, philanthropist and political campaigner. He is one of the largest personal donors to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and was first elected a Lambeth Labour councillor in 2006