The Effective Activist: Part 1
You are not alone!
There are comrades now deceased who suffered more, risked more, and worked harder for socialism than you ever will. You stand on their shoulders.
There are comrades not yet born who will take up the banner when you begin to falter. Remember to let go gracefully and gratefully and before you think the youngsters are ready. There is nothing sadder than newish activists having to mount a coup against the octogenarian control freak that you have become.
Your task as an activist is to work with the comrades and with the potential comrades who are here today. And in time to train up the new generation of activists.
Essentially the activist is analytical and clinical rather than being tied into the current political rows within the party. The activist looks around, notes what is being done well, what is being done poorly, and what is not being done at all. The activist decides which strategically is the most important problem and addresses that. Working within any political party is a continuous effort to improve the quality and capacity of the organisation.
Effective activists neither need nor seek office, but quite often find office thrust upon them.
Note the huge difference between the activist and the careerist or ladder climber.
I once saw the CV for a potential Labour MP. He was simultaneously on the National Executive of Amnesty International, the Fabian Society, Liberty, another worthy national organisation, and on the Constituency Executive of his CLP as Political Education Officer. How on earth could he be doing good work in all these roles whilst also holding down a full time job and being active in the Labour Party? I am happy to report that he never became a Member of Parliament.
There is nothing wrong with having ambition. I had ambition once. It did not happen. So be it. Here I am past retirement age and still plugging on. If it becomes obvious that your only ambition is to climb the greasy pole many people will simply despise you.
Many people in the Labour Party have absolutely no wish to stand for political office. Many people do not wish to be a delegate to anything. They do not wish to be branch officers. Some do not even speak at meetings!
In some cases it is lack of confidence. Often it is that they have a full life of which the Labour Party is only one aspect. They are stretched for time and they really can’t take anything on except perhaps distributing leaflets every so often or helping on Election Day.
The Labour movement was not built on meek women and mild men. Some comrades are less than perfect human beings. So are you and I. Over 40+ years of membership I have bitten my tongue countless times. I still have my tongue and my comrades remained active. Some improved with experience and tactful help.
Concentrate always on building and uniting rather than on controlling. Were you to be struck by lightning today is the party organisation better than when you first came to the party? That is the yardstick by which you must judge yourself.
Holding elected office is not the correct yardstick. If you happen to live in a good area for Labour these opportunities come up over time. Winning and holding a never-Labour seat for Labour as I did is rare but I assure you it is immensely satisfying.
Holding office in the Labour Party comes to the effective activist. You do not have to seek it.
People recognise your capabilities and they ask you to take offices on. I was shanghaied in one constituency to be CLP Chair and in another to be CLP Secretary when I had no thoughts of seeking either post. I stood for CLP Treasurer and Fundraiser when it was clear at the meeting that no-one would take these jobs on. Then because I was doing well in the jobs the parliamentary candidate asked me to be her Parliamentary Agent.
An activist is not a political eunuch. But most of the rows going on are simply not relevant to the nuts and bolts issues that you as an activist are interested in.
If your need is to build the party’s capacity to deliver leaflets then you need a broad church in which everyone feels welcome and valued. This should inhibit you from becoming identified with a faction or a clique.
One right wing comrade had difficulty understanding why I bought him a brandy every time I saw him in the Labour Club bar. He did not like me or agree with me politically. Eventually he confronted me and he asked me why I was doing this.
“The first half dozen times I saw you, you were under a street light in the pouring rain leading a canvass team."
“I respect you as a comrade.”
He was mollified.
If you say somewhere “Comrade X is a Right Wing Tory lover who should be expelled from the party” that will get back to Comrade X.
Comrade X will decide that his knee will no longer allow him to leaflet Long Hill Lane. You will find out the hard way that insulting a comrade has negative effects on the party as a whole and on you personally.
Until you make up with Comrade X you will be leafleting Long Hill Lane yourself. You will learn why the road is called Long Hill Lane! It serves you right. When most of us in the party are trying to build unity you drove a useful comrade out. Shame on you!
My credentials: I have worked for Labour in every General Election since 1966. I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1972. In 1986 I increased the Labour vote in Heaton ward Bradford by 80% to take the third safest Tory ward in Bradford Metropolitan District for Labour. In 1990 I increased my vote 47% to record the highest ever vote for any candidate in the ward. In 1991 we got a second Labour councillor elected in Heaton.
At different times I have served as Constituency Labour Party (CLP) Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Fundraiser, Youth Officer, Parliamentary Agent, branch chair and secretary, and council election agent.
I have been bingo caller, bouncer, canvasser, committee room leader, council election agent, count representative, delegate, leaflet writer, leafletter, lottery promoter, newsletter writer, number taker, paper candidate, speaker, and voter registration canvasser.
Outside the Labour Party I organised my first demonstration at the age of 17. I was involved in student unions. I was at Grunwick. I was part of JCAD the Joint Campaign Against Deportations. I taught at the Croxteth School occupation. I was involved in the Honeyford issue. I went on demonstrations with the Bradford Asian Youth Movement. I collected for the miners. I helped in the Thornton View Hospital occupation. I was elected to the Council of the Law Society. I ran an immigration and political asylum solicitor practice. I taught Law and was a member of UCU.
My web site is www.charlesjames.uk .