So what have I taken away from conference? Well, quite a lot. Firstly I’ve felt a connection with people who share my political views (mostly) in a way that twitter or Facebook can’t provide. Secondly, I’ve got the message that there must be no more no-go areas for Labour. This applies just as much to Dartmouth in Devon, or Camborne in Cornwall as it does to Angus. Just because an area has always returned Tories, or Lib Dems (or I suppose nationalists) doesn’t mean to say it always will. And thirdly, we’ve got a lot to be proud of, and we need to say that just as much as we should apologise for the things we got wrong (although those mistakes tend to be by the leadership, rather than of the members or the party as a whole.
What I think we need to do, as this is something I discussed briefly in Liverpool is to work more with our colleagues across the region. Here in the north east of Scotland we are spread thinly, and by sharing more, and coming together more, we can boost our morale, even if we don’t achieve more – though I sincerely think that we will. For next year’s conference, for instance, I think the NE Scotland delegates should get together before hand. Invite the local trade union delegates, the elected members, MPs and MSPs – even those member visitors who are going. We can then discuss the issues facing us at conference, and how they relate to our situations, we can help those delegates who have not been to conference before with fitting in (the free delegate for every CLP from refounding Labour will boost attendance, I’m sure) and we can simply get to know one another, arrange to meet up, or exchange notes on the fringe events we will be attending. If someone wants to raise a topic, or even to address conference, their fellow delegates can provide advice and support.
But we also need to work day-in day-out with each other. We heard the story of Oxford East, who during the general election pulled in support from neighbouring constituencies to help achieve a deliver a Labour MP – which all the polling said we shouldn’t have done. They achieved more together than they did apart. And it wasn’t all one way. During this year’s local elections, the activists and supporters in Oxford went out into and helped deliver Labour councillors in areas which had never had Labour representation before. Although our scope is more limited (all areas of Scotland tend to have elections at the same time), this is a lesson we should take on board.
We also heard from CLPs that have improved their meetings, making them more interesting so that they have managed to attract and maintain more members than ever before. We should do the same – perhaps by moving to “business” meetings every other month (unless there’s something urgent) and having a less formal meeting in between. Perhaps a visiting speaker or a policy discussion. We should aim to have more social events too – they can also be a source of funds.
Although it has already been decided to use contact creator, I think we need to embrace it fully, and even aim to be part of Project Game plan, where an average of 200 VoterID contacts a month can earn us £1000 worth of printing in the final quarter. That’s just 50 a week, and could be as little as 10 a week in each of 5 towns in Angus. Even if we don’t manage to achieve, the step change in our contact activity should produce results, in new members, registered supporters and hopefully votes.
For too long Angus has been, if not a no-go area, then certainly an area where Labour is not expected to do more than appear on the ballot, save its deposit and fly the flag. The journalist from the Press & Journal expressed surprise that I had more ambition for Angus Labour than that when I met him. I reminded him that as little as 40 years ago, the SNP had no councillors, no MPs or other elected representatives in Angus. Yet now there are few people who can remember the last time the SNP were not in charge of the council, and although Lord Fraser is regarded with affection by some for his time as a conservative MP, it feels a long time in the past. By working more effectively, and much closed to the community, we can achieve success. I’ve said before that there are parts of Angus which suffer from sever deprivation, not just in the towns, but in many of the rural areas as well. Brechin especially is hard hit and that was before the current recession. 40 years of the SNP seems to have done little for towns like Brechin, and its time they had someone who was on their side, and not obsessed with a constitutional issue which would have little practical effect on people’s day-to-day lives, other than to cause yet more upheaval and disruption. I look at places like Liverpool, transformed by a Labour Government, which although there is still plenty to do, is now thriving in a way it hasn’t for decades.
We must shout out our successes. Many of the best things to happen in this country have been brought about by a Labour Government. The Scottish parliament for one was delivered by a Labour Government, because that was what the Scottish people wanted. The new schools in Angus were delivered and signed off by a Labour Government in that same parliament. The massive investment in the NHS over the last 10 years was delivered by a Labour Government. The national minimum wage was created to help those at the bottom. All this and much more has made a difference to people’s lives across Scotland, but also in Angus.
This week we have talked about Refounding Labour. Now is the time we need to start work on Refounding Angus Labour too.