This morning I saw that Ben Mitchell had left the Labour Party and wrote about the reasons over on SpeakersChair and the timing for me couldn’t have been more apt.
Last night I had trouble sleeping. I often have trouble sleeping as my sleep pattern is crazy but it my brain was going. My whole thought process towards being a local activist was in full blown thought mode. Unlike Ben, I have no issues with being a member of a political party but being an active member locally is something I struggle with and when you get essentially belittled then you wonder what the point of it all is.
Ben writes, “Some of the fierce tribalism on display would make a hardened football supporter blush. It’s amazing how many activists are unable to accept that others have different opinions to them”. Is he wrong? I don’t think he is. I have been active in local politics for a few years now and I see an insane amount of tribalism from all sides. I’m a Lib Dem solely because I have liberal ideology. This isn’t abnormal as more people have a liberal ideology than any other in the UK but not all these people vote Liberal Democrat, let alone are members or activists.
However I don’t sit here and say all Tories are bad, all Labour people are wrong, all independents are self-serving or anything like that. I can’t have blind loyalty and tribalism when it comes to politics because that would be closing off my mind to other points of view. Who grows by not listening to people of differing opinions and learning what what they think? Very few people indeed.
When it comes to local politics, I actually think the person makes a significant difference. When you are voting for an MP, the candidates of course matter but to a lesser degree than locally. When you are a councillor, you have important business but you will be more accountable to your constituents. If people have a problem with tax, or jobs, or immigration, or the NHS, or education then in general their MP will have little influence on these matters. However if you have a problem with flytipping, bins, potholes, care homes, flood defences, car parking charges, pavements and the like then your councillor will have a far bigger impact. They can get these things reported, debated etc. far easier.
This is why I think local politics isn’t just about the party (or non-party in the case of independents). It is about the people. When you vote, I think voters should put considerable weight into voting for the person they believe will best work hard for them. Not just vote blindly for a party. Tribalism is all well and good but I’m pretty sure most activists would state that their are either councillors or MPs within their own party that they question the true ideology of. Heck the amount of Lib Dems who don’t think Nick is liberal just because he went into coalition with the Tories is proof enough of that.
Ben’s summed up by saying, “Being a party activist is ultimately about going along to meetings (where little of worth will be said or achieved), door knocking and leafleting in all weathers, in the knowledge that the people around you all want the same thing: your party in power at all costs. My chastening time in local politics has naturally clouded my views, but even before then I failed at the first hurdle. I didn’t want the same thing as everybody else. Or at least not forever. And in politics that makes you an outsider”.
He really sells it doesn’t he? I’m glad I signed up for this. He says many good things in his article and after last night it hit home. In my situation, we have a by-election here next week and hopefully Chris Bailey will win West Leigh ward, not solely because he’s the Lib Dem candidate, but because having got to know Chris over the past few years, I firmly and genuinely believe he would be an excellent councillor, not only for the Lib Dems, but for the people of West Leigh and in turn the people of Southend-on-Sea as a whole.
Now I haven’t been out on the doorstep canvassing but have been doing the work in the computer system to record all that canvass data. We have moved to a new computer system and I was asked to operate it. I don’t have a problem with this and I feel like it is doing my bit to help the local party. Last night we had a meeting and talk of how the canvassing was going came up and I went to give everyone the data and someone chirped up ‘I had forgotten you’ve stuck your nose in.’ Boy did it fester.
I can be blunt here but if I didn’t firmly believe that getting Chris elected would be a benefit to the people of the town, I’d have downed tools at that moment and stopped being a local activist on the spot. It pissed me off that much and showed a disgusting and belittling attitude. It may have been a throwaway line from someone (I won’t name them) but it just goes to show the problem in local party politics. I was going out of my way to help dealing with all the data and will probably be running the data system on polling day, in turn allowing the candidate to spend an extra 20 odd hours probably overall on the doorstep, talking to constituents to find out what their particular problems are, yet someone felt I was sticking my nose in. Why would any sane person put up with this?
I’m the youngest local activist. In Southend, the party in general is full of the older generation and if they truly believe that someone the party have asked to be the Data Officer, to you know, deal with all the raw data, is sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong when it comes to reporting on data then we have a problem. I’ll be honest, this is seemingly an isolated incident/feeling and in general I have been welcomed in and my thoughts have been taken on board and not just cast aside as the thoughts of an ill-informed youngster. I like the idea of being a youngster. I digress. However I do struggle to see where the new blood will come from. I know of others who have left the local party over the past few years because they felt they weren’t either listened to or generally welcomed. Sad but true. I think however this is a situation not isolated to the party here, but to all parties in all areas.
Most young people who get enthused and excited about politics are willing to put in time and effort to get things done. Victories are celebrated and friendships made. Most of my local party probably joined as Young liberals 30+ years ago and stayed the course. However I see a lot of young Lib Dems these days leave the party around the country. They do this because they don’t feel appreciated, liked or wanted. Many have said its because of local issues more so than national ones. This is a problem some local parties will have more than others. Most of these people are still engaged with the political scene but are burned out of the tribalism and cliquishness of local parties.
New members should always be embraced. I will though say that new members shouldn’t come in and ‘rock the boat’ as it were. It is a tricky business. We’ve all been in groups where new people come in and upset the apple cart. It does take time to become comfortable with new people, whether they be young or old. So I do think that new members and activists need to take time to understand how things work but they should never be belittled or felt unwanted. That isn’t a way to grow and diversify.
So for now I write – and in turn I seethe. When people help they should be thanked and respected. I don’t even have too much of an issue with not being thanked (although I’ve got to say, I have been by pretty much everyone for work on the website and our new data system) but you’ve got to be respected. When you are told you are basically not wanted then we have a real problem and people wonder why others get disillusioned and drift away from party politics. Most don’t leave the party like that, they just slowly just drift away…
This is sad as last Friday I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening chatting politics with the last person I voted for in a General Election. It was good to just discuss politics and talk liberal philosophy and the future of the Lib Dems, both locally and nationally. Once more I felt enthused about politics but within a few days one throwaway line makes me question whether all the time is worth it. I could easily fill up my spare time with other endeavours.
I am a liberal and I am a Liberal Democrat. However am I really getting much out of being a local activist? This is something I question and I question more all the time…
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