In December 2014 I wrote an article entitled “Doing Conferences Differently” (it can be found here: https://steveanthonymiller.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/doing-conferences-differently/ ) that looked out how conferences and what we are doing during them has become an outdated mode of political expression.
This shouldn’t begin or end at conferences, it needs to trickle down to the very grassroots, the local meetings, and we need to examine how and what form our engagement entails. That is why I was happy to see the idea of engagement being debated and it is a welcoming sight to see it being brought to the fore, but what now?
The Labour Party should be seeking to actively engage as many members as possible, and I believe our CLP has the golden opportunity to lead the way on this. After all the more members that engage with the party, the stronger the party is, the more robust and active the membership and the more in tune our politics will be with its membership – we may even see membership figures rise as we truly reflect their wishes.
What practical steps can we implement as a CLP to achieve this?
- Carry out research into engagement
- Online member engagement
- Open up debates
Firstly for us to make informed decisions as a CLP we need to know why our members engage, what is important to them when they engage, and what is likely to make them engage with the processes more. To this end we should set up a review of our engagement practises, and actively seek out members with low engagement, in order to get a clear picture of the engagement landscape – this will inform us going forward, and help us formulate a clear and robust engagement strategy.
Smart phones are increasingly in use and we could incorporate this in to our engagement strategy, on a very basic level – we can have a local CLP app which alerts members to meetings, gives them access to agendas, minutes and provides alerts of local LP events. We could however take this much further and provide motion alerts, a platform to debate motions (prior to meetings), access to meetings in real time and even include some form of voting mechanism within the app.
Livestreaming our meetings brings the meeting to the living room, the kitchen, in fact anywhere could play host to the Labour Party meeting. What would happen if every LP member attended a meeting? We wouldn’t know what to do. It is impossible for everyone to attend a meeting, it is logistically impossible and impractical for us to facilitate it as a CLP. Livestreaming is the answer to this dilemma, so that wherever you are, whatever you are doing you can witness the meeting, and hopefully actively take part. It provides us with a new platform to engage with our members, members that previously couldn’t attend meetings.
Online member engagement with politics is the future, whether we lead on this or not the internet is changing how people interact with each other – politics is playing catch up. We could use this technology to our advantage, we can talk to each other in real time, we could even cast and count votes completely electronically, we could have people voting from their homes. We can use social media to engage with a wider audience, post up motions, have lively debates on there. The more we embrace the technology the more doors it will ultimately open for us going forward, and the more avenues of engagement we will have to explore.
We all know how it goes, we are at a meeting and we hastily debate a motion before quickly voting on it, and sometimes this doesn’t give the debates the attention they deserve. Obviously we cannot debate until the end of time, but we can take a more proactive approach to debates, using some of the methods already mentioned. This would ultimately make meetings quicker, because a majority of the debating would have already happened, but it also opens the debates up to a longer process and provides more time to assess before voting. We can debate on the Facebook forum, through the app, through email chains – ultimately creating greater scrutiny of any motion that is being passed.
To summarise, I welcome the party looking in to engagement, but we should be looking at the format of meetings, what technology we could incorporate, and all avenues of engagement. The meeting shouldn’t be the only engagement with the party, we need to open it up, we need to empower members and we ultimately need to create a vibrant membership – how we actually conduct business is equal importance. These things haven’t changed in over one hundred years, the world is a completely different place now, e-platforms are in the ascendancy. Either we move with the times, or the times will move without us – either way the tyranny of the attendee is going to come to an end.