Some years ago a right-wing public sector trade union I had contact with used to keep out left-wing applicants by telling anyone who applied who they perceived to be to the left of Attila the Hun, that their membership was currently “full” but they would keep their names on record and contact them when any vacancies arose.
I was reminded of that last night talking to one of my fellow councillors at the Labour Group meeting. We were discussing Peter Hain’s latest baby, Refounding Labour, and in particular the bit about how we could recruit new members. “How about not actively discouraging those people who try to join the Party” said my colleague, “that would do for starters”.
Sadly, he meant it too. Apparently someone, somewhere in the treacle mill of the Labour bureaucracy has decided that our Constituency is in “special measures”. No-one has actually been to our CLP to tell us why we are in special measures, nor what the measures are, or what is special about them. But it appears one consequence of these very special measures is that… membership is full for the time being!!!
Here’s one for Peter to mull over while he takes a break from Refounding us. Just before Xmas last year one of our members, a young student tells me he noticed he was being asked for the full membership fee, rather than the reduced rate available to people in full-time education. He phoned the membership section and eventually got through to a bright young thing who advised him to resign, and rejoin for the special 1p promotional rate because “it would be easier”.
Like a mug, he did. But now, apparently he is caught up by “special measures” and can’t join without photo ID, proof he lives at the address he has given (he has been on the electoral register since he was old enough to register) and a sample of his DNA. Ok, that last bit is an exaggeration, but just how welcoming is that! You would imagine there must be a reason, eh? Surely our branch must have been infiltrated by some obscure Trotskyist sect or the continuity IRA? But no, we have never had a problem of any kind in respect of membership, and although the Branch would be slightly to the left of our MP… but then again, who isn’t?
The daft thing is, he is on the panel of candidates for next year’s local government elections… even though he can’t actually join the Party!!! The worrying thing is one of our canvassers told me of a conversation on the doorstep with another voter who had attempted to join the party, but he gave up trying when they asked him for a list of his credentials. So far this year we haven’t recruited a single member, despite a mad rush of people keen to join in the wake of the general election.
So, Pete, instead of trying to devise complicated systems to allow people who are not Labour Party members to take part in our internal elections and policy making… perhaps we could start by looking for ways in which those who actually want to join, are able to do so.