Worry Amongst Local Labour Members About Direction of Party

In a recent Worcestershire Transformed survey, we asked Worcestershire Labour Party members about the current direction of the Party and how it had performed since the outbreak of the pandemic. The responses, whilst certainly mixed, have an overriding sense of disappointment in how the Party has performed on a national scale and anxiety about the upcoming elections.

The responses to the survey offered us a real spread of the membership in terms of how long they had been in the Party. Whilst the average years spent as a member was 9, there were Labour members of 45 years in the survey as well as those that had joined in the last 18 months. Initially it was important to gauge how those participating in the survey voted in the Labour Leadership election in 2020.

With Keir Starmer receiving 56.2 per cent of the vote in the Labour Leadership election, it is clear that respondents to this survey are heavily skewed in favour of runner-up Rebecca Long-Bailey (who Starmer went on to sack from his Shadow Cabinet).

However, it is clear that despite this that at the beginning of Starmer’s leadership, local members that had voted for a rival candidate were largely optimistic about the prospect of a Starmer leadership. We asked members: “Whichever way you voted, were you hopeful that a Starmer led Labour Party would be something you still wanted to be part of immediately after the leadership election?”

What have Labour got right and wrong since the General Election defeat?

The task facing Keir Starmer was a difficult one as he took up the position of leader of the opposition. Even before the pandemic is factored in, the former Director of Public Prosecutions was tasked with leading a Party that had just suffered a historically dreadful General Election result in December 2019. The question as to what Labour have got right and wrong since that defeat received mixed answers from the members surveyed.

Critical responses of the leadership included submissions such as:

CLP democracy is being destroyed and policies that generally met with approval are being ditched. Discrimination in the Party is rife and many are totally demoralised.

Not much has been right, I think the main things wrong were sacking of RLB and Corbyn, abstaining on Spy Cops and Overseas Operations Bills, and not providing much opposition to the Tories.

Right – decisive action over antisemitism Wrong – lack of policy, move to much to the right. Not holding government to account over covid.

There we some respondents that had been happy with the direction of the Labour Party under Keir Starmer so far:

Happy with low key approach. Starmer is gathering momentum and once Covid is controlled he should go for it.

Good motions presented in the Parliament to hold the government to account.

Starmer had held the Tory party to account and has travelled around the country listening to the people. Unfortunately, Labour has allowed themselves to become divided by people unwilling to pull together and support the Leader.

Keir Starmer and his leadership election policy commitments

As part of his leadership bid, the former Shadow Brexit Secretary outlined his 10 pledges to the Labour membership – claiming that they represented his moral case for socialism.’ The pledges were as follows:

Whilst most respondents commented that these pledges had either been broken or simply not stuck to, some respondents offered mitigating circumstances for why this may be the case:

I recognise he is playing a long game and waiting for the Conservatives to screw themselves over, however because of this he has come across as ineffectual and unmotivated.

He has actioned on antisemitism, but other policy matters are in part held up by the combination of Brexit and the pandemic. He has held Govt to account on some issues, but not in as much as he could, or as forcefully as he might have. Maybe his long game is too long and will ‘overshoot’ the next general election.

75% of respondents to the survey said that Sir Starmer had not kept to his original leadership election pledges.

Hopes for the 2021 Local Elections

With the 2020 Local Elections suspended due to the pandemics, the 2021 Local Elections represent the Labour Party’s first electoral test under the new leadership. In Worcestershire there is a plethora of Parish, Town, District and County Council elections which local Constituency Labour Parties will be trying to hold and gain seats in.

Reactions about Labour’s chances going into these elections was mixed from members:

Good. I think people are disenchanted by the Conservatives because of their poor handling of the Pandemic.

Not very good. Labour’s strong point has always been the large number of activists on the doorstep. The pandemic has levelled things up in that respect just like the winter election did.

Not great – they’ll hang into their traditional seats and wards, but are unlikely to make any gains. The Greens will probably do well, mopping up the support that Labour has lost.

Don’t know. I foresee a particularly low turnout though, unless people are so bored they vote just to have something to do.

Reasonable because people want change. Dont think the leadership is relevant really.

The Tories have a better chance of winning due to the success of the vaccine roll out.

There was also an extensive list of suggestions from members in terms of the local issues they thought would be key to these elections:

Health, Housing, Homelessness

Education and Local planning

Health, Housing, Homelessness

Poverty, employment, investment in infrastructure

Environment, climate change, green transport, food poverty, reducing inequality, maintaining public services, campaigning to prevent Post-lockdown Austerity measures and council cuts.

Green Covid Regeneration

Supporting self employed, small business and medium sized business by taxing larger business more.

Assessing Labour’s response to the pandemic and Starmer’s leadership so far

The most damning responses from local members of the current leadership were with regards to Labour’s response to the pandemic and their ability to effectively hold the Government to account. We asked members the following question; Out of 10, what score would you give for Labour’s response to the pandemic and its ability to effectively oppose the Government?  The average score in response to this question was 3.

Whilst there were some more positive responses from members, such as:

Labour appear to be taking a conciliatory approach. They are challenging the Tories but with the large majority it is difficult to be effective.

Labour have held the government to account every PMQs for months now…the Conservatives are unable to answer the questions. The only reason this is not well known is because the media are in the pockets of Conservative supporters.

It is impossible for Labour to oppose everything without being seen as political point scoring. I believe Keir Starmer has done a good job in difficult circumstances.

The large majority of responses were negative on this question. These included statements such as:

The leadership from the very beginning has made a conscious decision to say as little as possible. When the crisis was first happening you could make the argument that the public wouldn’t take kindly to “criticising the pilot while the plane was crashing”, but we have lived with Covid and its attendant restrictions for a year now. They have chosen not to lay a glove on the government and have therefore abandoned the country at a time of profound national crisis. This is not leadership.

PMQs is all very well, however we need to get more mainstream media coverage (not flags and jingoism), come out on a very public platform and call the government out on corruption, incompetence and cronyism. People are wanting leadership not just opposition to the lack of leadership. Be more positive about what you would do WHEN you assume power.

Our only success at PMQs has been when Starmer has been absent. The front bench have failed to hold the government to account and failed to back the unions.

Asking members to score Starmer’s overall leadership of the party so far also offered up further concerning news for the Labour hierarchy. We asked members: Out of 10, what score would you give for Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party overall so far?  The average score amongst respondents was 4/10 for this question.

Here are a selection of reasonings members gave for their scoring:

Because he is straight as a die, cares about people and listens. He travels around the country listening and although his hands are tied because of an 80 seat majority, his popularity is steadily growing.

He has waged a ceaseless and unnecessary war on the party’s left; its moral centre and its lifeblood, and abstained on matters of huge significance and principle, such as the sinister ‘Spy Cops’ legislation. This is all unacceptable.

Because he has the ability to pursue his vision. Once Covid is out the way you will see how much he supports socialist policies. He is pragmatic and can wait.

He has unfortunately lost the momentum (excuse the pun) built up in the grass roots and the youth, there was and still is a vital desire for real change if he chose to use it, instead he has managed to alienate the far left in an effort to appeal to the middle ground (understandable). However it is a bit myopic in its approach, we would be better off looking for an official rainbow alliance and campaigning on that ticket as well, it may be what saves the union of the UK.

I joined because of JC and his policies, but although I supported KS in the leadership battle, he has been too calm at times at PMQs. He is at his best when he strongly and correctly challenges the PM and Govt.

How members feel about their local Labour Party

Things were slightly more positive in terms of how members saw their Local Labour Party and the work it has been doing during these difficult times. We asked members: Out of 10, what score would your give you local Labour Party in terms of activity, communication and general work in the community over the last 12 months? This question received an average score of 6/10 from respondents.

From the explanations of these scores, the mood seemed to be upbeat about the work CLPs across Worcestershire have been doing. Whilst were there some criticisms regarding a lack of communication to members, others commented that positive steps had been made by CLP Officers:

Members with roles have continually posted information and many have supported food banks etc. They have continually raised important issues and pressured the local council over services, planning, etc.

Local party members and councillors have been much more approachable, hard-working, and in tune with my concerns than the leadership has been.

As usual for many CLPs up and down the country there were also comments on how of lot of work rested on a few shoulders.

With Labour finding it difficult to make grounds in the polls it is clear there is a growing sense of disappointment and anger amongst some local Party members. Whilst others remain positive about how things have gone over the last 12 months, it is becoming increasingly clear that a rift is forming amongst the membership; a rift that will either be healed or exacerbated as a result of this May’s Local Elections.

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