Many former Labour voters feel unrepresented. That has to change
The Labour party has shaped who I am today. It has helped provide me with the opportunity to train as a doctor and has given me and my family life chances we otherwise would not have had. I want everyone to experience these opportunities. It deeply saddens me to see a lost generation for whom the door closed on their dreams and ambitions on 12 December.
Growing up poor and cold while my single mum worked three jobs to support me and my brother taught me the reality of day-to-day life for many people in the UK.
My mother always told me, even through our darkest moments, that there were people worse off than us – and I have never forgotten that. The Labour party changed my life. Despite failing my A-levels due to difficult circumstances at home, I was finally able to go to Cambridge University at the age of 24 to study medicine because of reforms the Labour party made in government.
People did not know what we stood for – the Tories had three simple words
Working on the A&E frontline has shown me the best and worst of society. A&E is a microcosm of real life. I hold parents as they say goodbye to their children who have died through senseless violence. I talk to nurses who tell me they can’t afford to feed their children and are having to use foodbanks. I treat older people who just want the dignity of accessing social care in their homes.
But I also see hope. The UK is full of people pushing through barriers to serve their communities.
Our NHS provided me with the skills to give back to society – it spurred me on to work as a humanitarian aid doctor in disaster zones across the world, something that I have been proud to continue during my time as an MP. I am proud of the internationalist views of the Labour party – we must never turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable. On the border of Myanmar, it was shocking to listen to the stories of Rohingya refugees speaking of having to make the impossible decision of whether to save their child who was thrown alive on to a burning fire, or escape with their surviving child. We must not turn our backs on those who are living through the absolute worst of human atrocities. In Palestine, I was heartbroken to meet children who were undergoing cancer treatment utterly alone because their parents were unable to obtain permits to accompany them.
Humanity should have no borders.
Only with a Labour government can the UK have a truly outward, internationalist approach, ensuring that we are there for people in their times of greatest need.
In order to be in government, we must get our house in order, and as deputy leader this would be my priority.
We cannot look to champion equality abroad, while turning a blind eye to racism in our party. This needs to end. As deputy leader, my first major meeting would be with the Jewish Labour Movement – they are our official Jewish affiliate; we must listen. I want JLM to be at the forefront of this fight against antisemitism, especially when it comes to education at the grassroots level. I will separate the complaints process from HQ, making it independent and asking the new team to immediately review all cases, acting swiftly and expelling antisemites. There must also be a strict time limit by which cases need to be resolved. I commit to adopt every recommendation proposed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, without hesitation. Enough is enough.
Only then will we be able to start rebuilding trust. Communities across the country have turned away from Labour, thinking that we do not represent them. We must listen with humility to people across our country and across our movement to assess why we’ve lost the last four elections, and how we can win people back.
From speaking to people in seats that we lost in December, I have been told that trust in us has gone. People did not know what we stood for – there appeared to be new policies announced every day and voters did not trust that we had a plan for how to deliver them. The Tories had three simple words.
To win, we need to be able to communicate our messages, not just internally, but with the public. I will focus on grassroots campaigners being armed with the information and messaging that they need to talk to voters on the doorstep. I will equip candidates and their local Labour parties with the resources that they so desperately need. I will introduce reduced membership rates to our emergency service workers so they can have a say within Labour on the NHS at this vital time.
We need to build our movement into one people can vote for. A party people can trust.
Under this government, which has chosen to block child refugees from reunification with their families, I worry for the future of our children. I worry for the future of tolerance. I worry for the future of compassion.
We have a wonderful society, which has welcomed so many people from across the world, but the hostile environment this government is imposing on our country is restricting the ability to hope. Hope for a brighter future. Hope for a tolerant society.
The door may have closed on 12 December for a generation’s hopes and ambitions, but with the right leadership team in place in the Labour party, it will not be closed for good. We need to win the next general election, and we must start rebuilding trust ahead of local elections in May. As deputy leader, it will be my responsibility to rebuild trust, not just with the grassroots of our party, but with voters. Together, we can take Labour forward.
As a doctor, I know that before a patient can be diagnosed, it is vital to first take a detailed history and examine them thoroughly. That’s the challenge we now face in revitalising the Labour Party and taking it off life-support. This is also why, when I decided to run for Deputy Leader, the first thing I did was contact every single Labour councillor I could find an email address for, as well as every single prospective parliamentary candidate who stood for Labour in the last General Election and lost.
I’m not a leader-in-waiting, I’ll be a campaigner-in-chief, and you can be too. I’ve been travelling across the country, to seats where we won, seats where we lost, and even seats we’ve never held, to talk to activists and members on the ground - because I want to hear from the grassroots directly to truly understand what went wrong, what went right, and what we must do better.
Using that detailed feedback, I am now publishing a manifesto called Grassroots Revival – a campaigning action plan that I will immediately start implementing if I’m elected as the next Labour Deputy Leader.
**Download Grassroots revival**It starts with changes we must make to our internal organisation. We must overhaul the complaints process. I’ll remove the team from HQ and make it independent, put a time limit on reviewing complaints, and ensure those involved with each case are kept informed of its progress.
I also want to start unlocking Labour’s membership talent. It’s not all about delivering leaflets and knocking on doors - we have social media experts, journalists, policy gurus, videographers and many other talents in our ranks. Let’s start making the most of that!
For new members, attending meetings can feel daunting - we need to make them more enjoyable and accessible for all. We can ensure party democracy and due process are followed, while making meetings a more enjoyable experience. For example, some CLPs still spend up to an hour arguing about the minutes of the last meeting - which turns off new members. We need to streamline the procedural matters and get more political debate into our local meetings.
We can be sociable too! I want to help local groups organise regional social events that break even, instead of looking to make a profit. Quiz nights, continuing the great work of Stand Up For Labour, pub nights, coffee mornings - let’s bring our movement together and celebrate all that we have to offer.
Let’s look at how to grow and diversify our movement even further. I’ll offer reduced membership rates to emergency service workers, to encourage them to join the Party and have their say over how we fight to save our NHS. I would support BAME members to hold elected office - I will produce literature to be made available to BAME officers to distribute to new members, “how to be a councillor” meetings will be offered in each borough - not as an afterthought - and I will work with BAME officers to listen to what resources they need.
We must start upgrading our technology and infrastructure - we’re running campaigns in 2020 with two colour printers from the 80s and 90s. I’d ensure every CLP has access to a full colour RISO printer (or similar). We can also boost data driven testing of our methods. Comparisons of leaflets, direct mails, e-newsletters, social media and canvassing will allow us to be so much more targeted and effective.
A significant amount of dedicated time went into creating software and apps to revolutionise our digital campaigning in recent years but the party didn’t have the resources to fully roll them out - the doorknocking app, dialogue and chatter could have really helped us but members didn’t know how to use them or didn’t know they existed. Contact Creator regularly broke down during the General Election and the user interface hasn’t changed for over a decade. This must all change. Let’s also have a digital team at HQ who goes to every target seat, showing them how to make the most of Facebook ads, emails, Twitter, creating graphics and videos.
Let’s also start looking at how to produce more personalised and localised content. The party produces some great literature and supplies it to key seats, but the vast majority of it is national with no localisation. Some leaflets and letters just didn’t arrive in 2019 for some seats, which left them in the dark, and adequate support was not available to deal with it, because staff were already overstretched. We must be better prepared. The manifesto came out weeks after the print deadlines for seats to order their leaflets and letters. I will ensure the necessary information is available to candidates in good time.
The Labour Party must do better at supporting our candidates – I’ll make sure they all get adequate briefings and lines for use in their own leaflets, letters, emails and press releases. Candidates and their teams are superheroes, but they aren’t invincible, and campaigns can take their toll both financially, physically and mentally - This is why I’ll set up a dedicated team to offer mental health support and advice during difficult times.
Too often, local organisers and staff have contracts that end at 10pm on polling day - this culture needs to change. Organisers put in endless hours to help our campaigns succeed and to dump them when polls close is just simply wrong. I’ll ensure no staff contracts end on Election Day, giving them vital time to find new employment.
I also want to establish a system of sharing best practice amongst CLPs and boroughs. Campaigns shouldn’t have borders - we don’t have to operate solely within our constituency or ward boundaries. We need proper twinning with key seats.
There’s no sugar-coating it – the Labour Party is in a critical condition right now. But with the right treatment, the right approach and the right support from the leadership team, we can get it back to fighting fitness. With the local elections coming up in May, there’s no time to waste.
Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan
MP for Tooting
here you can read about my campaign activities