Branch life

It’s gone a bit quiet here, hasn’t it?

On April the 6th, as you’ll doubtless recall, I started a series of posts called In Search of the Red Wall, in which I was sceptical of the thesis that Labour had lost in 2019 because, ultimately, we’d lost the old working class vote, and specifically because we’d lost a huge tranche of culturally conservative “heartland” seats in the North of England. Having traced the development of the concept – which followed a surprisingly tortuous and disjointed path – and shown how fatuous it basically was, I concluded by proposing to analyse what had actually happened in 2019.

This takes us up to the 21st of April. On the 28th I returned to the topic and began the explanation of what happened – and what didn’t happen – in December 2019, in a post ending with these pregnant words:

Something big happened to Labour’s vote in 2019, and it happened right across the country – and it wasn’t a swing to the Tories, despite the Tories benefiting from it in a big way.

But what was it?

Here we are in June – not even the beginning of June – and still no ‘part 2’. I will get to it, and I have got some idea of what I’m going to say – at least, I’ve got some numbers, and any amount of charts – but I’ve not found it easy to get around to, and not just because I’ve had other stuff on.

I suspect that one underlying reason is the reason why I didn’t do much to analyse the figures straight after December 2019: it’s just too damn depressing. And not ‘depressing’ in the ‘why I’d rather not watch Schindler’s List with my takeaway’ sense – depressing in the will-depleting, immobilising, what was I trying to do never mind don’t suppose it matters sense of the word.

Which is also, frankly, why I haven’t been having a lot to do with our local Labour Party. Last year – just pre-pandemic – I wrote about the ward AGM which had been due in the Autumn of 2019 and was postponed to February 2020. I went along, but I wasn’t hugely impressed:

several officers either stayed in post or moved sideways, and several posts were uncontested. … looked at from outside it might seem odd that, in a ward branch with a membership nudging four figures – the size of some entire CLPs – it’s only possible to find one person interested in any of the officer positions.

We met in the same place as last year, and I think we were pretty much the same people as last year; we were certainly in very similar numbers to last year, viz. around 70 … Which also helps explain the uncontested elections. Seven days (the notice period required when calling a branch AGM) is not a very long time – and membership secretaries don’t hand out contact lists to anyone who might want to do a quick bit of phone-banking. This is all according to the rules, of course, but these ‘home team’ advantages (and others created by officers’ role in the AGM itself) mean that the likelihood of anyone disrupting the orderly self-perpetuation of the dominant faction is pretty slim. … The result is a kind of political Sealed Knot, an annual reunion of the office-holders and their factional activists on one side and the diehards of the excluded group(s) on the other. They might as well take allegiances at the door, like ushers at a wedding, and declare the results straight away.

This year… sorry, it just looked too much like hard work. But it looks as if I’m not the only member locally who felt like that. The email announcing this year’s results opens

Thank you to the fifty members who attended our online Annual General Meeting on Monday 7 June 2021. It was great to see so many people. 

Oh, the people!

Viewed with a colder eye, even without the barrier to participation of having to turn out and sit in a church hall, attendance was down from 70 to 50 – which is to say, down from about one in 14 of the 2020 membership to about one in 20. (Although the 2021 membership may also be lower, of course.)

As for the business of the meeting, here’s a summary:

Chair: re-elected x1, former x4

Vice Chair: re-elected x1, former x3

Vice Chair: former x8

Secretary: re-elected x4

Treasurer: re-elected x3, former x1

Membership Secretary: re-elected x3, former x3

Women’s Officer: new

Political Education Officer: re-elected x1, former x2

Diversity Officer: re-elected x1

Delegates to the constituency party General Committee: 16 candidates, all elected unopposed (Chair, both Vice-Chairs, Treasurer, Membership Secretary, Diversity Officer, plus two delegates re-elected x4, four re-elected x2 and four new members).

“Re-elected” = re-elected to the post; x2 (etc) = re-elected for the 2nd time (etc); “former” = held one or more elected post in one or more previous year. (My data only goes back to 2016; the re-election counts for some of these candidates will certainly be too low.) Note also that last year’s GC delegates included five members from the Left of the party, none of whom stood this time – so the four new members are unlikely to add to the ideological diversity of the delegation.

It’s not, as they say, a good look. As I said in 2020,

what kind of membership are we building, if members keep seeing the same names in the same posts, or else (for a change) the same names in different posts? … I’ve always believed that uncontested elections and musical-chairs rotation of posts were signs of a local party in decline – not of one that’s going from strength to strength, as ours apparently is. Perhaps the problem is precisely the apparent absence of factions – or rather, the impossibility of multiple factions arising when a single faction dominates for long enough. Perhaps what we’re seeing is how unchallenged factional dominance sows the seeds of decline.

It’s certainly not motivating.

So, anyway – what happened in 2019? One contributing factor to Labour’s defeat in 2019, it seems to me, is that self-perpetuating cliques like the one I’ve just described threw away the enormous asset created by the party’s increased membership, because it wasn’t an asset that served their factional purposes – and threw away any slim chance to get a Labour government elected, because that wouldn’t have served their factional purposes either. In this they acted entirely logically – mobilisation of the membership would inevitably have threatened their position, and another 2017 (or better) would certainly have increased the demand for mobilisation – and really, all they can be blamed for is valuing local posts within a political party more highly than the possibility of a Labour government.

But that’s an impressionistic explanation, and one from a source that may not be entirely reliable (embitterment can do that). What else happened in 2019?

NEXT: another blog post. No, really.


  1. Blissex
    Posted 15 August 2021 at 13:40 | Permalink | Reply

    As to the endlessly re-elected CL officers my guesses would be that:

    * They are mostly affluent upper-middle class, with good pensions and a chunk of property ownership, and many are BTL landlords.

    * Most of them have a thatcherite ideology, of the “Blow you! I am alright Jack” or “The working class can kiss my arse / I’ve got the foreman’s job at last” type.

    * Probably several actually vote Conservative or LibDem at general elections, or at least their spouses and family do, to protect the family’s interests.

  2. Blissex
    Posted 15 August 2021 at 13:44 | Permalink | Reply

    As to what happened in 2019, I have pointed out in a comment to the previous post that it matters greatly to look at absolute vote numbers, across several year. I have also got numbers of a couple of interesting seats involved in recent by-elections, so please consider carefully these tables:

    National 1974-2019

        YEAR    TOTAL   CON     LAB     LIB,SDP,UKIP
        1974:   31.34m  11.87m  11.65m  6.06m
        1974:   29.27m  10.46m  11.45m  5.34m
        1979:   31.23m  13.70m  11.53m  4.31m
        1983:   30.72m  13.01m   8.46m  7.78m
        1987:   32.57m  13.74m  10.03m  7.34m
        1992:   33.65m  14.09m  11.56m  6.00m
        1997:   31.29m   9.60m  13.52m  5.24m
        2001:   26.37m   8.34m  10.72m  4.81m
        2005:   27.15m   8.78m   9.55m  5.99m
        2010:   30.00m  10.70m   8.61m  6.84m
        2015:   30.70m  11.33m   9.35m  6.30m
        2017:   32.17m  13.64m  12.88m  2.37m
        2019:   32.01m  13.97m  10.30m  3.70m

    Hartlepool 2021

        YEAR    TOTAL   CON     LAB     LIB	    OTHERS
        1974:   49,688  22,700  26,988
        1974:   47,300  16,546  24,440   6,314
        1979:   49,109  18,887  27,039   3,193
        1983:   48,434  18,958  22,048          SDP  7,422
        1987:   50,136  17,007  24,296   7,047
        1992:   51,710  18,034  26,816   6,860
        1997:   44,452   9,489  26,997   6,248  Ref  1,718
        2001:   38,051   7,935  22,506   5,717
        2004:   31,362   3,044  12,752  10,719  UKI  3,193
        2005:   35,436   4,058  18,251  10,773  UKI  1,256
        2010:   38,242  10,758  16,267   6,533  UKI  2,682, BNP 2,002
        2015:   39,490   8,256  14,076     761, ind. 2,954, Gre 1,341
        2017:   41,835  14,319  21,969     746  UKI  4,801
        2019:   41,037  11,869  15,464   1,696  BXP 10,603
        2021:   29,933  15,529   8,589     349  ind. 2,904

    Chesham and Amersham 2021

        YEAR    TOTAL   CON     LAB     LIB     OTHERS
        1974:   53,354  27,035  16,619   9,700
        1974:   49,494  25,078  10,325  14,091
        1979:   53,594  32,924   7,645  12,328
        1983:   53,141  32,435   4,150  16,556
        1987:   55,498  34,504   5,170  15,064
        1992:   57,265  36,273   5,931  14,053
        1997:   52,197  26,298  10,240  12,439  Ref  2,528
        2001:   45,283  22,867   8,497  10,985
        2005:   47,097  25,619   6,610  11,821  UKI  1,391
        2010:   52,444  31,658   2,942  14,498  UKI  2,129, Gre   767
        2015:   52,731  31,138   6,172   4,761              Gre 2,902
        2017:   55,252  33,514  11,374   7,179  UKI  1,525, Gre 1,660 
        2019:   55,978  30,850   7,166  14,627              Gre 3,042
        2021:   37,954  13,489     622  21,517              Gre 1,480

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