Handover — How to be a constituency party secretary

A couple of weeks ago back I hung up my boots as CLP Secretary for Stafford, after doing the job for two years, and we elected my successor unopposed. I had made the decision not to seek a third term as soon as I won the election (the second of the two contested consecutive elections) because I knew how difficult the year of the General Election was going to be and how important it was to have the right team firing on all cylinders to stand a chance of winning the Parliamentary seat.

Like most office holders in voluntary organisations and charities you know when you need more time to yourself not spent writing out minutes, sending out agendas, reading letters from head office or just generally organising activity within your constituency party and the CLP Secretary is an important job.

As Luke Akehurst writes:
“ A weak or incompetent CLP Secretary can mean Labour’s constituency organisation collapses. A strong and dynamic one can change the culture of a local party to make it far more outward-looking and vibrant.”

Looking back on what I was able to do in the role over those two years gives me a certain amount of pride and recognition of what I was able to produce, especially given everything that was going on at the time.

I think this may be useful to inform members elsewhere, who may interested in standing to be secretary of their constituency, and for my successor, of what is possible.

One of my highlights was bringing Lisa Nandy MP (now Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) and Sion Simon MEP to speak to local members.

We also had visits from Tristram Hunt MP, Yvette Cooper MP, Ivan Lewis MP, Mary Creagh MP, Tom Watson MP, Rachel Reeves MP, Neena Gill MEP organised by the party over my period in office.

Visits and talks should be an integral part of any constituency party’s schedule of activities because we should be discussing the world around us and how we can influence it. Focusing on the minutes of the last meeting and the matters arising is no fun for anyone and rarely achieves what members expect it should.

The Party, through Refounding Labour, brought about a great change. It removed the General Committee as the only model of operation — and enabled us to access and activate more members (through an all-member model which was crucial for our general election campaign) — and focused the day to day operation to an elected Executive Committee. The days where delegates are elected to represent party units and micro-manage a local party with 15–20 officers plus delegates is gone (and long should it remain).

However, it must be said that officers need to be watchful for factions using tactics to drive people out of these all-member meetings. If meetings are long, arduous or fail to deliver results then people will be turned off. The same can be said for bad behaviour, and local party officers need to proactively guard against this.

There’s only so many curry night’s or quizzes even Labour Party members can force themselves to go to. Constituency secretaries should be looking at what kind of events the party is organising and how it is most relevant and effective for their membership to attend.

Not everything has to raise money for it to be a success but it should have a point to it. This was evident in one of my other highlights, leading the constituency team‘s organisation of, Stand up for Labour in the run up to our general election campaign. We worked with local union, Unison, to put on the event and their support was invaluable. I advertised to all local unions, labour councillors and constituency parties within the county, and our local members.

We got some great acts (Paul Ricketts, Steve Day, Juliette Meyer and Norman Lovett) which helped us sell tickets. We used the event to try and bring people into the campaign and into the party, connecting the Labour movement, and to raise a little bit of money for the election campaign.

We raised over £500 for our party funds through this event, and had the capacity to raise more, so I would recommend that you look at doing this kind of event too.

Early on in my term I began transforming the way we communicate with our members. Before I took on the role, the only communication I received from the local party were notices about meetings. Meetings that were usually a waste of time because either the topics weren’t relevant or nothing productive came out of having the meeting (other than satisfying a requirement, or expectation of established members, to have a meeting).

So I began introducing a fortnightly email to all members letting them know what was going on in the party, details about our parliamentary election campaign, news and relevant articles from Labour blogs like Labour List along with speeches and videos from recent conferences. I had already introduced a social media offering via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube before becoming secretary so this took it to the next level.

We were able to produce and share relevant content for members to access outside of a meeting, and secretary’s should help facilitate that. In my experience, and it may change as the party has its influx of new members, most members won’t be involved as activists but that doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to contact from the local party about what they’re doing.

I’m also proud that, for the first time in my membership at Stafford Labour, we debated a political motion and it was passed unanimously. I’m just sorry it had to be about Stafford’s losing ways in local government. Going back to what I’ve said about meetings and members, meetings should really have objectives otherwise what’s the point?

Constituencies should focus on current affairs and events so that the discussions and debates concern themselves with issues that people care about, outside of the party, rather than dwell on contemporary resolutions, standing orders and minutes of the last meeting (no matter how people may think they are important). These discussions should form campaigns for members to get involved with.

Campaigning should be what the Labour Party is about, and whether its on issues or doorsteps, the CLP Secretaries should be facilitating this activity. Working with strong membership officers and women’s officers the Executive Committee can breathe life back into constituency parties like we did in Stafford.

Constituency parties may face radical change with the influx of new members and, regardless of their politics, they shouldn’t be seen as hindrances or interlopers. We’re not full up and we need as many members as we can get to deliver a full political programme that includes electing Labour representatives first and foremost. To win the seats we need at Borough, County and Parliamentary level means that we need a committed and united team focused on electing Labour people to office, and I believe the CLP Secretary’s main focus should be that.