|Labour EC meetings are really not like this.....|
February is the busiest month of the year for me. So it’s the worst time to receive a nominations paper for the AGM of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, and have to decide whether I want to spend another year on the Executive Committee. Which, on balance, I do.
But the process this year has made me think about the difficulties of getting people to devote some of their spare time to running a political party, and most specifically to running the Labour Party in NI.
Part of the problem may be that we can’t stand for elections. We can’t offer anything to people who want a career in politics, at least if they want to stay in Northern Ireland. Although that means we don’t have to deal with unscrupulous types who don’t care which party they ‘represent’, some want to be politicians in order to do good and change the world (stop laughing at the back there). They are the ones who will put in the work. We want them and we need them.
Another problem, linked to the first, is that in NI we have no access to paid staff, with the exception of an organiser in the Compliance Unit (love it) who sends out the AGM notification and ballot paper. For this I pay £43 a year. Everything else has to be done locally, which means EC members are likely to actually have to do some work. Very offputting for those who like the sound of their own voices but mysteriously disappear between meetings.
More fundamental, though, is the pressure of modern life. I’ve been very struck by the number of issues, both work-related and personal, that have affected my EC comrades over the past year. Certainly in my own case I have to be extremely careful not to take on too much, due to the demands of my job – and paid work must come first.
Of course, not everyone is up to their eyes in their job. Some are unemployed or retired, and we have great contributions made from both groups on the EC and in the Party more widely. But they don’t cover the complete range of skills and knowledge which we need. The EC of a political party is like any management team – you need to get the right people in, and then give them the job that best suits their abilities and aptitude.
I wonder if all the people we need are there amongst our 350-odd members, and we just haven’t been able to communicate to them how much their contribution would be welcomed. We are in the process of building a branch structure, which will help with getting new people involved. But I also wonder if difficulties with finding volunteers are more widespread. If we are all too busy to be part of something wider than work and our family, civil society suffers and that’s not good for any of us.