Before I got more active in my local group, I used to assume that Labour Party meetings were full of very serious bearded men wearing woolly jumpers and arguing about politics. I was a bit nervous before my first meeting. I didn’t own a woolly jumper, couldn’t grow a beard that wasn’t embarrassing and didn’t really want to argue with people about politics. I knew our country and town was being run down by Tories and wanted to see if I could help stop that. And I figured it would at least be marginally better than watching Danny Dyer pretending to run a pub.
I’d realised for a while that I probably needed a more constructive way of getting involved than driving repeatedly round the roundabout outside local Tory HQ with a megaphone, shouting about how much I disliked Tim Loughton’s voting record (a dizzying but surprisingly gratifying activity). It didn’t hurt that a few months earlier Corbyn delivered a manifesto to be truly proud of.
So, I went to my first branch meeting in East Worthing and, to confound my expectations, was surprised to find they seemed to be laughing and chatting about everyday stuff.
I was immediately suspicious.
I suspected this was like the first couple of days of a cult where they all pretend to be down to earth and then, all of a sudden, when you’ve let your guard down, they all put on woolly jumpers and start shouting political things when you’re not expecting it. But, alas, it never happened.
I found out from going to local Labour Party meetings that there’s two ways to talk about politics. You can talk endlessly about politicians, councillors, parliament and the like. Some people like this but many don’t, not least because they think that that kind of set piece politics is teeming with self-serving narcissists with little interest in anything other than their careers.
But you can also talk about what politics actually is – politics is your local schools, its what’s happening in your communities, your hospitals, how well vulnerable people are looked after, the state of your town centre and parks, your mental health services, whether you think you’re being shafted by local train operators, house prices in your area and whether people can afford to live there without selling a kidney. The interesting part of politics isn’t the vacuous grandstanding in parliament. Rather, it’s the very lifeblood of our local communities and the things people really do care about.
What I liked about this local Labour Party was that this was the stuff they talked about, in the Labour Hall and often in the pub.
What I realised pretty quickly is that these people were from all walks of life, all kinds of jobs, all ages and, if absolutely pushed to define their one shared characteristic (other than voting Labour of course), I’d say it’s that they all seemed to want to put some time into helping to support their local communities.
Fast forward 4 years and our impulse to help contribute to the local community has never been stronger. Just recently we had a local meeting where we came up with ideas for how we might be able to do our bit to help support the community recover.
Once safe to do so, we want to organise some local events and activities that give people a chance to get out and do things they’d not done for months. The Covid pandemic has been crushing for many people in so many different ways. All of the fantastic community spirit that Worthing has shown to support each other during those hardest, longest months will be needed just as much in the coming year as we help each other adapt and start to live a life that we recognise as normal again.
Our local members came up with some sterling ideas, ranging from organising local history walks, reigniting the East Worthing Festival, organising local comedy and music events and craft fairs to local cycling, running and walking groups, treasure hunts for kids, and all manner of craft events locally.
Brian, our community campaign lead (incidentally bearded and sometimes a wearer of woolly jumpers) is pulling some of these ideas together and we’re going to be taking some forward in our community in months to come.
So if you are interested in being involved in any of these events or want to find out more about coming along and giving our meetings a try, just give either of us a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we can let you know when they are.
Carl Walker (local Labour Chair and former megaphone user with motion sickness)