No seat is unwinnable: how Labour activists set out to reclaim Tory strongholds and defy predictions

An article from Open Democracy by Nick Mahony.
In North London’s Chipping Barnet, pop-up alliances and an emerging ecology of democratic campaigning came together to renew participatory politics.

Labour Party activists in Chipping Barnet. Credit: Nick Mahony.The suburban North London constituency of Chipping Barnet has been a safe, relatively quiet, ‘true-blue’ Tory seat for generations. That was until June 8 2017, when Theresa Villiers’ 2015 majority of over 7,500 votes was slashed to just 353.

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn were important catalysts for Labour’s unexpected success in the general election, and, in Chipping Barnet,  they spurred on a group of local party members looking to write their own future, rather than follow a script.
The campaign begins?

Soon after the snap election was called in May 2017, tensions surfaced between two groups of Labour party activists in Chipping Barnet over the issue of how to plan for the election campaign ahead.

To a group of more established members, Chipping Barnet was ‘unwinnable’, so it followed that the local campaign should largely consist of one round of direct mail to voters in target wards and a batch of get-out-the-vote leaflets dispatched to pre-identified supporters. At regional level, party officials had decided that Chipping Barnet was not a ‘marginal’ seat, leading to Chipping Barnet being officially ‘twinned’ with the adjacent constituency of Enfield North and a strategy of directing members to campaign for Labour MP Joan Ryan, instead of their own candidate Emma Whysall.

A second group of activists, some of whom were already aligned with Momentum, had a different take. They wanted to approach the election as an opportunity to get as many local members as possible out on the streets campaigning.

At the heart of this emerging alternative strategy was the idea of involving the newly enlarged membership in a process of large-scale face-to-face engagement with the local public.

At the heart of this emerging alternative strategy was the idea of building the base and involving the newly enlarged membership of the party in a process of large-scale face-to-face engagement with the local public. As well as believing that such an approach could give Labour a chance of winning the election locally, this group was convinced that such a process might also help the local Labour Party start to become more democratic, member-led and successful in the local area in the future.

Following this meeting, I was one of the handful of people who pressed local officials for an open campaign meeting  to which all members would be invited. We wanted to give all members the chance to take part in discussions about how Labour should campaign.

This meeting was subsequently organised and it quickly demonstrated that, beyond those already involved in Momentum and agitating for a more open approach, there was also a larger and even more mixed group of members in favour of a more energetic campaign locally, keen to discuss their own campaigning priorities and ideas for local action. Several members also enquired about whether a ‘progressive alliance’ strategy might be explored.
Social campaigning

Within a week of this meeting, weekend street-stalls were up and running. Over the coming weeks, there were more stalls, with one set up outside the main Further Education College in the area, to encourage voter registration and to persuade students to vote Labour. Similar activities were repeated outside local schools and the main hospital during weekday afternoons.

By this point the number of local members who were involved had significantly increased and planning and communications related to these activities had largely transitioned from an ad hoc email list to a Facebook page and a WhatsApp group. These platforms opened up campaigning to Labour Party members beyond the initial group and many more local members started to get involved.

As activity continued to increase, these social media tools enabled new ideas about the campaign’s coordination to be collectively discussed. At the same time, activists were also pressing local officials to help publicise these member-led activities through the normal local party channels. This eventually happened, though members were still directed to campaign in Enfield North.

Many people continued to raise the idea of some kind of Progressive Alliance but it remained difficult to make inroads with local officials.

Undeterred, local members instead pressed the local party for more resources. Election-related material had almost run out and the group were able to negotiate 15,000 new constituency-specific leaflets. The minute these were delivered, they were immediately distributed and used to instigate conversation out on the streets, right across Chipping Barnet.

There was some canvassing happening led by local party officials, but this was dwarfed by the scale and excitement generated by the other activities that were rapidly emerging on a more ad hoc basis.

As members’ contact with the public increased, so did the collective confidence of those driving these activities and the strength of members’ conviction about the value and impact of what was happening.

The process of campaigning began to breed a broad alliance of progressive campaigners drawn from within the ranks of the newly enlarged local Labour Party. Those getting involved included: local anti-cuts activists, a group of women from Totteridge and Whetstone (the most affluent part of the constituency and indeed one of the most affluent parts of the country), local trades unionists, students, young parents concerned about the erosion of nursery, primary and secondary level education, nurses, doctors, teachers and older people alarmed by the prospect of further social care reform, as well as quite a few people who had re-joined the Labour Party in recent months.
Honk for Labour

Fuelled almost entirely by the kind of euphoric hope that perhaps only emerges from an intense collective experience like this, the campaign in Chipping Barnet entered its final phase.

Small-scale, convivial and highly agile campaigning teams surfaced all around the constituency, almost spontaneously. Leafleting was taking place at every station and there were people moving around seamlessly, to cover gaps, apparently with only very minimal coordination.

By now an unpredictable mixture of smiles, snatched chats, deep and very lengthy conversations and heated but largely good-tempered exchanges were taking place with members of the public, on a great number of streets, on a near industrial scale.

What happened was the rapid development of a collectively invented social process of alliance building.

The campaign climaxed with an unplanned gathering of about 20 red-eyed Labour activists outside the party office. Holding aloft an enormous Labour banner, singing the Red Flag and inviting passing traffic to ‘honk for Labour’, this normally anonymous main road was temporarily transformed into a spectacle of camaraderie.
What just happened?

Momentum. Funk Dooby/Flickr. Some rights reserved.What happened amongst local Labour Party members in Chipping Barnet was the rapid development of a collectively invented social process of alliance building. This ‘pop-up’ alliance of members developed its campaign against the grain of the official local campaign. But this was not grass-roots activism, not least because it was geared to an existing election timetable, aimed at maximising the vote for our local Labour candidate Emma Whysall and therefore all about persuading as many people as possible to play their part in our current form of representative democracy.

But the campaign only took off when members started to organise it for themselves and connect what they were doing to what was going on nationally with the new Labour Party manifesto and the campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn. Most importantly of all perhaps, this local campaign was set up from the start as an endeavour that would be as participatory, directly democratic, inclusive and open as possible. This meant supporting processes of collective discussion, collaborative planning, group creativity and online coordination.

The policy platform offered people hope for more equitable, fulfilling and sustainable forms of social relations.

In Chipping Barnet this approach worked, in other words, because of the desire people had to collectively invent the future, rather than do exactly what was expected of them. The Labour Party manifesto was a catalyst for this. The manifesto and the enthusiasm there was for collective forms of participatory action went hand in hand – the policy platform offered people hope for more equitable, fulfilling and sustainable forms of social relations – and this included new and more directly democratic ways of doing politics too.

Labour didn’t win the election in Chipping Barnet – the Tories won by 353 votes. And of course it wasn’t just our self-organised campaigning that so dramatically reduced the Conservative majority – there were many other factors. As well as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the new party manifesto, these factors included: the years of neglect meted out to Barnet residents by its council and its national government and the years of door knocking, data collection and relationship building undertaken by local Labour councillors and other party activists.

The people we spoke to on the street during the campaign told us time and time again about the damage that cuts in public services were inflicting locally. In the years leading up to this election, Barnet Alliance for Public Services and other activists had already done great work to galvanise public resistance to these ‘reforms’, through the petitions, marches, demonstrations and other activities they had organised.
What next?

Post-election, the number of people who believe Labour can win here has massively increased. The number of people that are enthusiastic about the more democratic, socialised and participatory approaches to local campaigning has definitely grown as well.

But what has been achieved here goes further than this., There are now many more people getting involved in progressive politics here, not just to get Labour into government and to reclaim the state but also to change their whole way of life. They are increasingly tired of the hierarchies and inequalities they live with and see around them; the ways that their workplaces and their country’s financial system are governed; how the housing system and their neighbourhoods are run; they want to protect and improve their local environment and demand a future that is sustainable; they want better and more democratically run education, health, social care and food systems.

Long before the 2017 general election a growing number of small-scale initiatives had been experimenting with different forms of socialisation and democratisation up and down the country – in the realms of housing, energy, the arts, media, technology, food, the workplace and many other spheres. Now, after an election that has seen large numbers of people campaigning in more open, socialised, participatory and democratic ways, there is likely to be a much greater expectation for the Labour Party to be democratised too.

But such democratisation, if it happens, can’t just come from the top-down. People expect to be involved in the democratisation of democracy. It will require new mediating institutions. Pre-existing democratisation projects need to be connected up with emerging alliances. These need to be scaled up and rolled out into new contexts.

People expect to be involved in the democratisation of democracy.

In the context of Chipping Barnet, there were no pre-existing spaces to negotiate between ‘new’ and more established campaigners; there was insufficient time for the democratic selection of our candidate; and the infrastructure needed for cooperation between members developed as we went along.

Nationally we see something developing that is more like an emerging ecology of approaches to progressive and radically democratic politics, than a top-down plan. There is no one ‘killer app’ for democratic reform or new universal progressive campaigning technique, nor should there be. Approaches to democratisation are evolving out of disparate traditions and in diverse contexts, with convergences and divergences between different newer and more long-standing sets of activities.
Inventing the future?

Back in Chipping Barnet I am not the only one still recovering from the exhilaration of our campaign. Many of us briefly experienced forms of social relations that we’d never before been part of, at least in Chipping Barnet.

There will be aspects of what’s been described here that will resonate with what’s happened in other settings. The task now is to continue to open out, elaborate and extend these self-managed social processes to ever-greater numbers of people with the aim of collectively renovating the public and socialising whole ways of life. Only then, by continuing to collectively invent forms of participatory politics; deepening and extending alliances to broaden the base of support; and securing victory for a Labour-led government, will we be able to create the progressive public movement needed to realise more equal, sustainable and democratic futures.

Barnet UNISON initial response to Ofsted report for Family Services


I have been working in the London Borough of Barnet for 22 years.

I have a long history of knowledge of our social services.

Back in 2008 our Council celebrated being a five star Council. They actually hung the stars from the high ceiling in our Atrium (posh for staff canteen).

At this time we did not have any serious issues in social work. Barnet had a good reputation for social work and had no reliance on agency workers.

In May 2008 something changed.

The Council announced a major policy change called Future Shape later to be known as “easyCouncil” then “One Barnet” and finally “Commissioning Council.”

Barnet UNISON quickly recognised this change as mass outsourcing ideology.

Barnet UNISON has written much on what has transpired over almost a decade of ideological obsession with mass outsourcing.

For this press release it is not the outsourced contractors that we are focussing on, but the impact on those remaining Council services, in this case Family Services.

Over the past decade to ensure delivery of the outsourcing programme the senior management had to change.

I watched as managers who were good at delivery were replaced by strategic managers. Often they were replaced by interims who would later become permanent. The Council then looked to consultants to prepare services for outsourcing. This led some to argue the Council was becoming “consultant dependent.”

Corporate knowledge was not seen as a positive.

What has happened in Family Services is, in my opinion, a long time coming.

This is why I would say to those looking for heads to roll, to reflect on those architects that have long since left.

Where is the accountability for those who have left and those who took their eye off the ball?

What needs to happen now? Barnet UNISON has already begun discussions with our members in Family Services and the Council.

We want to make Barnet a safe place to work which will translate into better services for children.

This means a change and recognition that staff and UNISON need to be fully involved in changes in Family Services.

There must be no repeat of past mistakes.

Barnet Council must listen to the workforce and their representatives.

The life of the child must and always be at the heart of Family Services.

To achieve this you need a highly motivated skilled workforce that is well supported.

The next 12 months are going to be critical and Barnet UNISON is going to make sure we are there for our members and those children who need Family Services.”

(John Burgess Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON).


1. OFSTED inspection findings

2. Inspectors rap ‘inadequate’ Barnet Council children’s services

3. Barnet children’s services condemned as inadequate by Ofsted: ‘Serious failings put young at risk of harm’

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle

For some people, a housing crisis means not getting planning permission for a loft conversion. For disposothers it means, quite simply, losing their home. Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is a feature documentary directed by Paul Sng (Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain) and narrated by Maxine Peake, exploring the catastrophic failures that have led to a chronic shortage of social housing in the UK.

These failures include government policy that prevents local councils and housing associations from building homes for the 1.4 million people on council housing waiting lists and the quarter of a million homeless people in Britain. Or the deliberate neglect of council estates by local authorities that’s used to justify ‘regeneration’ projects with private developers, which often force those who cannot afford homes in the new properties to relocate to other parts of the country, far from their families and support networks.

With unprecedented access to residents, politicians and experts in the housing industry and media, Dispossession is the story of people fighting for their communities, of people who know the difference between a house and a home, and who believe that housing is a human right, not an expensive luxury.

Screenings here.

Support Mixed Fleet Unite Workers in Dispute

15401105_1839038679647687_8781491977068279822_nMembers of Unite working for British Airways’ mixed fleet today are engaged in 14 days of continuous strike action.

The strike running from 00:01 hours on Wednesday 19 July 2017 to 23:59 hours on Tuesday 1 August 2017 is in addition to a 16-day strike currently underway which started at 00:01 on Saturday 1 July and finishes at 23:59 on Sunday 16 July.

As part of the dispute, Unite has launched legal action against the government’s decision to give the go-ahead to the ‘wet lease’ of nine Airbus aircraft by British Airways to cover striking cabin crew strike. The union argues that the lease of aircraft and cabin crew from Qatar Airways breaches European regulations.

Since 2010 all British Airways new cabin crew employees join what is called ‘mixed fleet’, where despite promises that pay would be 10 per cent above the market rate, basic pay starts at just £12,192 with £3 an hour flying pay. Unite estimates that on average ‘mixed fleet’ cabin crew earn £16,000, including allowances, a year.

Unite the Union is calling for donations to the hardship fund:

Account name – Mixed-Fleet Unite Hardship Fund

Account # – 2037 6387

Sort Code – 60-83-01

Reference: MFU



Trade Union Courses at the College of Haringey Enfield and North East London

TUC 10 Day courses

·        Union Learning Reps Certificate                 10 Mondays from 25 Sep 2017  

·        Union Reps Stage 1 Certificate                  10 Tuesdays from 26 Sep 2017

·        Health & Safety Stage 1 Certificate            10 Wednesdays from 27 Sep 2017

·        Employment Law Certificate                       10 Thursdays from 28 Sep 2017 

·        Next Steps for Safety Reps Certificate       10 Fridays from 29 Sep 2017

Venue: College of Haringey Enfield and North East London, Tottenham Centre N15 4RU

Times: 9.30am -4.30pm

Apply directly via the following website:

The Great Jobs Agenda: Giving every worker the opportunity to progress

Everyone at work deserves a great job. A great job is one where the worker is paid and treated fairly. And it’s one where workers get opportunities to progress, to learn and to have a voice on what matters.

That’s why we’ve created the Great Jobs Agenda. The agenda will give the trade union movement a common set of bargaining asks in workplaces. And it sets out what we want the government to do to ensure that every worker has a great job with fair pay, regular hours and the opportunity to progress.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary

Voice at work
“If you complain they would gang up and lessen your hours […] I am scared if I raise anything, they would stop all the good things about my job.”

Fair and decent pay
“Changeable income makes paying bills and budgeting hard. Can’t afford to take holidays or be off sick as it means a lower wage that month.”

Regular hours
“I don’t get a rota for the coming week till the Friday if I am lucky – this makes planning anything but work difficult. During quiet periods I will have no shifts so making ends meet is hard but then if it’s busy I’m expected to work 70+ hours.”

Learning and progression
“Told me I would be trained to do everything, never got proper training and they had a go at me for doing things wrong when I hadn’t done that particular thing before.”

Fair treatment and respect
“I get shouted at constantly, treated like I’m nothing, and get yelled at for taking time off.”

Healthy workplaces
“They do not follow health and safety standards and the building had no running water, we wash up in a bin before putting things through the dishwasher and the place is freezing and covered in mould.”

The Great Jobs Agenda: Giving every worker the opportunity to progress


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