Labour 'utterly resistant' to grassroots empowerment?

It’s coming up to a year since Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair’s former chief adviser on political strategy, became chief executive of the RSA. As you may know, his mission is to turn the organisation into ‘a network for civic innovation’. Supporting him in this initiative is a group of similarly-minded individuals, calling themselves OpenRSA, who recently held their first ‘real world’ meeting.

I was struck by one particular passage in David Wilcox’s video recording of Matthew’s remarks to the group:

Part of the reason I was enthused by this idea is that I tried to do it at the Labour Party for ten years – and it was totally impossible. I spent ten years saying ‘can’t we turn our members into civic entrepreneurs? can’t we actually look like we believe in progressive change on the ground, rather than just knocking on people’s doors?’ The party leadership and party stakeholders were utterly resistant to this idea.

Granted, he wasn’t talking about web strategy exactly, but in these 2.0 days, I’m not sure there’s still a clear distinction between technology and grassroots empowerment.

Meanwhile, Labour gets a kicking (hardly the first!) from UK tech blog TechDigest, who declare it ‘very sad that our current Prime Minister and his Party have made the least amount of effort online. With that election coming ’round one day they better step up a gear or six.’

It’s common knowledge – and I know from conversations I had myself – that the party was on full ‘get ready’ mode, in case Mr Brown said ‘yes’. It can’t possibly have escaped their notice that the Tories, and arguably also the LibDems, were much stronger in the ‘online community’ game. They couldn’t have done much to turn it all round in three weeks; but 18 months ought to be plenty of time.

2 thoughts on “Labour 'utterly resistant' to grassroots empowerment?”

  1. I found Matthew’s statement interesting on two fronts – a rear window into New Labour’s attitude to its followers, and forward into his vision for the RSA. It’s tempting to think that Matthew might be trying to achieve at the RSA something he failed to do in the Labour Party – but I think it is much more interesting than that, with possible lessons for all membership organisations.
    What’s being attempted at RSA is a reinvention – as Matthew says in the video – that puts members at the centre, and staff in support. It’s hugely challenging, and I’m not sure the process is yet well worked-out. However, what’s encouraging is that it is being done openly, with honesty. Some lessons learned, then.

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