Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Movement for Strange

Undercover at David Miliband’s eve of voting rally.

I never like answering my phone in my sleep and especially not to a shrill and excited voice, unfathomable for the early hour of a bank holiday Monday. Yes I was definitely coming, yes I knew where it was, and no I didn’t need any help getting there.

This was the third time someone from David Miliband’s hyperbolic Movement for Change had been in touch that weekend. Despite answering with my real name, they would ask to speak to “Alex” every time, but I’d long given up putting the phone on the desk for thirty seconds while I went to “find him”.

The event was meant to be a culmination of training “future leaders”, a “wonk school” if you will. Out of mere curiosity at what the enemy were up to, I signed up on the website with my legal name Alexander for more information back in July. I was now being pestered at alarming rate. The sense of desperation at getting as many people as possible to Miliband’s rally was starting to show. The event was meant to be a congregation of all the activists the campaign have trained over the summer - allegedly over a thousand, but I for one had certainly not achieved my level one community organiser’s badge.

Most normal people wouldn’t choose to give up hours of their bank-holiday weekend to go mingle with Milband’s new model army, but with ten days of stubble and a Che Guevara t-shirt to mask me, what was the worst that could happen?

My mind was made up by a final reminder text, to which I replied “do I need to bring anything?” The reply of “just enthusiasm” made me cringe and yet somehow feel hopeful at the same time. “Enthusiasm” and the Labour leadership race have rarely been seen in a sentence together. I printed out my ticket and was asked to write my own unique ticket number, 505, on it, but a frantic follow up email asked me to change that to 1005. What a masterful piece of spin, curiously first used by another movement for change, the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the German Workers' Party who would soon become the Nazis).

Despite being an obvious right-winger, hanging around Westminster enough, you end up meeting hacks and pole-climbers of all parties, so with a last check of my new side-parting, I put my flatmate’s glasses and entered Westminster’s grand Emmanuel Centre and approached the desk. Of course there was no record of ticket 1005. Given I knew the coordinator at one of the desks further down, having to spell out my surname wasn’t particularly helpful. Eventually I was found and ticked and given a little green sticker. No one would give me an answer to what the orange ones were for, but the micro-managing had begun.

I was quickly sent upstairs, guided past a silent brass band, and as a proud member of Lambeth Constituency Labour Party herded into the South London section of the audience. Strangely my constituency comrades hadn’t seen me around before, but that wasn’t to stop a friendly chit-chat ensuing. I was new to the constituency of course, but my neighbour on the left didn’t seem particularly involved either. He hadn’t had any Community Organiser training either, nor had the person next to him, or his mum, or in fact anyone sitting around me.

Scanning around the room there was undoubtedly an impressive turn out, but as even Miliband supporters noted there was a distinct lack of young people. The room was full of “Future Leaders” most of whom were much older than their hopeful messiah. The surroundings could not be more appropriate. For someone trying to escape the title of being heir to “St Tony”, the home to the Emmanuel Evangelical Church, was a interesting choice of venue. Everywhere the eye looked was a combination of Miliband’s elongated slogans and overt new-age Christianity. Bringing Labour together, Leading Labour to... redemption?

The atmosphere had the feel of a church congregation full of anticipation. Jim Murphy gave a panto style warm up, the audience fully embracing the “Are you ready... I can’t hear you” banter while stylish female spinners and handlers looked on from the corner of the stage with awkward, embarrassed smiles.

As the pre-game warm up continued the brass band played, the rainbow flags were waved and various handpicked Miliband supporters were paraded across the stage to cheers. A dire duet by MPs Willie Bain and Stella Creasy who narrated the story of the Labour Party like teachers at a school play was not enough to dampen spirits. The fervour amongst the audience was growing, with a rapturous response every time the word “ConDem” was mentioned. I was beginning to think this could turn into a Mid-West evangelical roof raiser, with people having visions and speaking in tongues, running up and down the aisles at any moment. And then it did.

One man stood up singing, shouting, screaming and began to run toward the stage, suddenly whole rows of black women were singing and clapping and screaming “we want David”. It was a practiced routine and a whole block of the audience knew the words to their song. Suddenly I realised what the orange stickers meant. It seems the Movement for Change has been working rather closely with London Citizens, a grassroots community group that have come under attack from being left-wing extremists but also have had praise heaped upon them by no less than David Cameron and Steve Hilton.

Suddenly the “grassroots” effect began to tarnish, clearly Miliband was taking a leaf out of the Obama book, this was a “movement” not a rally, this was about ordinary people not him, yet he needed the help of a well-funded and well organised group to flood his “movement” with room-meat. The facade had slipped and given the speed at which a glamorous blonde staffer was running around, the team knew this. She ran so fast to the back of the room to work out what to do, that her DM4Leader badges were peeling off her silk dress.

Order was restored and suddenly there was piano playing a ConDem ballard. Sob stories by Assistant Regional Inclusion Managers for unions were told over what sounded uncannily like the “Lonely Man” theme from the end of The Incredible Hulk. One man actually said the ConDem cuts were going to kill him.

And then suddenly there he was, David, the golden child. He actually kissed a baby as he walked in less than three feet from where I was standing. He had the pointing-at-people-you-pretend-to-know-in-the-audience trick down to a tee and I even got to touch the chosen one’s hand. No religious experience for me, though I did feel a little breathless from the unending standing ovations and cheering and wooing during the speech. When in Rome.

We were treated to Miliband’s vision, a vision of the “Good Society” where people, not politicians were in control. Communities were going to be empowered, localism rules the day, but this was not the Big Society. Don’t you dare even think this could possibly be an overlap with the evil ConDems. No this was different, this was Miliband’s Jerry Maguire “help me help you” moment. It was as if Cameron had talked about the Big Society in 2005 when he was standing for leader rather than deploying it as a last minute election grenade that he forgot to pull the pin on.

It was a competent speech, polished, no notes and even attempted a little self-deprecation about the justified mocking he had received for his “how to organise a drinks party” briefing. The joke was on David though, through his desperation to not be seen as a micro-manager and instead an empowerer, he managed to show just what a micro-manager he is.

Impressive at first, the whole Movement for Change is a fraud, a room full of community organisers who weren’t just there because Miliband had empowered them; they were Community Organisers and charity workers while he was still carrying bags for Tony Blair. Where were these thousands personally trained by the Movement for Change? It was telling that he ended his speech begging the audience to join Labour.

It was clear he wanted it to be an Obama style event, swaths of the audience were waiting for an Obama style event but, cometh the hour, the man was nowhere to be seen. In the end it was nothing more than a tacit endorsement for David Cameron’s Big Society which his speechwriters have clearly had a selective browse. The Good Society, the Big Society, whatever you want to call it, if Miliband wins, there is hope that common ground can be found on the reining in of the state. This all could have been said without the charade though.

A hack I knew, had started to make intrigued eye contact, I began to think my game was up, and besides the show was drawing to a close. I made a dash for the exit. As I stood outside reading the confirmation I had been rumbled on Twitter, a man clocked my Che t-shirt. “You don’t see many of those anymore, we’ve all got them though.” A Chinese man next to him, with a green sticker on, said “the best thing my father ever did was sign me up to the Labour Party and the Chinese Communist Party on my 16th Birthday.”

It was no surprise that these old-timers felt more comfortable outside smoking than with the stage-managed intensity inside and conversation quickly turned to great left-wing leaders. It was a deeply surreal experience for me to hear Chairman Mao praised in such lavish term, Castro had to be expected though. Thankfully there wasn’t much expectation that David Miliband would join these greats, a mere shrug when I asked. He could give the Chinese Communist party a run for their money on the organisational front though.


Billy Blofeld

It is good to know that the beating heart that has propelled Labour to numerous election defeats is still alive, kicking and in rude health.

Liza said...

I am absolutely appalled by this!
How can you be so disrespectful towards all the people who travelled from all over the country to attend this Movement For Change event!
Yes, I am one of the Future Leader's from Manchester - 32 of us came from the NW, the majority bar about 6 of us had actually been trained, the rest waiting for future sessions.
We were allowed to invite our friends/family/fellow CLP members even if they'd not done the training so that they could see the progress we'd been making too.
Being a Tory, perhaps you have no concept of the words community-spirit - but that was exactly what we were celebrating and all of our hard work plus the fact that anyone could get involved if they wanted to.
None of it was staged either - do you think we all made those stories up, they were real problems faced by many of us everywhere - perhaps you may not be affected by them cos you're loaded and don't care, who knows!
Do you not think most of us would have given up our Bank Holiday Monday, if we didn't think it was worth celebrating?
Try and dampen our spirits all you want - by calling us names or mocking us but at least we're being constructive. There's far too much commitment and enthusiasm from lots of people from many different backgrounds, all ages, race, religions up and down the country to stop this momentum.
You can't get excited about it because you're not actually involved (open to anyone remember!)then fine, but leave us to it eh!
Plus jealousy is an ugly trait! ;-)

Grumpy Old Man said...

Dear Lisa. 26 Future Leaders trained from a Labour stronghold. Very impressive. There will be plenty of room for you to grow. If you recruit 5 more people who complete the course, do you become a leading Future Leader, 20 more a Senior Future Leader and so on?

Anonymous said...

from Rachel

I agree with Liza. I was there. I came from Copeland. If you don't know where that is, look it up on an election map. It can accurately be described as a "very long way away from London".

There are numerous factual inaccuracies in your article. The one I find most personally offensive is that you describe Emmanuel Evangelical Church as "overt new-age Christianity". I am a Christian and I regularly attend churches like this. The "new-age Christianity" to which you refer were bible verses written over 2,000 years ago. The church is actually very mainstream.

Secondly, the room wasn't full of old people, though it was full of people from many ethnic minorities and there was a very large number of Africans. It became clear through the proceedings that many of them were newly-recruited members of Congolese for Labour.

Thirdly, I know for a fact that a significant proportion of those in attendance had attended #M4C training events. Why do I know that? Because I attended a session which took place 2 hours before the assembly so had some idea how many had turned out to one of many training events – about 300, I would guess. There were so many, in fact, that they ran out of "standing room only". I was in a group of 12, 8 of whom were from the Congolese community. Again, there was huge ethnic diversity in the room – and very few grey hairs.

There were obviously people at the assembly who were there because they were David Miliband supporters rather than because they had received community organiser training. Why wouldn't there be? But the audience enthusiasm was totally genuine – the African singing was unscripted.

I can totally understand why a Tory wouldn't particularly enjoy a History of the Labour Party, being amongst enthusiastic Labour supporters, or listening to authentic accounts of the impact of ConDem cuts, but this genuine attempt to smear the name of #M4C is very telling. It tells me that it is considered a genuine threat to the Tory's chosen narrative of a dead and defunct Labour Party.

Tory Bear said...

Ah the famous name-checked Liza. No one is doubting your enuthisam, merely questiong quite what it is you are getting excited about.

As for Rachel. Every single photo discredits what you said. Look at the albums on facebook and flickr from the event and you shall see the age of the people attending. Even DM supporters were saying it on Twitter at the time so nice try there.

And the comment about the church was not meant to be offensive, a mere observation. and it is new age.

Not one person i spoke to had been trained by DM. If you dispute that perhaps you would enjoy reliving the experience on the hours of recordings I have from the dictaphone in my pocket.

Im not trying to smear anyone, just show what was going on that strange day.

DM is going to win the leadership and he could do so without the bullshit.


Ha! Comical in the telling, no doubt painful to experience first-hand, though.

Bless you for enduring the astro-turfing efforts, TB.

CAPTCHA code word verification = toryo

Ash said...

Left-wing politics is a pseudo religion to these "Community" types. Look up the cult of Gerry Healy.

@ Liza & Rachel, you are being used as a party apparatchiks to further the political career of DM and furthermore, you are not a "future leaders" despite whatever the paramilitary club you belong to has told you.

It all sounds like some sort of pyramid scheme tbh.

Anonymous said...

from Rachel

"Every single photo discredits what you said. Look at the albums on facebook and flickr from the event and you shall see the age of the people attending."

Well, clearly, your definition of "old" and my definition of "old" are very different. If you were expecting a room full of teenagers then, well yes, people were "old". If, on the other hand, you were expecting a cross-section of Labour Party activists then your portrayal of the event as being somehow packed with geriatrics is very wide of the mark:!/photo.php?pid=558096&fbid=1285310871306&op=7&o=global&view=global&subj=136513229694935&id=1786189312!/photo.php?pid=558074&fbid=1285304391144&op=7&o=global&view=global&subj=136513229694935&id=1786189312!/photo.php?pid=557967&fbid=1285285230665&op=7&o=global&view=global&subj=136513229694935&id=1786189312!/photo.php?pid=557960&fbid=1285282870606&op=7&o=global&view=global&subj=136513229694935&id=1786189312!/photo.php?pid=557911&fbid=1285265630175&op=7&o=global&view=global&subj=136513229694935&id=1786189312

In 1997 the AVERAGE age of tory Party members was 65. I'd put the average age of this audience at less than 40.

Am I being used? Not really. I turned up, got some training, listened to some speeches and went away again. It was really very easy. Not every political activist is in it for their own careers y'know. Some of us just want to help our local communities.

Grasping Gopher said...

I've looked at the Church's website. That is as new age as you get. Granted, new age churches claim they are reverting to the practice of the primitive church, but last time I looked this was equally claimed by the Lutherans, Baptists, Calvinists and Orthodox Churches. They can't all be right.

Oh, and I clicked on the "Doctrinal basis" section. Have they rewritten the Apostles' Creed in management speak? And the rest of their website; Cell based church? Trans-denominational? And is that the word FISH I see along the side of their Vision statement (it was a bad enough pun in the original Greek.)?

Yet you have the nerve to wonder why people at this event seemed so enthusiastic. These are the latter day Pharisees; what else do you expect from an event at the self-important Emmanuel Evangelical Church.

Liza said...

Not every single Future Leader(it's just a collective name - no big deal!) attended because we are allowed to have our own lives at the same time and be away on the last Bank Hol of the Summer! Loads couldn't make it such as 6 of my CLP members of ALL ages who'd done the training also! Stop being so pathetic/negative.
And no we don't have snr,jnr,execs - everybody's the same it's no competetion! Elitism's out wherever David Miliband's concerned, think you may have to read up on his campaign! This is why he's the Uniter of the Labour Party, and why it's all working!
Very well said Rachel btw - the truth!
@Tory Bear LMAO "name-checked"! I can assure you I am nobody special, just an enthusiastic supporter who will always fight for what I believe in.
It's not bullshit, it's genuine support from people who believe in the Movement For Change and have huge gratitude towards David because he made it accessible to the many not just the elite few < DM quote and true.
And he's bringing people together - which is another unbroken promise from his campaign.
The event was probably strange to you because you only went for the day and hadn't actually experienced the training months prior to it and seen the potential of just how much anyone can do.
To Ash, pyramid selling is one way to describe it I suppose but a "movement" fits it better cos it's coming from the people completely voluntarily.
Yes David's street-cred is doing very well out of it all, but he was gobsmacked when he walked in - I don't actually think he envisaged such a great response tbh, but was overwhelmingly inspired by us all, you saw the passion and fighting talk come out in his speech. So what if the audience got excited, better than being a miserable sceptical Tory Party, eh!
@Tory Bear do check my pictures on FB/Twitter all ages were present - where were you sitting?
Back tomorrow no doubt, after my first day at college.
Liza :-)

Very entertaining article. Quite illuminating, though sadly not surprising. The cult style tactics are becoming a depressing feature of politics (and we shouldn't pretend that we're entirely immune from all of that in the Conservatives). Does look like he is trying to claim the 'Big Society' narrative and I like your metaphor about us not really pulling the pin on that grenade. Good Stuff.

Very entertaining post - you deserve a mention in despatches for putting yourself through that - must have been some schadenfreud involved.

Interesting to hear that Milliband is trying to grab the big society narrative. 13 years late.

Also paints a depressing picture of the 'cult' techniques that have crept into British Politics, we shouldn't pretend the Tories are entirley immune from that either.
Anyway - good stuff.

Faceless Bureaucrat

TB - are you sure you attended the correct meeting? - sounds like you wandered into an Alpha Course get-together by mistake.

@ Liza
"Plus, jealousy is an ugly trait"

So says the brainwashed, middle-class hating Socialist.

"I can assure you I am nobody special,..."

Well, at least we can agree on something.

@ Rachel
"Am I being used?..."

You bet...


Ash said...

@ Liza
"Elitism's out wherever David Miliband's concerned!"

Did you really say that? Oh my.. DM is only an MP becuase his father was a marxist intellectual. His own BROTHER will get the ledaership if he doesn't. Wise up.

Ash said...

@ Liza
"Elitism's out wherever David Miliband's concerned!"

Haha! Do you really beleive that? Oh my... DM is only an MP becuase his father was a marxist intellectual. His own BROTHER will get the ledaership if he doesn't. Wise up.

Jabba the Cat

"every single Future Leader(it's just a collective name - no big deal!)"

Sounds very Hitler Jungen, but then is that a surprise as we are dealing with but another cheek on the red arse of socialism.

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