The role of CLP secretary in The Labour Party is probably one of the most unenviable roles in politics. If you are doing everything right, nobody will notice however you so much as breathe in the wrong direction and you have the entire weight of a local constituency on your shoulders. In addition to this you find yourself at the centre of every argument, bitter dispute or ruckus in a locality whether you like it or not.
The glue that holds The Labour Party together are its CLP secretaries however I think it is fair to say CLP secretaries receive very little support from The Labour Party as a whole. With that in mind I felt it would be good to put together a few things that I found helpful to remember after nearing four years in post which included overseeing two general elections, four local elections and two labour leadership elections. So here it goes, Andrew’s top ten things to remember as a CLP Secretary in The Labour Party:
1) You are a volunteer
Always remember you are an unpaid volunteer and do not hesitate to remind other people of this. If you chose not to do a task, forget to do something or just don’t have the time to deal with Mr Biggins who hasn’t received the paper copy of the agenda, then that is fine. Without CLP secretaries giving up their time for free The Labour Party would fall apart and if you do not value your time, nobody else will.
2) You have to put yourself first
In almost every single situation you and your well-being has to come first, never sacrifice it for the sake of The Labour Party. If the role is getting to you and you are feeling anxious, nervous or depressed as a result, take a break and never let anyone criticise you because of this. The Labour Party is the party of the worker, we champion workers’ rights and wouldn’t batter an eyelid if an employee took some time off work because their well-being was suffering, the same applies for CLP secretaries.
3) You have to Manage your emails
When I first because the secretary I made the mistake of having my CLP secretary email as my personal email… never ever do this. Not only did I get bombarded with spam from head office, but I had to sift through said spam to actually find emails from members. It also meant if I did need to take a break I couldn’t escape because the CLP emails were tied to my personal one.
4) Your working hours need to be right!
You are important, your time is important, and your work is important however what underpins this is your sleep. Your sleep is essential, and you should not sacrifice it for the sake of The Labour Party. The best thing I did as CLP secretary was to ban myself from doing any CLP work between the hours of 11:00pm – 06:00am, it made such a positive difference to my wellbeing. Unfortunately, the nature of the role means having one structured slot a week to do CLP work is incredible difficult but don’t let the role overtake your life. If you are busy make sure you find at least one day a week to have to yourself.
5) Covering your ass is essential!
The sad reality is when things go wrong the CLP secretary tends to get blamed whether they were responsible or not, this is why one essential thing to remember as CLP secretary is you need to cover your ass. What this means in practice is you make sure any decision taken, is taken as a collective as opposed to you individually, make sure you have clear standing orders, as well as operational processes to back up decisions you make. In addition to this make sure you always remember to put it in writing, if it is not written down it did not happen.
6) You need to talk to other CLP secretaries
You will not be the only person experiencing a challenge and the chances are high you will not be the first person to encounter the challenge. There are over 600 CLP secretaries out there who will most likely be able to sympathise with you, reach out to them either through local connections or the CLP secretary forum on Facebook. Get connected.
7) You need to ask your regional office for support
You may not get it, you may not even get a response however you should consistently ask your regional office to help you out, even if you think you are running a tight ship. Ask them if they are going to facilitate any face-to-face training sessions, will they help organise a trip to another CLP to see how they work? Regional offices are there to support you so make sure you get your requests in!
8) Making sure you avoid CLP envy is so important!
If you are a secretary in a smaller CLP don’t fall into the trap of getting CLP envy. You may have members who are constantly going on about Trumpton CLP who has a bigger and better event than yours however you have to remind them that not every CLP is the same. Some CLPs will have MPs and with that comes an office and campaigning infrastructure, some CLPs will have a campaign office in the boot of a battered ford Mondeo and that is not a reflection on you, but The Labour Party as a whole.
9) You do not do everything alone
Inevitably as CLP secretary you will gather a considerable workload, whether it be managing databases, organising websites, scheduling meetings, sending out correspondence it all takes time effort and resources. Get people to help you, there will always be that one person who says they could do it better or it is unacceptable that you haven’t done X Y or Z, turn it on them and ask them what they are going to do to help out.
10) You never tolerate bullying
If I am being honest, being a CLP secretary started me on a journey of hating a political party I once loved. Members can be incredibly cruel to you and you should not have to tolerate that. Bullying is not just physical assault either, remember constant unconstructive criticism, aggressive behaviour, emotional manipulation can all be just as damaging to you and are not tolerated by The Labour Party. Unfortunately, in my view The Labour Party are not particularly good at supporting CLP secretaries manage bullying but if you can and feel able you should never suffer in silence. Reach out to a friend, contact anti-bullying charities and take the steps you need to protect you!