Simran, aged 20, Willenhall
Simran joined the party when she was 16 years old when Ed Miliband was leader. She joined because she'd had enough of Tory austerity. Even though she was young at the time, she thought that there had to be a better way. For her Labour was the way to bring about change. She's currently a student and secretary of her local Labour party branch.
I don't have power individually but that's because I actually think that power should be something that is shared. Everyone has to have power to do and to change things. If I did have more power politically, I'd like to influence policy. There are opportunities locally to influence policy, such as the manifesto consultation, which will be a good opportunity for me and members to voice opinions and put ideas forward. I'd say that the people at the top of society are the ones who really have the power, but I think this should change. Local people should definitely have more of a say. I think this is really important because at the moment so many people don't vote because they're really disillusioned, and I think if they realised that they had power, that would change. Technology can maybe help but I think it's as much about people having a voice as it is about tech. People can use social media to speak up online but for me it is definitely more about voices than technology. I'd like to be involved in local decisions. One thing I'd really like to change is to tackle poverty and homelessness. I come across homeless people at work and on my way to University. It makes me sad that we’re one of the largest economies in the world, yet there is so much deprivation. So many people haven’t seen a wage rise in years, or are having to choose between paying bills or being able to feed themselves. In Walsall, the Labour run administration launched a night shelter and scheme called Housing First designed to get homeless people in accommodation and support to find work. Its good to see fantastic work done locally to address these issues.
Fran, aged 63, Vauxhall
Fran has been involved in Labour for a long time. She left the party around the time of the Iraq War but came back into the party just before Jeremy Corbyn was elected. She has had a long career in nursing and the care sector. She is a WASPI woman and chair of Disability Labour.
In some ways as a white disabled woman who happens to be gay and Jewish, I feel that in some communities I have no influence at all. I feel that society ignores me because I am disabled and because I am entitled to benefits some people see me as a scrounger. This annoys me hugely because I would much rather be out working if I could. I should have been able to get my pension 4 years ago, so shouldn’t be trapped in the way I am, just because I’m not able to work full time. I qualified as a nurse aged 21 and often worked 2 jobs to support myself and my children. I’ve worked hard and like many others paid into the system, yet get treated as a second class citizen by some people. I guess that for me and so many others I know, is a big issue. In terms of power, I guess we all have a power to influence and that's what I'm seeking to do in Disability Labour. I’m hoping to influence policy within the party. We also have a democracy in this country and you have the power to elect your MP. There are some ways in which you can be powerful in this country, we can speak out about our rights. You're beginning to not be able to do that in Trump’s America any more than you can do it in Putin's Russia. I think we do have this privilege and sometimes people don't use this privilege as well as they could use it. I think that's a sense that some people don't have agency which is down to the hostile environment that this government has created for people like the Windrush generation. I was disgusted by that as I've worked with people from the Afro-Caribbean community all my career. This dreadful government and its predecessors have created a hostile environment for disabled people and we have a benefit system which is starving people to death or causing them to commit suicide because the benefit system is so vicious and that is totally wrong. The power that the government has and that they choose to deliberately misuse it is something that makes me really angry. Power and privilege brings with it responsibility, which the Tories deliberately miss use. I think responsibility and local decision-making is really important as we live in local communities. I also love that new technology can be used to empower more people. It can help lead to a greater level of democracy and involvement. One of the things will be doing for the AGM of Disability Labour this year is allowing people to dial into the meeting from their own homes and letting them vote. For me it's really important as there are huge number of people who can't leave their homes for either financial, physical or mental health reasons.
Will, aged 27, Croydon
Will lives in London having grown up in Manchester. He joined the party because of it’s recent shift to the left. By joining Labour he felt that he was finding his feet politically. He didn't want to continue to sit passively by when you can actually change things. He works in international development and is involved in his local party.
I think I have power relative to my background. In society I feel I have more power than a single mum with 3 kids who’s reliant on food-banks. I'm very aware that I have a middle-class background and I have to reconcile the fact that I know that my voice perhaps has a better chance of being heard when a lot of other people's are not. I know that if I was in trouble financially I could be helped out. I wouldn't be vulnerable to being made homeless - I have a safety net of family and friends. This means I have some power but not as much as some people who are even more privileged, went to elite-schools and grew up with networks that facilitate them entrenching and strengthening their disproportionate power as they grow up. I would like more power over a lot of things but how you do that I don't know? It's not easy as power isn't relinquished easily - it's a struggle and I think you have to campaign and change things from the bottom. I do think we need a new system and more power needs to be taken away from people who have too much - the imbalances of power need to be addressed but I don’t know what the answers are to do that. A lot of the way that we currently practice power feels tokenistic. For example once a petition gets over a certain amount of signatures it is debated in parliament but this is kind of meaningless. It's not really changing anything. I think the Swiss Canton system of devolved power is a possible model and we definitely need more devolution. But then complete direct democracy worries me, for instance there are probably a lot of issues I’m not qualified to vote on and I may not have the time to learn about entire subjects on which I could vote. There would need to be a balance struck between what elected representatives continue to vote on and what the electorate would start to vote on. Given we’re in the grips of disinformation campaigns I also feel like we lack the mechanisms for power to be redistributed meaningfully and safely. Brexit and the election of Trump have shown that facts increasingly matter less to some people and that people vote according to emotion, and rigid political views that are influenced by those with power, who continually seek to gain more. Citizens Assemblies are another interesting model but how often and when you use them are another question. There's a time and a place for direct democracy but I do think we also need representative democracy. There could be a case for incrementally increasing direct democracy too, these big changes don’t need to happen overnight. I also think that some people have huge amount of power with the amount of data they hold and can manipulate. Advertising, particularly through social media, can exploit our psychology to exert power and change how we act and I worry how much democracy is vulnerable to this.
Jane, aged 61, Wigan
Jane grew up in Caerphilly and has been a member periodically for the last 40 years. Her parents weren't active in the party but they watched all the conferences on television. One of her first memories was getting involved in the miners strikes. She’s been retired for 5 years having worked as a teacher and is involved in her local party.
I think whether you feel like you have power, depends on where you live. Where I live one school in our local village had to close down and we've suggested to the council it should be used as a facility for elderly people in the village. People from the council are happy to sit with us and discuss what we would like to happen. Our idea to turn it into sheltered housing or an old age facility for help and advice since its next the doctors. I think if you have the time to get involved in these kind of things, people are willing to listen. If you do make your voice heard then changes can be made. But I do think it's very difficult for young people as they lead busy lives and I know that I would not have had the time when I was working to go to all these meetings. There is definitely a bias towards older people. We need to involve more young people. But it's also about the whole of society - it's no good people complaining if they aren’t prepared to come forward - there's only so much Labour can do. I've met a real cross section of people over my life and I do feel like there's a real lack of willingness to get involved in politics. A lot depends on your previous experiences and educational background I suppose. After 40 years of working life I know I’m used to wanting to change things. I've also been very involved in a patient participation group which is about campaigning for better healthcare. Through this I do feel empowered and I do feel like I have power. Our group has 20 members and we liaise with the doctor's and the nurses and we run regular surveys of patients and recently we’ve run a really effective dementia awareness campaign. Through our group we make people aware of the needs of local people. So yes the opportunities are definitely there maybe it's more that people perhaps don't know about them. On technology I'm a bit of a technophobe myself and one thing that keeps cropping up, particularly in the dementia support groups, is that it's hard for people to use technology if you haven't been brought up with it. It's brilliant Labour has embraced new technology to get more young people involved but we need to remember it has its limitations. As people get older their memory goes and they lose the skills of simple things like remembering how to type. With bank branches closing and everything being done online, this makes it hard for people to live and I think we need to remember that. I don't trust new technology I'd much rather speak face to face with someone. It's the same with health, I think the majority of older people are not comfortable with technology becoming the only way you can talk to someone.