It comes as no surprise that candidates for Labour’s leadership intend to massage the ego of the Party membership. Telling members that their emotional spasms in 2015 and 2016 saddled the party with the most ineffective leader witnessed by anyone under the age of 90 is not likely to garner many votes. A more circumspect approach is needed.
Understanding such caution does not, however, excuse the need to challenge absurdities when they emerge and I want to begin my new year threads by concentrating on a statement made by the front runner of the Corbynite legacy, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Setting out her pitch in the Guardian this week she wrote:
Labour’s trade unions and our party members will be crucial. They are our roots in every workplace and community. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. We can’t take them for granted, and our promise to democratise society will ring hollow if we can’t even democratise our own party. We must take the conversation from Westminster to the workplaces and social spaces of our communities,
What on earth is meant by such a statement?
Now, to his credit, Jeremy Corbyn was more explicit about what he would like to see happen. To quote from his 2016 leadership statement “Labour should transform itself by making a break from the top-down centralisation of the New Labour year’ and become a mass movement that is a vehicle for community empowerment”. Subsequently a community organising unit was established to help build alliances so that the party could become ‘a social movement rooted in communities’.
At that time our North Norfolk Labour Party was still in a state of rapture with the leader. The same month that the community organising unit was established at national level, in January 2018 , our local party conducted a survey of its then 600 members. The survey included the following questions: “are you currently involved or have links to any community organisations based in North Norfolk? If yes do you feel that Labour Party Members could contribute to these groups?” The survey was doubtless well intended, but the result was clear. Of the 600 who received the survey, to quote: “only ten people replied to our recent members’ survey, so it’s impossible to draw any generalisations from these results”. It was not impossible to draw conclusions: what was evident was that the overwhelming majority of paying members were not in the slightest bit interested in such social activism. Moreover, our local community bodies, of which there are many, were scarcely likely to welcome a visit from evangelists representing a body undergoing existential crisis.
There are no circumstances in which I could ever support Rebecca Long-Bailey However, at this important time, a little bit of honesty and realism would not go amiss. So, here’s a question for her.
In 2019 I participated, with my family, in the Peoples Vote marches in London. In the last of them some 700000 people were involved – far more that the national membership of the Labour Party. My fellow marchers came across as thoughtful and progressive and we need their votes if we are every likely to attain power. My guess is that if they voted Labour in 2019 they did so with great reluctance; they held their noses. How, Rebecca will you capture their support and enthusiasm in the future? They are certainly not likely to be attracted to the Corbyn legacy.
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