Monthly Archives: July 2016

To save the Party we love

One rainy night almost a quarter of a century ago, two women rang the buzzer on my flat and said they were from the Labour Party. They were looking for people to nominate them for the local council elections in the very Conservative town I was living in at the time.

I let them in, gave them a cup of tea and signed their papers. Probably prompted by my copies of Anthony Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism” and a biography of Hugh Gaitskell, they decided I might be a potential recruit.

About eighteen months earlier, I’d made a promise to the person who succeeded me as President of the Students Union at Hull University that I’d join when Labour adopted “one member, one vote”. A book of political quotations he gave me, signed, sat next to the Gaitskell bio. John Smith had just delivered that reform, but sadly was to die shortly after. 

The candidates who called round didn’t win. I probably never finished Crosland’s book. But I did join the Labour Party.

And my successor, the one who gave me the book? Whilst I spent the best part of a decade in call centres, he set out on a path that would lead last year to him becoming Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. 

So that’s how I came to be here, politically. I joined because of a need to make a difference, because of a century of democratic socialism, of the pursuit of change via the ballot box and parliamentary power. 

I’ve spent more than a decade trying to win power to deliver that change here in the city I’ve thought of as home all my life. Change for the people who need it most, opportunity for those excluded, fairness for those at a disadvantage. 

It is hard. It is complicated. It is full of difficult compromises and daily challenges.

I don’t have a majority on the Council. I don’t lead a Cabinet and must get everything agreed by committee. The Tory cuts are immense, the desperate financial position made worse by Brexit and the growing pressures of social care. But I would not give this up for the luxury of opposition. Never.

A little change is better than no change. Influence better than impotence. A seat at the table better than a protest in the street.

I’ve remained silent on the leadership of my Party till now, believing unity to be the best course. I believe politics at its best should be about bringing people together, not taking sides. I cannot in all good faith hold that position in this respect any longer.

It will come as no surprise that, having backed Liz Kendall last year, I was never going to be a convert to Jeremy Corbyn. It will come as no surprise that I support a change in leadership nationally. It will come as no surprise to me that this will draw a good deal of abuse from largely anonymous critics on Twitter.

We should be challenging a divided Conservative Government, one that has driven the economy over a precipice because of its split over Europe, one that is in the midst of its own leadership election. We should be seventeen points ahead. We are seven points behind.

I respect my colleagues and friends of long-standing in the Party who do back Jeremy. I respect those who are inspired by his particular brand of politics. I have less respect for those who were until very recently part of other parties and groupings on the fringes of left-wing politics, standing in elections against us, who now hold positions of authority. People for whom the finer points of political purity are more important than the messy compromises of delivering real change.

That century of Labour politics now stands at risk. That opportunity to deliver change could now be slipping away. Those who need us most could see us turn away, towards a kind of politics that indulges itself rather than engages with them.

Nearly three thousand people elected me last May for a fourth term on the council. Over one hundred and twenty five thousand votes for Labour candidates and the Labour manifesto secured a Labour-run council for Brighton and Hove. The Labour and Cooperative Group I lead will carry on with the job.

But we need a strong, credible, electable Labour Party in Parliament, in the country, ready and able to win. Able to reconnect with voters who feel abandoned and who are at risk of exploitation by extremists.We need change for that to happen. We need a leader who can win us millions of new voters, not just a few thousand new party members.Jeremy’s supporters promised that last summer, they have not materialised.

That Gaitskell biography of course recounts his most famous speech as Leader of the Labour Party, where he spoke of his determination to “fight, fight and fight again to save the Party we love.”

Now more than ever, we must undertake that task anew.

Hugh Gaitskell.