Yesterday, I wrote a piece detailing my view of the current mess the labour party is in, and, to an extent, who I see as responsible for it. The Internet, newspapers and blogosphere is awash with such pieces at the moment though, so on its own, it’s not particularly useful. It seems you can open just about any paper or click just about any link and read a story that will leave Labour and left voters in a state of despair, bracing ourselves for a generation of hard right, Thatcherite rule.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
So many people are calling for solutions. I have woken up feeling very optimistic today, and so I would like to propose some.
Under Corbyn we have seen the labour party grow into the largest left of centre party in Europe. That is an amazing achievement. It represents hope in politics. It represents the thirst for change. It tells us people are sick of the same old politics and want something new. It could go on to represent a revolution in British politics. We should be immensely proud.
Somewhere along the way though, Labour politics became unbelievably polarised. We forgot we are in fact a team, fighting against the Tories, their social injustice and austerity. We started yelling at each other across the divide, rival fans of team Corbyn and team Smith. It’s crushingly sad to see and, as I said yesterday, it pushes us toward divisions that are too great to heal, and that annihilate our chances against the Tories.
As a result, when either side make a point, we shout them down. Corbyn supporters point excitedly to the crowds and say “isn’t this amazing?” and are immediately down with the retort “Crowds don’t win elections.” We scoff and shout back. But we shouldn’t. We should listen.
It is perfectly fair and reasonable to point out that massive crowds at rallies and huge support on social media don’t necessarily translate to votes at the ballot box. After all, we live in a country with an ageing population, whose over 50s overwhelmingly vote conservative. We have lost the majority of Scotland to the SNP. A huge percentage of the under 25s don’t vote. And although we are winning on social media, our message is not translating to MSM, when many people who aren’t generally politically engaged absorb their information prior to elections. These concerns are valid and we need to take them seriously. The worst thing we could possibly do now is become complacent and over confident.
So how can we turn our movement into a credible electoral force?
I think Corbyn was quite right to say that this leadership election is an opportunity to reach out to new voters, and showcase the best of our party. But we also need to mobilise these huge crowds into a campaign force. Yes, it will be hard to promote our party without the support of the PLP, but there are 500k of us. If we organise, we can do it.
Many of the people who are inspired by Corbyn have been disengaged from politics, for various reasons, up until now. New members want to help; all labour members want to see Labour in power. They don’t necessarily know how to. It isn’t as simple as haranguing your friends and neighbours to vote labour (although that’s a start). We need guidance.
I would like to see Labour send out campaign packs to members. Give us flash cards with Corbyn’s policies on, to help us showcase the best of labour. Perhaps tailor them so we can pull out the card that best addresses our neighbour’s and friend’s concerns. The little old lady down the road will probably be more interested in hearing about Corbyn supporters plans to protect her pension and improve in supported accommodation than his plans to scrap tuition fees. The newly laid off guy next door is going to be far more interested in his policy to create two million manufacturing jobs than his pledge to create a National Education Service. If new members were given simple, tailored policy messages, we would be a lot more effective as a campaign force. We need, at the very least, basic directional ideas of how to campaign for the Labour party. We are legion, but milling around not really knowing what to do isn’t helping. Labour absolutely must cash in on the mood of Corbyn supporters and mobilise us to spread the word.
In the meantime, there is still lots we can do to help Labour into power.
We can start pointing to what’s great about our party instead of what divides it. Don’t engage in bickering with members of our own party. It’s ridiculously self defeating, on both sides. If we can’t speak nicely and share ideas on a calm and rational way, then we shouldn’t engage at all.
We can take credit as a party for the times we have forced the conservatives to climb down on some of their most – yes I will use the word – evil policies.
We can cheerlead all the policies that we love under anti-austerity labour.
We can point to ALL the positives.
We should ignore the badly behaved labour MPs in public, like the naughty toddlers they are, and pursue due process by writing to party whips and seeking guidance through our CLPs where we think they have gone beyond the pale.
And most of all, and I absolutely cannot stress this enough so I’m actually going to caps lock it (something I never do)
**WE TAKE THE FIGHT TO THE TORIES!**
They are giving us an open goal. Tory failings are too many to list here. The current leadership of the Tory party makes Cruella Deville look cuddly. While we are busy fighting, they are rolling back all our rights and kicking electoral fraud allegations under the carpet. We *need* to shine the spotlight on them.
We might not be able to get MSM onside, but while they are busy trying to make us look like a shouty bunch of protest party student types, it is imperative that we appear reasonable, balanced and open to suggestions to counter that narrative. Yes it’s insulting. Yes it’s frustrating. But we mustn’t give more fuel to the fire.
We need to get out in our local communities – scary I know- but we have to reach people who don’t get their news from social media. We can volunteer at food banks, campaign to save our libraries, read to our elderly neighbours. We can help build a positive image of our movement in thousands of small but significant ways. We are Jeremy Corbyn’s media, and we have to be that offline as well.
I’ve woken up optimistic, of hope, and excited about what our movement can become if we work together. We should be good at working together for the common good – we’re socialists. It’s what we do.
Let’s get out there and do it.