A few years ago I rarely missed a meeting of Kentish Town Labour Party. I joined up in 2010 and until 2012 regularly attended most of the local branch meetings. I made a lot of good friends and learned even more about politics. It was an education.
Then life kind of got in the way and I found it hard to get to the meetings. I was working more and had other commitments. I missed going to the meetings, but it just wasn’t practical. I think it is like this for a lot of people – especially people with families – and possibly explains why local politics is often the preserve of the young and ambitious or retired people with a bit more time to spare.
Readers of this blog will know that I went to a Momentum meeting last week and was impressed by the turnout. I wasn’t sure if this would be repeated in the more mainstream circles of Kentish Town Labour Party but it was good to see that the room was full. Not just the regulars but also a lot of newcomers. I also learnt that Kentish Town Labour Party now has over 600 members, which is in itself pretty impressive.
Debate obviously focused on Jeremy Corbyn and during the meeting we learnt that he would indeed be included on the ballot in a leadership election. A lawyer friend had already flagged this up to me earlier today but it was reassuring to see that it would actually happen. I think it would be morally wrong and totally undemocratic to exclude him from the leadership elections and a complete insult to the large number of members who picked him. I did not – I voted for Andy Burnham. But I would vote for Corbyn now, not because I buy into the slightly alarming cult of personality that has developed around him, but because I think Labour needs radical policies to differentiate itself from its rivals. Now Theresa May is making suggestions that workers should sit on company boards – a policy pretty much taken from Ed Miliband – I think it would be insane for Labour to replicate the policies of New Labour. We need to be distinct and we need to be authentic. If Brexit has taught us anything, it is that the voters want real policies not fake promises from men in shiny suits or women in pink jackets (sorry Angela).
I was pleased to see that people on the whole were amicable and it did not degenerate into the hate fest I feared it might do. There were obvious camps – I recognised people from the Momentum meeting and obviously there were the more moderate members who work as councillors on Camden Council. One of these, Georgia Gould, can only be described as New Labour aristocracy – her father was Philip Gould, who famously introduced Tony Blair to joys of the focus group. I have always liked Georgia – meeting her in 2010 when she knocked on my door convinced me to join up. She is intelligent and articulate and has done good work on why young people are reluctant to engage in mainstream politics. At the start of the meeting she put across some interesting theories, focusing on the fact that young people are more individulistic and do not see themselves as part of any kind of collective.
I felt her analysis was interesting but I’m afraid there was a massive elephant in the room. University fees. As my students at the college would say: “It’s all about the ps” (money). My students know the score and many of them grapple with the question of whether or not it is worth coughing up the best part of £30k to go to uni. A lot do, because they realise it is the only way they stand any kind of chance of getting a job and also because it is something that has cachet both with their families and peer group. Many of my students are poor and most are from ethnic minority backgrounds. But they have a massive advantage in that they live in London, where there is plenty of work. They can work through university, which alleviates the pain of the loan and then there will always be something they can do when they graduate. Would this be the case in Stoke on Trent or Portsmouth or Sunderland? I wonder…. Would they vote for a party that offered to slash or remove university fees? Ask a silly question! And would parents vote for a party that offered to give their children a much cheaper or free university education? Again, I think you know the answer.
This is just one policy that speaks to me, possibly because I am a parent and also work in education. I know how much I benefited from my own education. I am one of the lucky ones. Another role of the dice and I would prioritise council housing – I know so many decent hardworking individuals who pay silly money to live in shitty places. This is wrong. If I lived in the North East, I would want policies that encouraged investment in my area – other people might prioritise apprenticeships or developing green industries. I have alighted on education not because it is the only thing that matters but because it matters to me and also because I believe a bold policy in this area would make people vote Labour. Maybe they would have to pay a few p more tax – again, it’s all about the ps – but is this idea really such a deal breaker? In the 80s and 90s maybe, but now I’m not so sure…
I’m glad I went to Kentish Town Labour Party tonight and I want all the new people who have joined to get active and attend local branch meetings. Get active and have your say. Be the change you wish to see in the world.