Tomorrow is my birthday. I shall be another year older – 46 to be exact. Have I lived half my life yet? Probably, but there is a history of incredible longevity in my family so who knows…It may be a VERY long time indeed before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
I digress. Birthdays are one of those things that mark the passage of time, itself a mixture of slow drift and sudden change. Yes I am going to talk about politics. Funny that.
Last night I attended our CLP meeting, where the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras got the chance to nominate either Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent, or Owen Smith (whose face adorned some very shiny leaflets), as Labour leader. It took place in a church on the Euston Road, the same place where we had assembled about eighteen months ago to select our MP Sir Keir Starmer. Keir was there, as was our former MP Sir Frank Dobson. But what was more important was the enormous number of Labour members – over 400 – who had packed the church to have their say. Considering this was August, when London is a shadow of its usual self, this was pretty impressive.
My mind went back to last summer when we were packed into a similar (but slightly less impressive) venue to go through a similar process. I voted for Andy Burnham, who I still like – his work on Hillsborough was brilliant and he has also done great things to protect the rights of EU nationals. I am glad he has been selected as the candidate for Greater Manchester. Obviously Burnham was not chosen – instead the members chose Jeremy Corbyn as the leader.
At the time I thought this was a disastrous choice. Still reeling from the 2015 election defeat I felt this was a decision of total madness. I withdrew from discussing politics with a lot of people and felt confused and unsettled. I wrote a lot and still engaged with what was going on but the thought of going anywhere near a Labour Party meeting repelled me. I felt out of synch with what was going on. I felt extremely lost politically.
Hope came briefly with the election of Sadiq Khan as London Mayor in May. I love Sadiq and feel he is the perfect person to represent my wonderful city. It makes me proud that my fellow Londoners have elected a Muslim – no way would this have happened in the London of my childhood, where the ‘p word’ and the ‘n word’ were sprinkled liberally in conversation. My middle child met Sadiq and thinks he is wonderful. To say he is inspirational would be an understatement.
Then Brexit happened. Pints of ink and billions of pixels have been wasted attempting to analyse how, why and what next. Naturally working class voters have been blamed for it – too ‘thick’ to understand the issues is the searing analysis put forward by those who struggle to come to terms with the result. This ignores the fact that Brexit was way more popular with Tories than it was with Labour voters. But we won’t talk about that, oh no.
The other person – obviously – to blame for Brexit, was Jeremy Corbyn. Obviously, it was all his fault – nothing to do with David Cameron (who called the referendum in the first place), or Boris Johnson (who was in many ways the face of the Leave campaign) or the many newspapers who pretty much told the electorate they should leave the EU. No, it was all Corbyn’s fault. But then isn’t everything?
Cue mass resignations in the Parliamentary Labour Party as the backstabbing reached epic proportions. It was Labour’s very own night of the long knives, although I prefer the term ‘chicken coup’, reflecting as it does the cowardice and duplicity of the plotters. I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature and take much of what I read in The Canary (and similar publications) with a pinch of salt. All I will say is that the behaviour of the PLP post Brexit took Labour to a new low and perversely benefited Corbyn more profoundly than any slick marketing campaign could hope to do. Throughout the bullying and plotting he kept quiet and stood firm. I admired him for this. It made a mockery of all the people who said he was weak. A weak man would not have been cope with this level of abuse. More importantly, the coup gave lie to the claims of ‘competence’ given by Corbyn’s opponents. It was bungled and inept – the words ‘piss-up’ and ‘brewery’ spring to mind.When Angela Smith – or is that Owen Eagle – claims to be ‘competent’ I’m afraid I struggle to keep a straight face.
I was in a mischievious mood last night and made reference to this. Drawing on my many years as a writer of awful voiceover for awful TV shows I delivered a one liner to this effect. It raised a cheap laugh, which I know annoyed some people. I am sorry if you found this offensive – I am not one of those people who wishes to see the Labour Party populated by a bunch of clones who all have indentikit views. That would be boring and stagnant and the thing I love about Labour meetings at the moment is that they are vibrant and engaging.
The CLP voted to endorse Corbyn by a majority of 274 votes to 196 for Smith. A healthy majority. It was a good meeting and showed the Labour party is very much alive. Yes, it is easy to point to low ratings in opinion polls, but I feel this is not so much about who leads the Labour party as a perception of lack of unity. I would also like to see more work done to get the message out about Labour’s policies and how they will be funded. In a post Brexit Britain, I think a lot of people would be happy to pay a bit more tax to make the nation a better place. So let’s get the message out – on social media, at public meetings, at benefit gigs and social events. The press will never be on side with anything that challenges the status quo, but does that really matter these days? The world is not as it was when I was a young woman and that excites me.