29th January, 2016
Labour’s Rollercoaster – The Ups and Downs of Loving your Party
I remember the day I first got to vote and I was so pleased I wore my red jumper that sunny, Spring day because the Tory rosetted woman at the door of the polling station would know exactly what I was about to do. Labour were meant to win that one, and I was so proud to be a part of it.
But we did not win. So there goes the beginning of my rollercoaster emotional ride with the Labour party.
Fast forward to the pride I felt at being a conference delegate when Labour were in office and giving a standing ovation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and going on to briefly meet him and his delightful wife, Sarah.
A year later I went to the leadership conference in Manchester and was so excited to share the train carriage with Tessa Jowell on my way to see David Miliband become our leader; opposition would just be a short-lived thing, I just knew it.
Of course, Ed won and I had to join in with that standing ovation, even though I knew the next election was lost. We all heard about the devastated Labour activists on 7 May 2015 who saw that exit poll and knew we had lost. Well, that was me at the leadership conference, and I did my mourning back then.
Some credited Ed Miliband with being a good opposition leader who made the government think again on press regulation, bankers’ bonuses, gas and electricity prices and payday lending. The mood of the party was generally that he would go on to be our next Prime Minister. However, he took us to our lowest point on 29 August 2013, when he also influenced the actions of the government, and many thousands have suffered and died as a result.
That week it seemed that the UK would finally meet its obligation to stand up for the people of Syria and I felt such relief that at last an end to the civil war could be in sight. But Miliband thought he had a fool-proof plan to win the next general election. He and his MPs were to oppose any action, and that would please the voters, and he would go on to remind them that he was the one who stood up to Obama and Cameron. This was despite later assertions that he was only going along with Diane Abbott’s views on the matter, and Miliband did not even have the courage to stand up to her, let alone anyone who actually mattered.
I watched the debate on the day and felt increasingly angry with what many Labour MPs were saying. I had promised to campaign that evening for the party and it was hard to go and knock on doors. The vote came in and MPs were cheering. People were being tortured, dying even, and our MPs were cheering. The very MPs I spend my time defending when people make derogatory comments about politicians in general.
Two MPs were interviewed on BBC News and they had smiles on their faces and I felt ill. Then the BBC went to a news report which showed the victims of the chemical weapons attacks, screaming with flesh falling away, and I just cried.
Was it all worth it? Ed Miliband lost the election all the same, and I had already mourned, so I was fine. The elation came the next day when Miliband resigned and we were going to get a new leader, and everything would be lovely and we would have a great, winning party again.
Again I went to the leadership conference and had reason for more tears and disappointment.
So do I enjoy any highs now on my rollercoaster ride? We talk about the Labour family, and I get a lot out of working alongside and socialising with many of my fellow members. We have MPs, councillors and others who really make a positive difference to people’s lives, and I admire that.
The lows that come with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership hit me on almost a daily basis. Mao’s red book (which really made me sick); the wish to give the Falklands away (which left me ashamed when I visited the Falklands stand at Labour conference); the seemingly never-ending reshuffle (which at least gave some of us a laugh at the absurdity of it all).
We are left with a leadership that constantly has to explain everything that is said or done instead of standing up for the causes that actually matter. With all his faults even Miliband got that right and promoted many of those very causes.
Whilst we are busy with the explanations no-one is standing up for families who cannot get a decent home to live in or for the councils whose budgets simply cannot cover the basics due to cuts from central funding.
And no-one is speaking up for those who are unfairly detested, such as the immigrants who are blamed for bringing lawlessness and fecklessness into this country, when in fact so many have brought us prosperity and are the backbone of our public services.
Then there is a personal low for me when I am forced by circumstance into running a campaign event for Momentum. Yes, even I found myself with no choice but to work with them.
Nevertheless, there was that personal high when Hilary Benn spoke in the Commons in support of air strikes against Syria. It is a quite different action than that proposed in August 2013, but the strikes are already proving to be helping troops on the ground, and there is hope that the rollercoaster may yet take another turn – for the better.
By Paddington Baby