Regardless of the result the Labour Party will face some extremely tough choices on the 25th September and beyond.
If Owen Smith wins, all bets are off. Goodness knows what will happen. I dread to think, frankly.
But if Jeremy Corbyn wins, he will have a mandate to continue with his strategy of introducing bottom-up, member–led party democracy.
But there is a quid pro quo. The members who support him in huge numbers need to get involved in the party structures in huge numbers; and the honest truth is that in the last 12 months that hasn’t happened, either in Birmingham or nationally.
There are two pretty simple reasons why that often passive membership needs to become more active:
- If they don’t Corbyn will eventually be unseated. We will just keep seeing a repeat of the last 12 months until we get the result the right of the party want, JC gone and things back to “normal”. Again, I dread to think what the consequences of that will be.
- If we want a radical Labour government we as members will need to fight for it.
Turning to the first point; let’s be honest, most Labour Party meetings in Birmingham are very dreary affairs. People find them off-putting. Suffocating. Soul-destroyingly tedious. Actual political discussions are rarer than hen’s teeth. The strategy and the politics that determine that strategy have invariably been decided in advance. And any meeting at all is rare in some wards and CLPs.
Plus our leading body, the Birmingham Board, is an extremely imperfect arrangement for local party governance, to put it mildly. (More on that from your faithful correspondent another day, brothers and sisters……..)
And all that isn’t an accident. By having no political discussion there is no space to challenge the narrative and strategy that has become “conventional wisdom” in the Labour Party to the point of sclerosis. By having all the power in the hands of the executive officers you allow cliques to take and maintain control. It gives the MPs and their hangers-on huge power and no mechanism to challenge them or replace them.
The reality is that despite Corbyn’s win last year the structures of the Labour Party itself have remained largely the same, both locally and nationally.
That has to change. But that isn’t a change that Jeremy Corbyn can impose on the party from above. It is a change that has to be initiated from below. It means members (i.e. you and I) going to meetings. Putting resolutions on policy and party democracy. Volunteering to do (some of) the boring stuff. Standing for election at the AGM. Going to executive meetings and fighting your corner. And pushing your CLP and ward to respect the rulebook: and not losing heart if they don’t. It won’t change overnight!
So please, if you’re a member of the party who supports Corbyn get involved. Make contact with Momentum and other like-minded people before you do if necessary. In South Birmingham I can think of countless anecdotes of people telling me that the way we organise and the welcome we give new people is what they hoped and expected to find when they joined the Labour Party. No such luck!
In fact, I’d heartily recommend getting involved in Momentum as fighting this fight will feel like a lonely experience sometimes. But please, get involved in the Labour Party if you don’t have time for both. Otherwise, in twelve months we’ll be here again and the candidate standing against Jeremy might be rather less abject than Owen Smith.
Secondly; if we want a Labour government, that can’t be left to Jeremy and John McDonnell. It’s down to us as members. Let’s be honest, if there was an election tomorrow the Tories would win handily. The polls can’t be that wrong. We face an uphill struggle, and to turn the tide will require a huge effort.
It will also require the PLP ceasing to undermine their leader and respect a democratic decision, but mostly it will require the half million Labour members convincing millions of people that we need a socialist government.
That won’t be done just on social media, although that’s a huge and important part of what we do.
It will be the Labour Party on the streets, in communities, knocking doors, arranging stalls and public meetings, giving out leaflets, engaging in the millions of conversations we’ll need to have to convince voters. Using that enormous, priceless resource we have, ourselves, to win people over.
Please, if you haven’t already, get involved. The world won’t change by itself and if you’re waiting for Jeremy to do it for you, you’ll be waiting a long time.