The membership of the Labour Party is now huge. But sadly, in my experience in Birmingham, many of those new members haven’t really got involved beyond clicking a button for Jeremy Corbyn a couple of times. Some of those very people may be reading this now, knowing in their heart of hearts that it is them I am talking about.
There are some good reasons for that of course. The Birmingham Labour Party is hugely resistant to change, or even rudimentary democratic practise, at all levels. It’s a microcosm of the situation that Corbyn has faced as leader since September 2015(which feels like a very long time ago). The decision to deny members even a rudimentary say in the selection of their local government candidates is a symptom of this malaise.
But I’m afraid those things won’t do as an excuse. Not now. This is the moment when people need to get involved. If we want a radical Labour government then the members need to campaign for it.
We are 20 points behind in the polls. Let’s not pretend that isn’t the case. And let’s not pretend that if the election was held the day it was called that Labour wouldn’t have been trounced.
The right-wing machine of the party have to take a lot of the blame for that, of course. Some of things they have done have been unforgivable frankly.
But the left of the party have to take some responsibility too. We’ve left the field clear for them too often in the last 18 months. We haven’t got involved and turned up for stuff. We haven’t persevered enough. We could have done more to transform the party into the mass movement it needs to be if it wants to take power and implement socialist policies. But that would have involved more of us turning up to some frankly tedious meetings for a while and forcing through change, and the left isn’t known for its patience.
We can’t do anything about any of that now. If we are serious about it we can go back and make a start on June 9th, whatever the result.
Now, the priority has to be campaigning for Labour candidates – even the ones that Momentum doesn’t like very much.
We have 6 weeks to start and win an argument with the British people that the Tory Party is not the answer and we need a socialist government. One that rejects austerity, privatization and Hard Brexit. One that starts a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power in society from the few to the many. We have a leader who means what he says. Who actually resonates with people when they meet him.
But winning that argument means campaigning – and campaigning is on the streets, not on Twitter or Facebook (much as we wish it was). It means stalls. Knocking doors. Delivering leaflets. Going to the working class areas that the politicians have given up on. Giving up the odd weekend and day of annual leave to get out there and do stuff.
You’ll get abuse. You’ll come across people who just won’t listen to reason. You’ll have crazy dogs slamming themselves at the door when you knock or stick a leaflet through.
It won’t be fun, unless you’re a masochist.
But believe me, it’s the only way.
I have no time for Owen Jones whatsoever. I think he’s in the process of reinventing himself as a left commentator who talks the talk but stopped walking the walk a long time ago. A spoilt brat who has thrown his toys out of the pram because Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t make him part of his inner circle. Too often these days the socialist rhetoric feels like an act with him. But the call he made recently for every member to do a couple of nights of canvassing really resonated with me. If our half-million members all did that it could make a massive difference. It could really turn the tide against the deluge of lying, dog-whistle, poisonous shit that we can expect from the Lynton Crosby-steered Conservative Party over the next few weeks.
So please, get out there and do something. It doesn’t have to take over your life.
And while I am at it with the moralising I have a message for a couple of other groups of people.
- The Greens, TUSC etc: please don’t stand any candidates in Birmingham. It is pointless. If you genuinely want social change you know that it is Corbyn or bust now. Many Momentum activists campaign with you on opposing cuts and austerity; we work together in trade unions and in our communities. I know you are all sincere and the arguments you make come from a place of wanting to make the world a fairer and more just one. But please, put aside your pride and think about what matters. The Corbyn surge could and should have taught you a lesson about how things work in British politics.
- Independent lefties: we all know them. Socialists, sympathetic to Corbyn, good sorts, but won’t take the plunge and join or campaign for the Labour Party or get involved in organised politics. Again, I’m sure it starts from an honest and decent place. But seriously, if you want to change the world, you will have to get your hands dirty. And that means Labour I’m afraid. If you have a better plan do let Momentum South Birmingham know. But I won’t hold my breath.
We may not get a better, or another chance in our lifetimes. Let’s at least be able to look back after and say we gave it our best shot.