TIME FOR A NEW D:REAM
I don’t mind a little nostalgia, so the first time at conference this year I heard Things Can Only Get Better, I admit I sang along, danced and laughed indulgently at the chants of “Tony, Tony, Tony” – sometimes from those who will cry “cult” at the first hint of Seven Nation Army. But, by the fourth time in four days, I was thoroughly exasperated. While those of us on the left may not feel it our place, it should be said that those to the right of the Party need to get their heads out of the 90s and into the game.
Labour conference was, on the whole, a positive affair. The Party’s new membership and unexpectedly good election results brought an energy that has clearly been lacking from the past two years.
Of course there were and still are issues.
Vile anti-Semitism should never be glossed over. Yet, it should be put in the context of the fact they were said during a conference where Labour overwhelmingly passed tough new rules to deal with such occurrences. It will be up to all of us to see they are followed and enforced.
The other elephant in the room, of course, is Labour’s continuing muddle over Brexit and our refusal to talk about it properly until it is too late. Only the most British of political parties could be too polite to mention the biggest and most damaging of current topics out of deference for our leader and call it socialism!
So of course, there are debates to be had and fights still to be joined by Corbyn supports and sceptics alike. And we should never shy away from those. Loyalty to the Party does not mean the same thing as never criticising it. Otherwise, how would we strengthen its policies, its structures, its messages and its organisation? That is an important part of our role as active and engaged members.
However, while most people across the spectrum of the Party have adjusted well to the new situation we find ourselves in, and are doing the hard work of looking at how to implement our policies in government, there are a few people who are still struggling to come to terms with the rapid changes in the Party and struggling to find their place in it.
I get that the Party has changed quite rapidly. I get that the people you thought would be in charge are now on the backbenches and vice versa. I get that this can feel disconcerting and some of the fervour with which these changes are greeted by new members can feel disconcerting. If you let it. Or we could celebrate the fact that Labour is now the largest it has been in modern times. And that the vast, vast majority of our new members are not “entryists”. They are positive people- of all ages, but particularly young people – who are attracted by the Party’s vision of hope and an optimism about changing what needs to be changed.
But you don’t have to be a dyed in the wool “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chanter to be pleased that the Labour Party is offering the country a sharp corrective to the extreme right-wing path we’ve been on since 2010, or to realise that New Labour’s late 90s solutions – while transformative in that moment – fall somewhat short of what is required now.
If you were attracted enough to the Labour Party to join it, then presumably it is because you want to do something about this state of affairs. Now, as the Party are levelling the polls, we are in with a chance of doing so. We have taken a left-wing prospectus to the country and we made advances.
We won’t agree on all of it, but there’s a lot in there that we all can and should be excited about. Vital measures to improve public services, build genuinely affordable social housing, end the austerity that’s been choking our nation and rebalance our economy. These are the basic principles of the democratic socialist party we say we are, right there on our membership cards.
New Labour made real advances trying to do this through the redistribution of resources from a buoyant market. That strategy ended when the market crashed. Too many of those advances proved too fragile. It is right now to go deeper, change more. That’s the prospectus that Corbyn is driving the Party towards. We can disagree about the tools and the route, but we must all be united on the destination of a more just society.
We have all spent too much energy fighting internally. Over the weeks of the election campaign, we spent our time instead on the doorsteps, Open Labour members working with those from Momentum and Progress alike. Look at what we achieved. If we can take a break from calling each other cultists or centrists and work together on strengthening our offer to the country, think what we could achieve next.
Try to remember why that song was the Labour Party’s anthem in that life-changing election. It was because the country was struggling after years of appalling Tory mismanagement of our economy and public services. Sound familiar? If anything, things are now much, much worse.
The Tories are looking tired and out of ideas. Given the cruelty of many of those they have inflicted on the country since 2010, that should almost be a relief. Now is the time to remember who the real enemies are and for all of the Labour Party to turn our energy to getting them out of office and enacting real change.
You may not be a Corbynite, but every Labour member should remember every single day that when we oust the Tories, things can only get better.
(This piece first appeared on Open Labour)