I’m writing to you as a Labour party member to beg you to respect the mandate of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
I have always been a Labour voter. I was the generation who first had tuition fees following Blair’s election – that and Iraq meant I did not join the party until the election of Ed Miliband. I believe Ed is a genuine and nice man and I finally felt able to join something which was pushing values I believed in. I met him with my kids just before the last election and they thought he was great. Sadly, earlier that day, he had unveiled a headstone you may know something about.
I grew up in a Labour house – my dad who had been a solid campaigner under Kinnock and John Smith left in the late 1990s due to dismay with what was happening. I believe there were some good things which came out of the Blair era which we often forget – SureStart centres in particular. There was also a lot which troubled me. My dad rejoined the Labour party last year. He finally felt he could. My sister joined too for the first time at the age of 37.
Leading up to the last election I really struggled with what happened to our campaign. Terror over the rise of UKIP meant we fell for the oldest trick in the book and started to use the tactics of the right – appealing to fear and offloading people’s experiences of lack of democratic power and austerity onto vulnerable groups. The mugs made me want to vomit. I may have mentioned the headstone. I fought internally over delivering leaflets when everything I was given had this immigration stuff on. I know exactly why you pushed for this – you were frightened that we would lose voters to UKIP, resulting in a tory victory which made things even worse for migrants and white working class people. Working class people are not all white, as I am sure you are aware.
You did it with the best of intentions but what you did reinforced the values which led to the racism-focused referendum we just went through. I live in Dudley. Ian Austin is our only Labour MP. I heard him talk a lot about getting tough on immigration. In Dudley we get regular outings from the far right. Just in the space of last year we had the EDL, Britain First, and a group called something like “Casuals against Islam” (forget the exact name, but you get the sentiment). Today on Midlands today I watched a young woman explain she had proudly voted out because “immigrations” were stopping her from getting the council house she desperately needed. This referendum has told us we need to listen to working class people (which we already know). But what is your strategy in “listening”? By listening, do you mean, listen to work out what people want to hear, and then say it? Listen to her say she voted because of migrants then show you have listened by promising to “get tough on immigration”? Because I’m not sure that is really listening. How is getting tough on immigration going to get her her council house? Shouldn’t we morally be listening and then explaining how we will stop the social housing crisis by a big scale build? That way we are listening but coming up with a solution based on lifting people at the bottom up – not by setting them against one another. I am frightened of what a newly emboldened far right will do to people’s lives in Dudley, and the blame cannot just sit with Farage – we all have to be accountable.
I work in further education. We saw a 24% cut to adult learning last year, and now we are going through nationwide mergers which will shrink provision further. If we want to engage a disenfranchised working class into positive rather than negative policies then we have to make the crisis in further education a top priority. Democracy just doesn’t work without access to education. It can’t.
I’ve noticed something with my class of last year and this year. They like Jeremy. One of my students came in with a Corbyn badge to his first lesson. They like that he is nothing like the politicians they are used to – they like that he is kind, that he is clever, and that he is not prepared to play the politics sleaze game they associate with Westminster. From left to right they recognise him as a man of principle, and many have told me they are voting for him. Corbyn has overseen a huge surge of young people into politics – and guess what, it wasn’t the young people who dominated the out vote. Are we interested in creating a politics of the future, or are we fixated on a politics of the past?
Since Corbyn got in I have had some hope that we may actually move forward as a society. Last night was a big step backwards, not because of the result but because of the turf it was fought on and the immediate reactions of our politicians. Boris may have been chased by booing spectators the first time they tried to film him but he certainly got it together to deliver a unifying speech which portrayed a vision of a tory party split only by principled democratic stances, otherwise respectful and working together. What vision of the Labour party have you delivered to the public today?
We don’t get another shot at this. If we lose our young activists, and our old returners, and go back to mimicking the stance on immigration provided with more conviction by other parties, the game is up.
I know you want the best for Britain and the Labour party. Please think very carefully about what you are doing.
Dudley South CLP