When I came into the world, some 27 years ago, a family friend sent me an application to join the Labour party. Being only a few days old, I was naturally unable to sign but the encouragement was not lost on my socialist parents. Born into a family of staunch Labourites, I was bound to be influenced. Indeed, following a few years of teenage ‘rebellion’, I eventually signed that application form and joined the Labour party after the devastating 2010 defeat. I got involved with my local party and ran in the 2014 local elections. It was my belief that I was part of a political party, not a pressure group, working to achieve a Labour government.
But following yet another general election defeat in 2015, I watched subsequent events with some perplexity. Then, as now, I had my reservations: had not these politics been tried, tested and rejected in the past? Did Labour not succeed when looking outwards, speaking to the many not the placard-carrying few? Was there not a trend developing; a scenario reminiscent of the 1980s and 1990s?
If so, I thought, then history might repeat itself: another hard left platform taken to the electorate, rejected, an internal party reckoning and finally a Labour government. But I am not a fortune teller. I am a member of the Labour party. I will work for the leader, whoever he or she happens to be, and I believe that as a party, like my membership card states: ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’.
This month we saw some monumental successes with, among others, Sadiq Khan in London and Martin Rees in Bristol. We also held onto a number of key council seats in England. We should rightly cheer our achievements. But we should also be honest about where we fell short: third in Scotland; our share of the vote down in Wales and England; the loss of council seats in England— for the first time since 1985. I do not need to repeat the analysis.
But, looking forward, I hope we can foster honest debate and reflection within the Labour family; that a variety of views can be heard, especially when they have the best interests of the party and the people it represents at heart. Moreover, we need to review what worked for Labour in the recent past: when we won elections and put Labour values into practice. Our time in government was not an aberration but a harbinger of social justice: the minimum wage, record public investment, civil partnerships, disability rights, devolution, increased international aid budgets, protection for working families, the young and vulnerable— the list goes on.
I do not want to jeer on the sidelines but cheer our achievements in government—those of yesterday and hopefully those of tomorrow. Certainly, today, we should be listening to the new Mayor of London’s call for a big tent approach.
So, I hope, we can take stock honestly; assume some responsibility for our failures on 5 May; and listen to the warning signs. Some 27 years ago, I was sent an application to join a political party and, today, I want to see those principles on my membership card enacted in government. Failure, even hanging on, is not an option: there is too much at stake.
John Jacob Woolf is a member of Progress. He tweets @JohnJacobWoolf
Credit: Louisa Thomson
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