If Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could stand on the ‘longest suicide note in history’ in 1983 – you can stand for Labour now, writes Progress deputy editor Conor Pope
The 1983 intake saw three future Labour leaders take their seats in parliament for the first time, including two future prime ministers. For all we talk about that election as an electoral disaster, it brought in those who would change the course of Labour’s history. Imagine if Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had decided they did not want to stand in an election where the party had no chance of going into government; if Harriet Harman (elected in a byelection just a few months before) or Robin Cook had concluded they could not deal with questions about a weak leader on the doorstep. What would that have meant for the efforts to pull Labour back from the brink?
And it was not just those that won. Cherie Blair stood and lost in North Thanet in 1983, finishing a distant third behind the Social Democrats. Mo Mowlam’s failure to even get selected did not stop her help broker the Good Friday agreement 15 years later. I know plenty of people who stood in that election, who bit their tongue and pinned on a Labour rosette despite the ‘nationalise and no nukes’ platform, because it would be better to get heard than leave the campaign devoid of moderate Labour voices.
Many of them were trounced, of course. It is often not much fun being a paper candidate in a no hope seat, and can be even worse when you know it should be a seat where Labour are in contention. But they did it anyway, and they were right to.
Being out there, making arguments for a progressive Labour party that seeks to govern, is important. It is not enough to fight for that kind of party in behind-closed-doors branch meetings; we need voters to know we are here.
In 1983, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did it. If they could stand on the ‘longest suicide note in history’, you can stand for Labour now.
Applications to be a Labour candidate open today, and close on Sunday. So for those that have been toying with the idea of spending the next eight weeks out on the stump, now is the time to decide. Whether it is for a constituency where a member of parliament is standing down, a target seat from 2015 where we did not quite make it, or someone wants to take the message to the people of Fylde, it all counts.
There is a danger in this election that the voters will be let down by the standard of political debate. Now is not the time to walk away from it, to wait it out and hope things get better, but see the vacuum and try and fill it. Progressives should want to shape the world, not shrink from its challenges. If we do not like what we see, we stand up, be counted and get involved.
It is the same old questions. If not us, who? If not now, when? British politics now is especially volatile, and its senior politicians especially lacking. The voters deserve better.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
Credit: Louisa Thomson
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