Thanks for your email and publicised statement informing us of your voting preferences in the Labour leadership and your numerous issues with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. I felt I should also respond openly as you have done to articulate my views as a local member in Stoke Central.
I share some of your concerns about Corbyn’s wider appeal to the electorate. I have been disturbed also by the personality cult which now surrounds him. I know he is not organising this hysteria himself, but regardless I am inherently suspicious of any bandwagon surrounding an individual person. It is why I never fell in love with the stage managed euphoria of New Labour around Tony Blair.
However, I have to say that the rest of the leadership field has failed to impress me at all. It would be easy to blame the media for this, but having carefully watched hustings and other events streamed online, neither Kendall, Burnham or Cooper have sparked any inspiration in me as an ordinary member of the party. Sure, they are all competent and polished and very nice people. But politically speaking, I simply don’t really believe a word any of them says.
What I think that many within the Labour Party hierarchy fail to understand, and sadly given your email today I must include you in that number, that this distrust many of us have with many senior figures in the party is precisely one of the factors driving Corbyn’s appeal.
There are many people within the Labour Party for many years who have felt completely powerless. There is a feeling that we are used at election time, and then told what to think and to keep quiet the rest of the time. That’s not true in our CLP where I think we have a decent debate, albeit limited, but there is still a general sense that beyond elections our ability to affect any real change in the Party or outside it is very limited indeed.
Take the position on the renationalisation of the railways as a case in point. Like it or not (and I have some misgivings about how much nationalisation could achieve without the necessary increase in investment) the Labour Party Conference has voted year after year for this policy to be adopted, only for this to be completely ignored by successive Labour leaderships, as if the member’s democratic decision means nothing. Given we know there is widespread public support for such a move, and a serious pressing need to sort out the transport infrastructure in our country, I simply cannot understand why the party leadership could not bring itself around to adopt this policy.
This willful ignoring of the will of the members breeds resentment of authority within the party. It is that resentment is what today is driving ordinary members to look for a candidate who comes from the outside.
So when you, on the day of the election papers landing on our doormats, give members the message to vote for ALL the other candidates but Corbyn, you are actually reinforcing the belief in members that there is no fundamental political difference between the other candidates. When Liz Kendall urges her supporters to use their preferences for other candidates, you are all sending out a clear message that the differences in the politics between those candidates are slight and meaningless. Indeed, you yourself pass no judgement at all on Cooper or Burnham’s actual political differences with Liz Kendall … only Jeremy Corbyn’s.
When senior Labour Party figures like yourself send out messages like this, you confirm the belief of ordinary Labour members that the entire party front bench is largely indistinguishable from one another politically speaking. And therefore you make many of us want to do the opposite from what you tell us to do.
I’ll let you and the other leadership candidates into a little secret: We don’t like being told how to think or what to do. It’s what makes us union reps to challenge dictatorial employers. It’s what makes us residents group campaigners to challenge blundering council officers. It’s what makes us want to challenge vicious and calculated central government attacks on the most vulnerable in our community.
And that’s also why when Tony Blair is wheeled out to demand we elect anyone but Corbyn, and dismisses most of the union movement in this country as “in the grip of the far left”, we take exception.
It is precisely because of the party hierarchy’s hysterical reaction to Corbyn, that has led me to think we must support his leadership bid. The party badly needs democratising as part of a wider push away from the awful top down, managerial politics that has alienated so many people in this country. And if we can inspire people new to politics in the bargain, so much the better.
So I would ask you openly to respect the democratic decision of members, whatever it may be. I have been very disturbed about reports the newspapers about your role in the setting up of a secret new grouping apparently to challenge a Corbyn leadership before it has even begun. Imagine if the left had done something similar when Blair was elected? Where would Labour be now?
Stoke Central CLP member