I thought it was about time that I added another persona to my website account of myself. Here it is. Labour Party Activist. And here’s the story of how it happened.
As a writer, I had already created ‘Deception’ - my cross-genre fantasy of a secular pilgrim’s journey through the social and political landscape of this country between 2010 and 2015. My socialist beliefs and inspiration were clear enough. My search for understanding after the banking crisis of 2008 squeezed any Blairite ‘Third Way’ thinking out of my head. But I belonged to no political party, having resigned from the Labour Party after the Iraq war.
Living in St Ives in Cornwall, Louise and I had a Lib Dem MP, Andrew George, representing us. He had earned a reputation as a backbench rebel against the Coalition government and his own Party’s leadership – and that had appeal. Better him than a Tory. Labour seemed invisible in St Ives. We voted for Andrew George in the 2015 General Election and were shocked when the Tory meme swept through the south-west as it did in much of the country. David Cameron was returned as prime minister with the Tories enjoying an absolute majority.
I turned to writing two additional chapters to ‘Deception’ – to update the tale, first with reference to the Tory election victory in 2015, and then to conclude with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as the new leader of the Labour Party. I had been gifted the perfect socialist ending that was, of course, just a beginning. ‘The Road to Corbyn’ by Rob Donovan was born.
Shortly after Jeremy was elected leader in September 2015, Louise and I re-joined the Labour Party. My first attendance at a local Labour Party monthly meeting was in January 2016. I was very attentive and respectful and said nothing – there must have been between 40 and 50 people there and there were procedures that needed to be learnt and followed if this was to be a meaningful world to me. The next month I attended and introduced myself as the author of ‘The Road to Corbyn’. By May, the monthly attendance was down to the mid-20s and I had sold a handful of copies of my book to members. It was all a bit of an uphill struggle.
When we got to the AGM in June 2016, the attendance more than doubled and I realised that the executive members of my local Labour Party were successfully fighting off a challenge from guys from a group called Momentum who had been formed to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn with his socialist values remained as leader. I was busy researching and writing Jago Stone’s biography and hadn’t yet fully processed what was happening in local Labour Party politics. To be honest, I was getting pissed off with boring meetings. I did note that one Momentum member, Keith Shilson, was elected on to the executive as a vice-chair.
Then things began to warm up – boring is not the word to describe what happened next. The New Labour majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party – who also it seemed wielded power in Labour Party Headquarters and in the regional offices – were determined to stick to Tony Blair’s Third Way. Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist beliefs made him and a Party that followed him unelectable. Corbyn had to go. A leadership challenge was hatched and Jeremy targeted for dispatch. Here, in July, an extraordinary meeting was called in Helston to consider motions of no-confidence and confidence in Jeremy as leader. The turnout was massive and the defeat for New Labour crushing – the motions of no-confidence were lost by around 75 to 35 majorities. I watched as nearly all the members of the executive voted against Jeremy as leader. By the by, Keith Shilson has scarcely been elected to the local executive before he was suspended from the Party on the orders of Party HQ in London – a decision that took a good few months to be reversed.
I straightaway joined Momentum and began attending their fortnightly meetings as well as the Labour Party monthly meetings. Back in London, Jeremy sailed on seemingly unmoved by the vicious attacks on him from the right-wing press and Tory politicians – and the unease of many of his own MPs. Jeremy Corbyn knew he had been elected and re-elected by a very large majority of a Party whose membership was increasing exponentially because of his leadership and his socialist values. Half a million members, most of them new, nationally. Here, in the St Ives, Penzance, Helston and Isles of Scilly areas, membership had increased from 250 to over 1000 by the end of 2016. Something big was happening and it was so exciting to be part of it.
The next AGM for the local CLP would provide the opportunity to challenge through the ballot for places on the local executive. That challenge did indeed happen in June 2017, last month – and was successful. Labour Party activists who are also members of Momentum are now reshaping the local CLP with a new emphasis on welcoming new members and including everyone in discussion and debate and activities. We are ‘a broad church’. There is more that unites than divides us.
What we could not foresee was that the Tory prime minister would gift us a General Election, also in June, in which a socialist manifesto would necessarily be put before the people. Jeremy’s opponents were rubbing their hands. Now we will see the back of him!
Ah! please forgive my shadenfreude – a very useful German word which means that feeling of pleasure at someone else’s misfortune. The Tories are in disarray. New Labour is biting the dust. Yes, something big, something about the transformation of our society and its warped values is underway. People are beginning to matter.
The text above was written and published in July 2017 – now we are approaching the end of September 2019, over two years later. Where am I now as a Labour Party activist?
This Saturday – September 28, 2019 – I hope to be canvassing in Camborne as part of the team that is determined to see Paul Farmer, the prospective Labour Party candidate, returned as the Member of Parliament for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. The seat is a Tory marginal; George Eustice, the Tory MP, only has a majority of 1,577 votes.
Last week, on Thursday evening, I was at Heartlands, Camborne with around fifty other activists in a Cornwall General Election Barnstorm Meeting.
I have helped bring into being a Labour Party public meeting next month, on Saturday October 12. The theme is ‘Austerity in St Ives’ with guest speakers Paul Farmer; Chris Wallis, the organiser of the St Ives Food Bank; Gill Pipkin, CEO Citizens Advice; and Nicole Broadhurst, Labour Mayor of Penzance.
On Tuesday October 15, I am the guest speaker at the Helston branch of the Labour Party, speaking on the theme of ‘Austerity in Cornwall’
Still busy then, spreading the vision of a decent and fair society, shaped by 21st century socialist values. But I chose to withdraw from meetings of the constituency Labour Party in Penzance in early 2018. How and why did that happen?
My vision of a concerted campaign to win for Labour a third of those who voted for the Lib Dems in the 2017 General Election led to a vote at an Autumn 2017 monthly meeting in favour of my motion to launch a leafleting campaign beginning in the wards of Penzance.
I argued that around 7,000 of the 21,000 votes cast for the Lib Dem candidate, Andrew George, were tactical votes from those who otherwise would vote Labour if there was a realistic chance of a Labour candidate being elected in this constituency. Andrew George had lost to Derek Thomas, the sitting Tory MP, by around 300 votes. If we in Labour wanted to make this a three-way marginal, we should start our campaign to do so immediately, targeting the Labour-inclined Lib Dem voters. My motion had been carried but it became clear in the following months that there was little support for my vision within the new socialist executive. Fair enough; there are different paths to the same goal. But I was left feeling uncomfortable. I have chosen to concentrate my energies elsewhere. Life is too short to focus on differences; there is too much of that in politics in general. I’m living out my political beliefs where the wind knows my name.