On BBC Question Time last week, the panel was asked whether there was a possibility of a split within the Labour Party. Emily Thornberry started her answer by saying that ‘the Labour Party is a coalition on the left’ before being interrupted, a little melodramatically, by Amol Rajan. His feigned frustrated plea for ‘broad church’ not to be repeated by Thornberry did seem a little contrived, but it did raise the question of whether, after two bitter leadership contests, our collective faith remained intact.
Ever since I joined the Labour Party I have felt welcome; I feel lucky to have met incredibly inspirational people and have always believed the vast majority of members to be motivated by the same vision of a fairer, more equal society, even if we sometimes disagreed on the route we need to take to get to our destination. Yes, to me at least, the Labour Party has always felt like a ‘broad church’; inclusive, a vehicle for positive, progressive change, an extended family.
However, our church, once inclusively broad, has become exclusively narrow.
We have moved even further away from many voters who rejected our offer in May 2015 and are increasingly intolerant of differences of views and opinions both within and outside our own Party. The volume of the abuse has been absurd and depressing but the level of aggression and the homophobic, anti-semitic vitriol that has been aimed at fellow Labour members, particularly at our female MPs, has been vile and drags the Party into the gutter. In fact, for the first time in my life, I have felt embarrassed to be a member of the Labour Party.
In the last few weeks, Jeremy Corbyn has given slightly better performances at PMQs and has done well to convince some Labour MPs to return to the Shadow Cabinet, with Sir Keir Starmer a particularly inspired choice. Despite this, problems still persist. There remains a huge amount of talent left on the backbenches with many eyeing up roles on Select Committees. There is an overwhelming perception that the leadership has failed to properly acknowledge, never mind eradicate, the issues with anti-semitism and abuse within our Party. According to the latest Ipsos MORI poll, we have now fallen 18 points behind the Conservatives. Translated into the new boundary changes, this would give the Tories a landslide majority of over 200 seats.
However, I will not be chopping up my membership card, refusing to campaign or engaging in an ongoing ‘hate to say I told you so’ social media vendetta against Jeremy. He has convincing won a Leadership Contest for a second time and, therefore, whilst the views and concerns of the near 200,000 members and supporters who didn’t support Corbyn must not be dismissed, he has won the right to lead.
On the contrary, I will be standing as a Labour candidate in next year’s County Council elections, continue door-knocking on a Saturday morning, supporting our fantastic MPs, Councillors, and candidates across the Eastern region and campaigning for our Labour values against the Tories lurch to the right.
But neither will I be brow-beaten into one-way, superficial ‘unity’, refuse to offer any criticism which I have always considered to be constructive, nor stick my head in the sand and pretend that the realities of our current predicament do not exist. That is not democratic or healthy for our Party and will almost certainly not lead to electoral victory.
The very nature of a ‘broad church’ is one in which debate, differences of opinion and, yes, constructive criticism, is not only tolerated, but also encouraged. Unity means all opinions being listened to and respected. Strength comes from being inclusively broad, internally and externally, rather than adopting an exclusively narrow approach.
I am not a ‘traitor’, ‘mutineer’ or a ‘Red Tory’ and neither is anyone else I have been fortunate enough to meet in my 6 years of membership. I love the Labour Party, am passionate about its ability to bring about positive change and dedicated to ensuring that we secure a Labour Government at the next General Election, just as I have been for every election that I have campaigned on.
The 1980s was a decade in which Labour ran from the realities of our election defeats and the result was nearly two decades out of power. We are in danger of repeating history, pulling the a comfort blanket over our heads, hoping that our ideological purity alone will translate into victory.
But the reality is that we have never been further away from power. We face a hostile press and an electorate which, at best, is distrustful and, at worst, vehemently opposed to our current offer.
Every member who leaves the Party, every day we dismiss voters as ‘Tory’ and every day we spend looking factionally inwards undermines our chances of winning in 2020 and delivering change for people who desperately need a Labour Government. The Tories are laying the foundations for future electoral victories and are also rapidly undoing the huge progresses made under the previous Labour Government, irrevocably changing the fabric of our country.
The Labour Party is still a ‘broad church’, it has been since a collection of left-wing organisations joined forces in 1900, but is only now being held together by the deep-rooted foundations that have been tested and strengthened throughout the decades. Now, we are looking at each other across the aisles with distrust and suspicion, waiting to see who will blink first.
All the while the world moves on around us; as we become increasingly irrelevant and impotent, the Tories strengthen their grip on the country, whilst major issues such as Brexit, the Syrian crisis and the looming Scottish Referendum 2.0 pass us by.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to remember Clause IV, ‘by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone’, a sentence that adorns every membership card. If not, we risk sending our great party into what could be a terminal decline, with over a 100 years of fighting for a greater Britain consigned to the history books.
Our church has just about withstood the bitterest storm in a generation and is still standing, but it cannot survive another long winter.