Tales from the big top
Fife councillor Gavin Yates looks to the future of the Labour Party, assuming a Jeremy Corbyn victory tomorrow.
Writing this piece a day before the formal announcement of the Labour leadership, I will take the risk and make a prediction (a dangerous thing in politics). Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership election. Well done Jeremy. Congratulations.
And heartfelt commiserations to Owen Smith. At least you had the courage to give it a go.
So where do we go from here?
The general analysis is that the party can either come together under the leadership of Corbyn, or it can split. I think that is a little simplistic. Those who opposed Corbyn – even those in Parliament who very reluctantly resigned from the front bench – will find it difficult to either ‘about-face’ or to leave the party in which many have invested their entire lives.
There will be some in the Momentum faction who will be screaming for deselections and ‘root and branch’ changes, but the last thing the party needs is more conflict. The real week-in week-out activists are not enthused on either side. The battle has been bloody and no-one has really won.
The problem for Labour is that the central tenet of the criticism of Corbyn – namely electability – has not been resolved, and likely will not be resolved until 2020. Jeremy will either win or lose and I’m afraid that no amount of polling, by-elections or focus groups will convince either side that they are not correct. In a metaphorical poker game the Party has just gone ‘all in’, and until the final card is turned over there is nothing to do but continue playing the game.
But some of us – although I can only really speak for myself – do have other options.
I was elected as a councillor for my home ward in Fife in 2012. Proud to be selected by my branch and delighted to get elected alongside another Labour councillor as well as an SNP member and a Tory. To be honest we may not have expected to do so well and get two members elected, but we did.
In my ward we’ve pushed hard for new social housing, and recently demolition started on a mini-scheme that had become a byword for unacceptable housing conditions. Ignored by previous administrations, the administration I have been part of took the positive step needed, and many constituents of mine can now look forward to a better future. This is why I joined the Labour Party. To be in a position where we can make a difference for folk and improve the quality of life for those who need that.
I would point out that Fife Labour is building these houses as part of a 2700 home programme despite the cuts to Housing Allocation Grant that all local authorities have endured.
As a councillor I have found that fellow councillors on all sides care deeply about those they serve, and try to do their best to improve not just their ward but the whole of the authority they represent. What I would say is that it is much easier to do that if you are in administration rather than opposition. Winning really matters. Not for the glory – I haven’t seen very much of that. Or for the kudos – local councillors don’t get much of that either. Winning matters because politics is the language of competing priorities and only winning gives you the opportunity to choose.
So to say that winning doesn’t matter, or is not as important as political purity, is at best naïve and at worst utterly reckless.
So I have decided that I will not be standing as a candidate in next year’s local elections. I will serve out my current term and do my very best for my constituents but will leave it to others to take on the important work that needs done. I have excellent colleagues in Fife’s Labour group and I know they will demonstrate that their priorities – better housing, quality schools, dignity in care and good local services – are the priorities of most Fifers.
The party finds itself at a crossroads. The last few months have been the worst I have been forced to endure in terms of the level of discourse between supposed comrades. The time now is to build bridges not burn them down, but we need an urgent sense of realism.
The party has turned from an election fighting and winning machine into a circus where there are thousands of aggressive voices but precious little clarity.
I will always have Labour values as my touchstone. Fairness, equality, compassion and care. But if the party is turning into a circus, I don’t want to be one of the clowns.