Unity requires deeds as well as words if Labour is to win again, argues Kate Green MP
I joined the Labour party for the same reason most members did: I wanted to fight for fairness and justice, and to make a difference to my community. Labour governments had transformed my prospects and those of my family, and I’m certainly not alone in that. Labour was, and remains, self-evidently the greatest force for social good our country has ever known.
But we’re only at our most effective when we’re able to be in power. Shouting from the sidelines can’t bring about real change. And that’s why the pursuit and exercise of power, in parliament, and in local and regional government, is core to the party’s purpose. It’s what we sign up for when we become party members. And it’s what we must focus on now.
Today, despite some wins – in London, in by-elections, in local government – our overall position in the polls remains dire. At 27 per cent, we’ve already seen the loss of one million more Labour votes since last year’s general election. The Tories’ proposed gerrymandering of constituency boundaries will make the position worse. On the present trajectory, we’d be down to just 22 per cent at the time of the next general election in 2020.
And this is happening just at a time when the need for an effective, credible party of the progressive left could not be more pressing. Tory austerity policies, the prospect of a ‘hard’ Brexit, the tensions, threats and pervasive sense of insecurity, here at home and around the world, cry out for progressive solutions. My constituents, and millions of families around the country, desperately need Labour to get its act together.
Of course, that requires us to become an outward-facing political force. Yet the summer has been characterised by an internal focus on our party. As one of the co-chairs of Owen Smith’s leadership campaign, I recognise my share of responsibility for that. But I’d also argue that we won’t be an effective fighting force if we don’t get the foundations in our own party right.
This week at conference, everyone has recognised the need for party unity. Everyone knows that divided parties have no appeal to voters. But unity isn’t just a slogan, it requires deeds as well as words. It requires respect, recognition of differing views, thoughtful debate, and an honest willingness to face up together to what’s important to the electorate.
That responsibility lies on every one of us as party members, but there’s a special responsibility incumbent on the party’s leadership. So here are the things I’m looking for now from Jeremy Corbyn – and the promise I make in return.
First, Jeremy, call a halt to the shameful bullying, intimidation and abuse that we’ve seen over the last few months. The best thing to do in response to abuse isn’t to ’ignore it’, it’s to put in place robust structures and processes to deal with it, and stamp it out. Get those procedures and policies in place now – and make sure everyone can be confident in using them.
Second, speak out against the insidious threat of deselection. I don’t just want to hear from Momentum that this is ‘a matter for party members’, I want you, personally, to be clear that you don’t support pushing out people just because they hold some different views from you. Tell Momentum – which isn’t the Labour party – to stop organising to deselect hardworking local Labour councillors and MPs. That would be a big gesture of faith and trust from you, one that would assure us that calls for unity are for real.
And third, let’s together face the facts about our electoral position, and what we need to do to win. You’ve achieved a stunning growth in party membership over the past year, and we now have a huge talent pool of people who can campaign for Labour. But party membership accounts for just 2 per cent of the UK electorate – we need many millions more people to vote Labour, including those who voted Tory in the last general election, and in the one before, if we’re to return to power. Lead the way in developing an electoral strategy that will deliver those votes for a Labour government.
In return, I’ll be out there day in, day out, selling the Labour message, as I and thousands of party members have always done. It’s the best way I know to understand what voters want to hear from Labour, what they care about, what’s hurting them, and what needs to change. It’s the best way I’ve ever found to persuade more people to vote for us.
This weekend, I’m looking forward to our national campaign action day on education. Let’s have more of that sort of activity, and less of the backtracking, ducking and diving, and internal manipulation, whether that’s on shadow cabinet elections or Scottish and Welsh representation on the NEC. Let’s have more of the honest politics you promised, more of the politics that face the facts. Let’s listen to voters’ concerns, and become a party that devises and can deliver credible policies that people will vote us into government to achieve.
I promise I’m sticking with Labour, to play my part in that.
Image: Bob McCaffrey