10 Days Remaining

Monday 25th
posted by Morning Star in Features

In modern politics, people quite rightly want more interactivity and participation and less ‘top-down’ rule, says RICHARD BURGON

AT THE general election, a lot of so-called “experts” in Westminster and in the “mainstream” media were shown to be completely out of touch and completely wrong in their analysis and in their predictions.

The general election saw Labour gain three million extra votes, win the biggest increase in the share of our vote since 1945 and deprive Theresa May and the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority.

Labour is now ahead in the polls and in a great position to win the next general election. In my own seat of Leeds East we got the highest Labour vote for nearly 40 years.

Labour achieved this huge electoral advance by having clear and principled leadership and developing popular and practical socialist policies for the many, not the privileged few.

The general election was a key milestone in the journey the Labour Party has been on since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as Labour leader on September 12 2015.

It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been an easy journey — for most of the time since the day of his election, we’ve been under fire from the Establishment in all its forms on a level unprecedented in our party’s history.

The labour and trade union movement hasn’t seen demonisation like this since the striking miners of 1984-5 were dubbed “the enemy within.” It isn’t called “the struggle” for no reason. Real change is never easy.

Labour’s hugely increased membership (it has tripled to 600,000) has been key — first, to weathering the storms that started the moment Corbyn was first elected as Labour leader and second, to having activists out and about right across Britain as grassroots advocates for Labour candidates and Labour policies.

Now is the right time to look at how our party works. In modern politics, people quite rightly want more interactivity and participation and less “top-down” rule.

With a hugely increased party membership, we must ensure the way our party works is fit for purpose and the modern age.

The consensus at the national executive committee over making that body more representative of the hard work done by CLP activists and of the vital role of the trade unions is a welcome step in the right direction.

Likewise ensuring a lower threshold of MP nominations to get on the ballot for future leadership elections places more choice and power in the hands of grassroots Labour members.

Why should we fear our members having a greater choice in such an important decision?

The upcoming review of the way our party works is a way of continuing this change to ensure a greater say for our membership — and in turn ensuring the party is firmly rooted in our communities and their hopes and aspirations. We need to increase and widen participation.

MPs, trade unions, affiliated socialist societies and Constituency Labour Parties all bring vital experiences and perspectives to the coalition that is our Labour Party. And our party is only strengthened by that — including electorally.

The review is an opportunity to develop inclusive ways for our members, be it through their Constituency Labour Parties, trade unions or affiliated socialist societies, to play a greater role in shaping our party’s future, including by nominating future candidates for leader.

Labour’s electoral advance has, for now, silenced all but the most embittered and ideologically driven critics and opponents of Corbyn and socialist policies.

And at the same time, some who didn’t support us at the outset have rethought things and changed their minds based upon the developing political situation and electoral evidence.

Similarly, some who backed us initially but then withdrew their support under the pressure of the Establishment attacks being at their most ferocious are now back on board. This has strengthened Corbyn in the party and Labour in the country.

This broad church of support should be welcomed. We need to put the past behind us, remain united and move forward together.

But there will inevitably be attempts to divide us. Some believe that the outcome and implications of the EU referendum can be used to prise apart the coalition of support which backs Corbyn and his socialist policies.

Of course, leaving the European Union presents major challenges to our economy and to our society. But socialists should make no mistake: the fundamental division in our society isn’t between those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain. We mustn’t be diverted from our

socialist purpose by constant talk of the 48 per cent v the 52 per cent. It’s time to start bringing people together. Our focus must be on the 99 per cent and the 1 per cent.

Because the truth is that inside or outside of the EU, unless there is a transformation of the economic and power structures of our country in the interests of the many not the privileged few, it will remain the case that 99 per cent of people will still be held back. The dividing line in British politics in 2017 is not between people’s views of the economic and political institution that is the EU. The dividing line in British politics today is whether or not people support a fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people and their families.

At conference this year, we should of course take the opportunity to reflect upon how far we have all come together in the past two years. No-one can say that getting through this tumultuous time has been easy. Nothing worthwhile is easy. But it is now urgent that we resolve to move forward together and focus on being ready to fulfil our responsibility: winning a Labour government and then enacting practical socialist policies which make life better for the vast majority and which change the way our economy and society runs for decades to come.

Our collective ambition is no less than for the next Labour government to be spoken of in the same breath as that which Attlee led.

  • Richard Burgon is shadow secretary of state for justice and shadow lord chancellor.