My constituency is classed as ‘ultra safe’ by voterpower.org.uk, who also declare that the average UK voter has almost 5 times more voting power than those who live within its boundaries. This calculation is based upon how likely the seat is to change hands in an election. Although the constituency is relatively new, it is also blue. Very blue. As its antecedents were. And so, in all likelihood, it shall remain for many years hence. To compound this dispiriting circumstance, it is also one of the largest constituencies in England. It is more than fifty miles across, and those miles are literally up hill and down dale. To be a Labour activist in this part of the world is to risk ridicule. It is the calling of the arch idealist, or the lunatic. Those of us involved in the CLP are political alchemists, held together by a sense of duty and some, unquenchable, residual, hope. It is perhaps not a surprise that many of the members are teachers.
I have only recently joined. I spent the night of the general election staring blankly at the television as the political landscape of my country changed for the worse. I had done nothing to secure a Labour victory, and my despair was tinged with guilt. I pledged to join the CLP, and I was not alone: our membership has doubled since that night in May.
Two weeks ago I covered a few miles of Conservative ground handing out leaflets, inviting local residents to a Labour meeting. I managed to avoid an assortment of over-protective and under-exercised dogs, and I was heckled by an elderly southern woman who told me the Labour party was not welcome in ‘these parts’ (a council estate in the north of England). But I was mostly ignored, which, I suppose, is the best way to deal with harmless eccentrics.
Today we held that meeting, in a cold Methodist church in a handsome and affluent village. About 20 new people came to see us, which was a fantastic success. All were comfortably middle-aged, many were pensioners. There was talk of renewal and rejuvenation. Most had joined the party since the general election, some had joined in the last week since Corbyn was elected. But the over-riding attitude was of confusion and anxiety. No one is sure whether the Labour party of Corbyn is the one they longed for, or something radical and unelectable. Would the party split? What should we make of those in the parliamentary party who have refused to sit in the cabinet? Is Corbyn being isolated from the start?
As I sat under the shadow of the lectern, I thought about writing this blog. Since the relaunch, I have written twice for Labour Teachers. My first article aimed to question the insular thinking of political parties, who falsely believe that their members are representative of the electorate and share the same concerns. My second article urged those with a vote in the leadership election to think pragmatically when selecting the leader. An ideologically pure candidate who allowed five more years of Conservative rule was much worse than someone who knew that compromise was essential to get things done. This article is the third in the triptych. The first two were ignored, and the consequence is Corbyn.
The meeting I was at today is not representative, of course. Corbyn’s success is not contingent on winning over the socially conscious denizens of rural North Yorkshire. He must win the vote of the youth, and of the cities, and of the ‘floaters’. However, the challenges he faces are almost insurmountable. Even the idealistic political exiles in the moors can see them. My thoughts turned to how we would fare in Corbyn’s Labour party. When we knock on doors, will the voters be more likely to listen to us because they empathise with our leader? Will our party be able to present a united front, when spear-headed by a notorious rebel? Can people really imagine a prime minister who doesn’t sing the national anthem?
I don’t speak for anyone at my CLP: these views are my own. But to counter the prevailing excitement about Corbyn, I doubt whether he has made my job any easier. I also doubt whether he will be able to successfully solve the problems that face him. That being said, I wish to play no part in a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have a leader now, and we must back him. We must stay united as we have but one simple aim: to win power at the next election, and Jeremy will need all our help to do this. Perhaps all our CLP meetings should take place in a church.