These last two years have been a brutal time in Labour. There has been much talk of a new party, following an expected obliteration at the hands of the electorate. There have been many times when I thought Labour would not survive. There have been many times when I thought Labour probably should not survive. Things have been said that cannot be unsaid, and things have been done that cannot be undone. On all sides. And yet, here we are, together again, and after it all I’m sensing a tentative desire for a line to be drawn under the anger, an cautious openness to understanding different political perspectives within Labour, some magnanimity, a new chapter.
Corbyn has defied expectations of all but his most avid supporters, and perhaps even the vast majority of them. Assertions that with an alternative leader, Labour would have won this election are as fruitless as the argument that ‘anyone’ could have won in 1997. Neither can ever be proved or disproved, and both are now little more than a tool to have an argument within the Labour Party. What do we know? We know that Tony Blair led Labour to victory for the first time in almost 20 years, and we know that Jeremy Corbyn led Labour to destroy a Tory government in two. Corbyn connected with people, just as Blair did, and both men not just understood, but felt, a sentiment of the age in a way few others can claim. Credit where it is due.
There are political differences within the party which still seem insurmountable, and it would lack grace, not to mention honesty, to pretend that these will disappear. Yet as we see now, so very clearly, the only options for government are Labour and the Tories, those of us who believe in party politics need to make a choice, and for me this is now a simple one. I cannot ignore the hardships I have seen as a welfare rights worker for older people, worsening, day after day, for more than a decade, and I cannot, with any sense of my own conscience, support the political party which sees penalising poverty as a virtuous act. It’s not.
The Conservative government has all but fallen, May looks set to resign on Monday, and there is now a very real chance that Labour could, in the not too distant future, be given the opportunity to govern the country. Moderates and progressive are wrestling with what is the right thing to do. There are Daniel Blake’s in my office every day, pushed from pillar to post trying to get £50 pounds a week to live on. If we have the chance to get rid of the government that has overseen the moral decline of our institutional philosophy towards those who need help, I want to do what I can. I hope more Labour MPs will offer to return to the Shadow Cabinet. They are needed. I hope they will also be wanted.
So, no faction is going to leave the Labour Party, that’s clear. My hope is that if a new, new dawn has broken, it can involve genuine debate, without political disagreements felt as attacks, without discussions fueling hatred. I hope that those who left Labour think about coming back, and I hope those who became estranged (like me) get back involved. Politics is the art of persuasion – have the debates, make the arguments. If there’s one lesson I have learnt from the Left it is to speak up in the Labour Party, and the country, for your politics. You might just win.
It will be a hard for the hands of co-operation to be both extended, and taken. Blairites and Corbynistas and everything in between. To say there has been no love lost would be putting it benignly. It will be harder still for genuine trust to develop, though I believe it can be done. If Northern Ireland, after its decades of turmoil, sectarian hatred, and violence, could embrace a peace process, then so can the Labour Party. It’s time for Labour Party’s civil war to end.
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