Does anyone else feel the shriek of ?YEAH BUT MEMBERS!? from the furthest left enclaves of the Labour Party is, well, missing the point? I feel it is not the members voices we need to be hearing, but the voices of the voters that we no longer reach. Unless of course, we are all cool with the rise of far right fascism, the petrol bomb hurled through halal butchers windows, the graffiti at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, the abuse hurled at people in their own shops and on trams and on buses and in the street, every single day.
I thought not.
Consider for one moment the potential link between the decimation of steel works, privatisation of the health care systems, the waiting lists for council and housing association properties that are easily ten years long in my own constituency. Consider the cuts to front line public services, fewer police officers on the beat, jump-crewing at fire stations (read: not enough front line firefighters), and consider the impact that that may have on communities and individuals casting around to find someone to blame. It?s almost classic ? the disenfranchised kids are joining gangs and lashing out, only these kids are, in most cases, fully grown adults. They organise, they protest, they fight, they intimidate, but the root causes appear to be marginalisation, misunderstanding, and fear.
We aren?t going to win them back with our fingers in our ears. Nor can we seriously appeal with a bunch of people who can regularly afford to donate to a political party ? for that is what membership is ? telling people on the dole in the North of England what?s best for them and their communities.
I woke up this morning thinking how similar this mess is to (my extensive) experiences of children in care. My parents were foster carers, and have been since I was five years old. Our small family home was a revolving door of troubled children, misunderstood, spat out by the system, all carrying their own devastating baggage and miserable experiences. It wasn?t an easy environment to grow up in; I bore witness to testimonies of abuse, to bizarre behaviours, breakdowns, threats of violence, before I was even in double digits. I learned early on that the world could be dark and cruel and unconditional over was never guaranteed. But my parents were marvellous. They listened, they asked, they soothed, they reassured, they stabilised, and child after child left our home with a slightly more solid foundation than when they entered it. We strove to offer them self worth, stability, security, and for the most part, it worked.
And it strikes me how similar those experiences can be to our current political climate. One hand you have mistreated, misunderstood, maligned people, screaming to be heard.
And on the other hand you seem to have a bunch of people in suits telling them what?s best for them. With barely a clue as to how to reach them, or what they need.
Check your fucking privileges, folks. Seriously.
This isn?t simply about winning the election. Forget the sodding election. This is so much bigger than elections. Bigger than numbers. Bigger than score settling. Bigger than public schoolboy yahboo sucks to you.
I mean, we need to win the NHS back. That?s what winning looks like. Education. Supportive and effective welfare. A decent education. Opportunities regardless of background. That?s what winning looks like.
This whole damn mess is not about elections. It?s about stepping into the gangs of angry people, and asking what they?re afraid of. It?s about listening to their replies. It?s about resolving ignorance through outreach and education, through community and understanding. It?s not about pandering to a xenophobic rhetoric, it?s about gently deconstructing it.
It?s about genuine reinvestment into the structural beams of a decent, civilised society.
It?s about the Labour Party representing the Labourers. And an unfortunate truth is that if you can easily afford the membership, then you are probably in a better position than those you purport to represent, or want to.
Shrieking ?BUT THIS IS WHAT THE MEMBERS WANT? in an echo chamber of placards just (wrongly) reinforces to the disenchanted that politics is a self interested debating society.
Prove them wrong.
I have been howlingly furious since Thursday. And now I?m steadily, calmly, reasonably trying to make sense of all this mess.
In my current job, or one of them, I spend a lot of time with senior politicians. Eagle, Cooper and Miliband could testify that I yell at them on a regular basis at dinner parties in the capital, about how dinner parties in the capital aren;t reconnecting them with their roots, the working class. And it?s grossly ironic that I, the child of a firefighter and a medically retired nurse that clambered out Of a fire brigade transit van around the corner from my all girls grammar school in the mornings so my friends wouldn?t tease me, has ended up at the top table talking to politicians about the world as it is.
I never miss an opportunity to make an uncomfortable statement about how many packets of basics sausages a Soho-priced starter would buy, to give pause for thought. I?ve sat and reeled off a £10 weekly shopping list as someone orders a £10 cocktail. It?s hardly akin to chaining myself to a railing, but it?s an unexpected reminder that we are, and always will be, poles apart. I have found myself yelling, infuriated, at groups of assembled grandees, asking them to just listen and understand. If I have this weird access to the great and good, I may as well try to use it for something before they get bored of the yelling and stop asking me to come over.
People should be heard. And not on the terms of the politicians, nor the viewers tuning in to Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street. With their own voices. In their own words.
Wielding a placard at a protest millions of people didn’t know was happening and couldn’t afford to get to anyway. ..it’s starting to feel a little hollow. Get out into your communities and knock on doors and ask questions and listen to answers and for God’s stake stop all just talking to each other in a pontificating echo chamber.
It’s not about the members, stupid.
It?s about reaching out to and changing the lives of those that aren?t.
It?s the Labour Party. And it?s time to get back to basics and start it up again.