Like a lot of Labour Party members and activists, I’m angry and confused at the moment. I’m angry that with the Tory Party in disarray, losing MPs to UKIP and humiliated in Europe once again as a direct result of its fear of UKIP, the media focus appears to be all about Labour’s leadership “crisis”. And I’m confused because, with millions in poverty while working ever-longer hours, with some of the worst child poverty rates in the developed world, with hundreds of thousands of people dependent on food banks, and with our National Health Service being dismantled in front of our eyes, you might have thought that the handful of Labour MPs briefing anonymously against Ed could have found something more useful with which to fill their day.
While our anonymous comrades were busy talking to the media, I spent yesterday in an activists’ day here in Brighton Pavilion, in a room full of local people – and later on the doorstep – working to elect Purna Sen as Pavilion’s next MP: to elect a serious, achieving, grounded, local Labour MP with a passion for social justice and a track-record of effecting real change. And to elect a Labour Government capable of turning the tide, and to elect a Labour council in place of a party that claims to be radical but whose Council leader recently claimed that 40% child poverty in Brighton’s poorest wards was “on target”. A day spent with people who, in Green Brighton, are fed up with the politics of grandstanding and want – passionately – to get things done and bring about change.
We have the right to expect better from the briefers – the anonymous MPs and the SPAD commisariat who know nothing outside the Westminster bubble. Perhaps they should come and talk to the people who spent yesterday afternoon pushing leaflets through doors in one of Brighton’s less horizontal districts (I’m not complaining, the company was as invigorating as the wind was bracing, and the views were terrific).
Put simply, it was Ed Miliband that brought me back to Labour. Not just because of his obvious decency and seriousness of purpose and intellectual depth – contrasting with the weak, shallow, blustering PR man currently occupying No 10 – and his moral courage in taking on the tabloid press to defend his father’s memory and reputation; but because I saw Ed’s leadership asking the big questions about wealth and poverty, and about who an economy should work for; taking on the big cartels of the energy companies, expressing a willingness to intervene in markets and challenge the ideology of the market. As I’ve argued here before, there is such a thing as Milibandism – and it is something that has the potential to change Britain immeasurably for the better. Is that what the anonymous briefers – and especially their facilitating friends in the media – are afraid of?
We should never underestimate what Labour achieved in office from 1997-2010 – especially in promoting social justice and in investing in health and education, in tackling child poverty; the unglamorous, un-newsworthy things that are the warp and weft of a decent society. By the same token, we shouldn’t forget – and fail to learn – from the mistakes (and I speak as a Council candidate in a ward where Labour canvassers still get called neoliberals and warmongers by well-heeled Green Party activists). But – having been a Labour member in the 1990s and left in disillusionment, ending up in the Green Party, I listened to Ed and felt that, after a time of ambiguity, Labour was regaining the confidence to be Labour again. And that was where I wanted to be.
Aneurin Bevan, at the end of his life, wrote: “Never underestimate the passion for unity in the party, and never forget that it is the decent instinct of people who want to do something.” That passion has shown itself in a surge of social media support for Ed; yes, I know that social media are a very long way from being the whole story, but at least it’s a mouthpiece for those in the Party who are left out of media discourse; the decent, passionate people who do the heavy lifting of canvassing, organising – and, yes, tramping up steep hills on an inclement Saturday afternoon putting leaflets through doors.
The reasons why I want Ed in No 10 next May, Purna Sen as MP for Brighton Pavilion and a Labour Council in Brighton and Hove are all about values. It sometimes seems to me that Ed’s main crime – in the eyes of the media certainly – is to encapsulate those values, and to be prepared to challenge the status-quo in pursuit of those values.
Oh, and if an anoymous briefer really is having difficulty in filling their day, I have a pile of leaflets waiting for delivery and we doorknock in my ward on Mondays and Wednesdays.