If someone had told me last May that the general election defeat would be the catalyst for everything that’s happened since, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.
Like many others, I thought the left was a dwindling force within the Labour Party. I bet Jeremy Corbyn did too — especially if you think of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the party.
When the red-faced polling companies conducted a post-mortem on the reasons their polling predictions were so awry, I was not the least bit surprised when they said it was due to “lazy Labour voters” rather than “shy Tories” — except I’d replace the word “lazy” with uninspired, confused, or disheartened.
While Labour under Ed Miliband finally started to talk about growing inequality, the party doubled back on itself by signing up to the ideologically driven and economically illiterate austerity agenda so beloved by the Tories — albeit a slightly less nasty version.
Someone hit the nail on the head in a tweet that stayed with me to this day.
“Why vote for the echo when you can vote for the shout?” — if people want a party that talks tough on immigration, they’ll vote Ukip. If they want a party that bangs on about strivers and skivers they’ll vote Tory. The gap in the electoral market was for a viable centre-left party that stands up for the vast bulk of ordinary people, and Labour didn’t seem to realise it.
The Blairite wing of the party certainly didn’t realise it.
“We didn’t say enough to the John Lewis shoppers,” was their hasty analysis.
“What decade are they living in?” I thought when I heard them spout on about aspiration for the hundredth time. Don’t they realise most young people, like my 26-year-old son, are up to their eyes in uni debt, in insecure work, on low pay and can barely aspire to rent nowadays, let alone buy their own home?
And don’t they understand how those of us who are old and lucky enough to afford to buy our own home, and perhaps shop in John Lewis, want the same for our kids?
Yet even the lucky ones have had their pay frozen and their pensions cut to pay for a banking crisis they didn’t cause, while they struggle to care for elderly and disabled loved ones who would otherwise fall through the gaps in a social care system coming apart at the seams? What planet were these MPs living on?
The MPs who stood for the leadership all sang from this same aspirational hymn sheet.
Only Andy Burnham seemed to offer anything different. But then he snuffed out the barely flickering flame of my support when he said: “The mansions tax is the politics of envy.” He too had joined the “aspirational” bandwagon.
Shortly after this I read an open letter on LabourList, signed by 10 newly elected labour MPs, calling for an anti-austerity leadership candidate to stand.
That’s it, I thought excitedly — ordinary Labour members and supporters also need to write an open letter calling for an anti-austerity candidate to stand.
When I shared the idea on a Labour-supporting Facebook group, one of its fellow members, Beck Barnes, immediately volunteered to write it.
We sent it to Naomi Fearon from Red Labour, who converted it into a petition on our behalf.
From that point on, Naomi, Beck and I — three women who had never met — were like the three musketeers, spending every spare moment sharing the petition on Twitter and Facebook.
The response it received was heartening. Jeremy signed it. John McDonnell signed it. And thousands of ordinary Labour members and supporters signed it. But as each day passed we started to lose heart.
“No-one’s going to stand, are they?” was the despondent message I sent to Jeremy’s friend and fellow MP Clive Lewis. “Don’t give up hope,” came his intriguing reply.
A few days later the news broke — he had thrown his hat in the ring. My fellow campaigners and I were ecstatic.
All our hard work had paid off. But that was only the start. Then came the campaign to get Jeremy on the ballot, followed by the leadership campaign itself.
I’d imagine most of us will forever remember where we were and how we reacted when you won.
I was at home with my husband, three children, my little granddaughter and my son’s best friend.
I was sitting between my eldest daughter and husband on the sofa, holding their hands tightly in mine, eyes squeezed shut, hunched over with anxiety, waiting for the result.
By the time Yvette Cooper’s and Andy Burnham’s vote tally had been announced, my husband was telling me Jeremy had won.
Still I waited to hear it with my own ears before letting out an excited scream and then promptly bursting into tears of relief and joy. Not only had Jeremy won, he won a landslide in all categories.
Since that ecstatic day it hasn’t been easy. The anonymous briefings and sniping from some members of the PLP have filled me with anger, frustration and despair in equal measure, so I can’t imagine how it affects Jeremy himself.
Then there are the daily attacks from the media, which make the daily assaults on the much maligned Ed Miliband look like compliments in comparison.
Has any of this given me pause for thought? Any regrets over starting a petition calling for an anti-austerity candidate to stand? On the contrary. Three major U-turns on tax credits, police cuts and the Saudi prison contract would not have happened had any other candidate won.
Jeremy has saved thousands of lower-income families from untold hardship. He has made us all safer and more secure on our streets. And he’s managed all this while in opposition. Imagine what he’ll achieve when he becomes prime minister.
So thank you, Jeremy. Thank you for letting yourself be persuaded to stand. You have given us the best Christmas gift of all. Hope.
by Michelle (Chelley) Ryan
Originally published in The Morning Star on 24/12/2015