Today I turn 46.
Every birthday sends me on a trip down memory lane, which involves me meandering through memories of significant events that have taken place between my present birthday and the last. This year the memories are richer, more vivid and more emotional than usual, something I normally associate with losing someone I love, or new life coming into the world, such as when my three children and my granddaughter were born.
This past year there were no deaths and no births, but in someways I feel like I have experienced both, and they have both been a force for good. Though maybe death isn’t the right word…maybe ‘ending’ is better.
In this past year the New Labour project came to an end.
Some Labour MPs have not accepted this, and are fighting for its political life, but these are just the death throws of a wounded animal. The reason these MPs talk so big and tough about coups and leadership challenges, is because they feel frustrated and powerless, and this tough talk makes them feel powerful again, albeit momentarily. They know deep down that a change of leadership is not in their hands. If Jeremy Corbyn is on the ballot, he will win by a monumental landslide. If they try to keep Jeremy off the ballot, there will be petitions, mass demonstrations, sit-ins, marches, rallies, occupations, the like of which this country has never seen. Corbyn backers won’t simply roll over and meekly say ‘Oh well, that is that then,’ and get on with their lives. The socialist geni is out of the bottle and there is no putting it back in.
Which brings me on to the figurative birth that took place this year. And it’s a birth that has an almost fairy tale quality to it. Remember the tale of the emperors new clothes? Remember how an emperor and his subjects were duped by con-men posing as tailors into believing the emperor’s new suit of clothes were made out of such fine fabric, only those who were worthy and competent could see them. So when the emperor paraded through the street butt naked, no one dared acknowledge the evidence of their own eyes, lest they be labelled as stupid and incompetent. It took a little boy in the crowd to speak the truth no-one else dared speak. But once that truth had been spoken there was no holding the rest of the crowd back.
I credit Andy Burnham with waking me up to all that was ridiculous about the New Labour project. He was my leadership candidate of choice, prior to Jeremy. I say choice, but I really didn’t feel I had much choice in the leadership contest before Jeremy. Andy was the best of a bad bunch. With my nose clasped firmly between my fingers, I was going to cast my vote for him. That was until the day he called the mansion tax the politics of envy. After that I wasn’t going to vote for anyone, which left me feeling hopeless.
It was around that time, while perusing the Labourlist blog, when I read an open letter, written and signed by 10 newly elected Labour MPs, calling for an anti-austerity candidate to stand in the leadership contest. With excitement and hope bubbling away inside of me, I shared the open letter on a pro-Labour Facebook group I had joined only the day before. ‘Should us Labour members do something like this?’ was my question to the group. One particular member, Beck Barnes, jumped at the idea, and offered to write a similar letter, but from labour members and supporters, instead of MPs. When we were both happy with it, we sent it to the campaign group Red Labour, where it was picked up by activist Naomi Fearon, who converted it into a petition on our behalf. That is how the three musketeers were born.
I know it sounds bizarre, considering I have never met Naomi or Beck, but I feel genuine love for these two women. Together we shared that petition morning, noon and night, fitting in its promotion between very busy lives. We set up our own message group to share our triumphs and frustrations. One of the frustrations stemmed from Owen Jones’s failure to sign or tweet the petition. We knew his support would give our petition real wings, and we could not understand why he wasn’t responding to our pleas. Months later he admitted he didn’t think the timing was right for a left candidate to stand so that solved that mystery.
Our triumphs were many, but the two that stand out the most was when John McDonnell signed and tweeted our petition, followed by Jeremy Corbyn just a few days later. It tickles me to look back now, to think of Jeremy Corbyn signing our petition calling for an anti-austerity candidate to stand, knowing that only a few days later, he was the one who would stand.
Rightly or wrongly, our petition has been credited with the final push the left needed to put someone forward. I will always be eternally grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for heeding our call, but also to MPs like Clive Lewis and Cat Smith for writing the original MPs letter which inspired our petition. I am also grateful to groups like Red Labour, who were lobbying for a left candidate to stand from behind the scenes.
Getting Jeremy to stand was just the start. He became a point we could focus all our efforts on, first to get him on the ballot, and then to get him elected. Now we are all fighting to get Jeremy elected as our Prime minister in 2020.
It has always been about more than a man. The movement was born the day ordinary people stopped buying the establishment narrative about what it takes to win elections. We are all the little boy in the crowd shouting ‘the emperor is naked!’
To everyone who makes up this remarkable movement; which includes everyone who signed our petition calling for a left candidate to stand in the leadership contest, lobbied MPs to get Jeremy on the ballot, campaigned for Jeremy to win the leadership, and who are now campaigning in whichever way they can manage to help Jeremy Corbyn become our next prime minister, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
You have given me the best birthday present a girl could have.
You have given me hope.