Joining The British Labour Party

Mick Hall joined his local Labour Party branch in Thurrock He writes:

In 2015 for the first time in 50 years I joined a political party - how has it worked out?
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive" – Walter Scott

For the first time in 50 years in 2015 I joined a political party. When I told my family and friends what I intended to do, they were astounded: "why would you want to do that when you know full well local politics in Thurrock is a cesspit of intrigue and smears." They had a point, as politics does seem to attract an abundance of people who are prepared to believe almost anything as long as it's whispered to them.

Whether we like it or not, Thurrock and its people have experienced massive changes over the last two decades. But one thing which doesn't seem to have changed one iota is how council business is conducted in the borough. For the last two decades 'the Suits' have appeared to be interchangeable. Mainly white, grey suited, middle aged men, they dress, act and talk alike. And as far as many of them are concerned they have the same managerial aims.

Central government cries austerity cuts, and they all to eagerly seem to reply as if helpless, where and what do we cut. It's hardly surprising the numbers who vote in local elections has fallen. Sadly many have concluded if they walk, talk, dress and quack like the Westminster political elites they want none of them.

Innovation and inclusiveness is not generally what these people do. This doesn't make them all duds. Some councillors, when they put their minds to it, can be first class and I don't just mean the best of the LP bunch. There is a Ukip councillor who would be an asset to any progressive party. That he chose Ukip and not the LP should have been a wake up call for Labour.

Times have changed yet many councillors seem to have failed to notice this. In the public eye they're regarded as indistinguishable from each other and senior council officials.

Why does this matter? Because unfairly these same senior officials are often wrongly blamed for the cuts and poor service residents receive from the council, when it's the Tory government which is mainly to blame.

Nevertheless inspired by Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the 2015 LP leadership contest I ignored all advice and signed on the bottom line and within a short space of time my membership card dropped through the door.

That I have chosen to post this piece on Organized Rage and not on the Thurrock Labour Forum Facebook page is itself an indictment of how the local party is run. If I were to post it there, past experience tells me it would be censored or taken down.

For example I posted a link to a LP local membership survey and it was removed. I replied to a comment by a moderator who wrongly, imo, claimed people in the UK are innocent until proven guilty. In the comment I wrote 'if you believe that you need to get out more.' Given this man had previously posted he only became aware Job Centre staff treated claimants appallingly after he saw Ken Loach's 'I Daniel Blake.' I thought telling him he needed to get out more was a reasonable piece of advice and still do.

The last straw for me was when the same moderator removed a comment in which I "thanked people for wishing me well after an operation and said I didn’t wish to comment on why a moderator had been removed as I had no wish to further inflame the situation."

As the saying goes:

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”

For the first few months after joining the LP I heard little from the local party. When I enquired my queries were either ignored or I was given what I regarded as the brush off. To say I found this dispiriting would be an understatement, although I didn't take it personally as I soon found out many new members had a similar experience and not only in Thurrock.

As one new member said to me:

It's as if some within the local leaderships decided new members should ride at the back of the bus.

If it were not for the regular updates, emails and messages I received from the Corbyn leadership team I would have long ago chucked my membership card into the Thames.

I have no wish to become a local politician nor hold senior positions within the local Party. As the old political adage goes every member can contribute no matter how big or small. I just wanted to be a foot soldier in the hope if we all pull together we might at least attempt to change the way politics is done in the UK.

That a change is desperately needed is perhaps best demonstrated by the putrid  legacy of the Iraq war, Brexit, and Mrs May's continuous austerity measures against those least able to shoulder the burden, while giving tax breaks to those who are well able to pay their full share.

At the first meeting I attended, a vote was taken on who the CLP would support in the second leadership contest in a year. To my surprise Jeremy Corbyn was nominated by an overwhelming majority. When the result was announced a cheer went up and this undoubtedly gave me heart and pleased me no end.

This high didn't last long because within a few weeks the local leadership stuck two fingers up at the new members and invited Dan Jarvis, the anti-Corbyn MP to Thurrock to talk to members at a special meeting for a non inclusive £20 entrance fee. It was pretty clear Jarvis was invited as a spoiler and was unlikely to appeal to new members.

And so it proved. As was expected the turnout at the Jarvis meeting wouldn't have filled the lower deck of a London double decker bus. Thurrock CLP has 300 new members and they were never going to attend a meeting to be lectured by a Blairite.

That this invitation was never put to a vote at a CLP meeting made me feel being a member of Thurrock LP is like rolling a large rock up hill, as not only are some members more equal than others, but sadly some regard the local party as their own personal fiefdom. If the party in Thurrock is to rebuild support amongst its traditional working class base this way of doing business is not the way to proceed.

If it's unwilling to tolerate a safe place where its members can post and debate party policy without fear of censorship and sanction, how on earth can it appeal to the wider electorate in the constituency?

Why would any member post to a Facebook page when their content may be removed for no better reason than a 'useful idiot' might disagree with it?

To sum up, what to make of it all 

Thurrock CLP undoubtedly has some able and committed people who wish to support the party leader and take the struggle forward. They come from all section of the party bar the Blairites, who act as mischief makers and in my view seem determined to follow their leader into the dustbin of history.

But the party is not in power in Thurrock and is losing ground across the borough and this has little to do with the party leader as the fall in support began long before Jeremy was elected.

To put it bluntly, Thurrock Labour Party has in the past made little secret of the fact it lost confidence in the working classes ability to be a force for progressive change. Thus it's hardly surprising a sizable section of the boroughs working classes have lost confidence in the LP bringing about societal change which will benefit their lives.

Carping, gossiping and whispering into ears is not the way. We need to be straight with each other, dare I say it treat each other in a comradely way. We all need to be on the same page as the national leadership.

The Corbyn leadership's policies set out below are becoming increasingly popular, but here in Thurrock we are not making any real attempt to get them across to the wider electorate. Indeed in the campaigns we have mounted around sure start centres, the NHS, and sheltered housing, Jeremy and his policies were not even mentioned in the leaflets.

In my view the old guard which still controls the Executive Committee is a law unto itself, it fears and censors the cut and thrust of democratic debate. It's made no real attempt to engage with new members. Nothing must be said or done which will upset the status quo. A status quo I might add which has seen Labour going from being the leading party in the borough to it's current position of being the also-rans to the Tories and Ukip.

Author Note: As I have already said I have reluctantly published this piece on my blog because I have no confidence it will not be censored and removed if I post it on the Thurrock Labour Forum Facebook group, which in itself sadly speaks volumes about the current state of the local party. 

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

1 comment to ''Joining The British Labour Party"

  1. I am envious of someone being in a position to join Corbyn's Labour Party vision. Had we remained in England as a family in 1973 I am certain I would be doing the same, joining the Labour Party. The old guard are the same everywhere it seems. A local FF councilor here owns half of Letterkenny and refuses to bring new people into the local party. He was made Lord Mayor recently and very shortly after that was found in the early hours of the morning in his car, centre of the road asleep with the engine running and lights on. When eventually awakened he was abusive to the Garda. He has since been caught drink driving again.

    It cannot be expected that rooted and skilled self serving careerists are going to either play ball with Corbyn's new vision or much less step aside. It has become a very nice little earner has politics, at all levels. What has been going on between the media and PLP MPs against Corbyn should stand as testimony as to how self serving, deep rooted and undemocratic politics has become. Closer to home, apart from drunken self serving FF Lord Mayors who's greatest talents would be for drinking and rezoning land for building purposes (those were the days) you have SF, the Adams family paedo cult.

    It will be a hard slog but this election in the UK, whether won or lost, could be the much needed water shed. There could be a split with the Labour MPs of Blairite complexion and the new much needed ground-swell of people desperate for social and political change. Hopefully the Blairites will in their self indignation and rage make the split themselves. Or to make things simple, bog off and join the Tory Party proper.

    Don't give up. Ugly beasties are never easily shifted, but Corbyn is still there and fingers crossed he won't be "going away you know"!!


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