Dear leadership candidates for the Labour Party,
Before the quelled vitriol that has sizzled the top of my oesophagus for some time now has the opportunity to leap forth, I want to share something with you that I've learned.
When I started learning to skydive, my instructors told me "Do on the ground as you will in the air." It was a response to a lot of people half-heartedly arching their backs, not into the correct position, for fear of falling over just from a standing position onto the ground. "Well, of course I'll do it in the air!" we all replied. "When you're in the door, staring out at the ground, stressed, and you have to do this properly, you'll be glad you were consistent" was the honest reply. Let me tell you, Labour, it wasn't a pro-left leaning, it wasn't a lack of centre-right policies and it wasn't that bacon sandwich that lost Labour the general election in May. It was a lack of consistency and a broken link to their core.
I grew up in a Welsh mining town, the child of blue-collar, now public sector, workers who left school at 16 who had voted Labour for their entire lives. My parents met as teens working full-time in Tesco in the 1980s. My grandparents were miners who were out on strike in the same decade, union members to their core. I attended a state comprehensive school. I've since attended three Russell Group elite universities and I have a nice, stable, corporate job in a growing sector and I've uprooted to London. I have, on occasion, bought something in Waitrose and I have an opinion on chickpeas. I am the product of Labour supporters, dyed in the wool, born and bred, unwaveringly steadfast. In contradiction, I myself am the fairy story for social mobility. I am the example that the Conservatives want to point to in order to say their system works and it benefits those who work for it.
And if they point at me, I will break their fingers.
I am the child that grew up with a full belly because my mother received Labour's tax credits as a low income worker on minimum wage. I went to my local FE college where I gained glowing exam results because mine was the first year that received the Educational Maintenance Allowance, also a Labour introduction, now defunct. I attended elite universities in expensive towns because I received a full grant and loans that were deferred until after I graduated. After a brief period of illness made me leave university, I received jobseeker's allowance until I found a job in a mental health charity that sustained me until I returned to education where I graduated with honours in Law. I am the total of my efforts but I am also the product of my advantages, an idea glaringly and totally beyond the grasp of the vampiric and parasitic Conservative Party.
It is these advantages that the Conservative government has sought and fought and strived to deprive working class people of. This year, where were Labour when the Conservative Party exacted the greatest theft since the Great Train Robbery? Meekly, reluctantly but definitively selling the aspirations, the security and the opportunities of generations to the Tory puppeteers in exchange for appearing "strong" on the economy, of appealing to a broad base of citizens they have grown totally out of touch with. This is why I can't just be content to exercise my democratic will by voting when an election comes up. The SNP's Mhairi Black last week gave a barnstorming speech where she identified exactly the problem that surely tossed Labour's election dream into the abyss: "I didn't leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me."
Like Mhairi Black, I will point out that I now find myself in a fortunate position, but that position will never prove seductive enough to blank out my memory of where I came from and the preceding struggles that have allowed me to occupy it. Like Charlotte Church, Michael Sheen and other well-to-do anti-austerity advocates who have been accused of champagne socialism, unlike the modern Labour Party, we weren't drunk enough on the fizz to simply forget our roots. And I'd probably drown myself in the stuff first before I did.
I could get really angry now. I could get angry that my little sister, of whom I'm fiercely proud, will graduate with tens of thousands of pounds in debt more than I have for the same piece of paper. I could fume that my wonderful older sister, as a result of lack of house building in the 1990s and private landlord deregulation by the Thatcher government leading to spiralling rents, will never be able to buy a house. My fury could explode because there will be 330,000 more children in poverty, going to school hungry, failing to concentrate on the education they need and who will not receive the extra financial support I did. I could become apoplectic that good, hardworking parents like mine will have their security and dignity stripped away by welfare cuts. I could rage that I had to leave my friends, my family, because a centralist-obsessed Thatcher government decimated the regions outside of London so that I had to move after graduation as did thousands of my peers, stripping communities of their best and brightest.
But I'm not going to get angry. I'm going to get Corbyn.
He cuts an unlikely leadership figure in a flat cap and a beige jacket, looking more like he should be on an allotment than a hustings stage. But unlike the others on offer, unlike Andy, Liz, or Yvette, he at least has a placid consistency. He was mocked and ridiculed at the outset of his confirmed nomination and yet responded with a campaign that has been issues and not personality dominated. His voting record reveals a principled and populist tablet of exactly the kind of responses that Labour voters and members have listened to hear from their representatives for the best part of a decade.
It's easy to write that Labour politicians of the last five years have been anti- things. Ed Miliband was anti-deficit, anti-strikes and anti-spending. What was hard to write about Ed Miliband and the shadow Cabinet was things that they were undeniably, indefatigably PRO because they were all so terrified of nailing their colours to the mast of a sinking ship. However, it turns out that the public saw the colours of turncoats, of careerists, of yes-men and the ship sank anyways. Jeremy Corbyn is surging precisely because the things he champions - pro-youth, pro-gay rights, pro-disarmament, pro-economic reform, pro-support for the vulnerable - are exactly the things that the parties who saw an upsurge in their membership before and since the election are for, and visibly so.
For example, Labour's continued spite and antipathy towards the SNP as a force to break up the country has completely ignored the simple statistical fact that more people voted for the SNP in more districts than voted for independence. Therefore, the SNP, and for that matter the Greens and even UKIP on opposite sides of the political spectrum, represent more than just a protest or a desire to make a quick exit. The popularity of anti-austerity parties from Europe, of MPs like Caroline Lucas or Dennis Skinner or even divisive right-wing figures like Nigel Farage on social media platforms, shows the young are not now and have never been apathetic about politics. They were just refusing to take part in a morally bankrupt system that didn't represent them - and they were bitterly punished for it by George Osborne in his travesty of a Budget.
What the Green Surge before the election and what the expected 140,000 new Labour members after the election represents is more than just a protest. It's a broader understanding that politics doesn't live or die just at election times and is about more than an adversarial two-horse race every 5 years. That kind of intelligence is something that no career politician has credited the young or the disenchanted with and which will, if not followed, prove their downfall at the next election.
Whether Jeremy Corbyn, when he scraped together the 35 names needed to run for the leadership contest, expected this uptake in popularity - and by all accounts, no one did - it is for certain that his base ambition was to offer an alternative. What Jeremy Corbyn seems to have grasped more than any of the others have on their turbo-charged race to mediocrity, is that people are simply not interested in rehashing the general election. The people are not wringing their hands any more, they are not casting their eyes ahead to 2020, they're not bemoaning that Labour are sitting on benches on the opposite side of the chamber than the polls predicted. The Labour voters of Britain - (no matter if allegiance is still true or if they have defected to minority parties/altogether stopped voting) - have not written off the next 5 years. Their eyes are directed to the near future, uneasily fixed on what the Tories, now unchecked albeit with a slim majority, have in store.
The popular press' talk of 66 year old Jeremy Corbyn is the right man to be Prime Minister is rightly going over his head because he recognises that Labour now have 5 years in Opposition and a responsibility as the official Opposition to provide a balance, a block and a conscience to the Conservative Party. That conscience will not be provided by the other candidates, as evidenced by Jeremy Corbyn being the only leadership candidate to vote against the Welfare Bill - a cruel and draconian punishment of the working poor for their own poverty. This was an inexcusable failure to act, made worse by the fact that the weak opposition Labour did provide in the form of an amendment was only prepared after backbench Labour MP tabled her own in protest and defiance of Harriet Harman's leadership.
Liz Kendall - who I am convinced simply got lost at a Tory conference some years ago and has just been too embarrassed to announce her mistake - combined with Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham have all made a grandiose misstep by dancing to a slightly different tempo but still Tory tune. Their ridiculous, jealous guarding of the prize of Labour leadership as a guarantee of election next time around belies their fundamental lack of understanding that the people who vote Labour, join Labour, campaign for Labour expect Labour policies. There is no point in casting a Labour ballot to get Tories. If we are consigned to five years in the wilderness, the rhetoric of Jeremy Corbyn says that together, we can make them meaningful years. It's better to lose an election and provide a united, principled, socially responsible opposition, in conjunction with other parties and which reflects the true intentions of the members of the party than to win and to drive the party further away from its core values. Maybe therefore we need an old-timer who remembers Labour before the infiltration of lobbyists and principle-shy careerists to reinvigorate and catalyse the grassroots and those people that Labour's desperate veer to the middle had forgotten.
The purpose of capturing that broad spectrum of voters was to provide a cemented mandate for social change and championing the vulnerable. That is what lies at the centre of Labour's purpose. What these leadership candidates are seeking to prove to you is that their individual ambition serves the common good, to paraphrase Adam Smith. To further complete that theorem with John Nash's theory of equilibrium, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn are trying to show that the best result comes from that individual doing what is best for him/her and the group. Consistently, democratically and with principles that reflect the core mission. For me, therefore, between the existing crop, it's not even a competition. It's a certainty. Vote Corbyn.
P.S. Liz, Yvette, Andy. You owe my Mam, and everyone else in Britain, an apology. She likes Ferrero Rocher and freesias. Don't forget now.