Paul Cruikshank joined the Labour Party ten years ago today. Here he reflects on those ten years, the changes that have happened in the party, and his hopes for the next decade.
I am a child of the Labour Party. My Mum was CLP Secretary and my Dad was CLP Chair, and they spent their honeymoon leafleting for Donald Dewar in Glasgow Garscadden. So I suppose it was inevitable that politics would be in my blood. But it was my decision, not theirs, when I joined the Labour Party on 8th September 2008.
But much like Trigger’s broom or Theseus’s Ship, that Labour Party has changed so much that, at times, it can feel as if I am a member of a completely different party 10 years on. Today’s Labour Party – Corbyn’s Labour Party – seems almost proud of that fact, but I think that it is a great shame.
The party I joined was led by one of the political giants of the early 21st century. It had a record in government to be proud of and worth defending. It had cut child poverty across the UK by almost half, devolved power to the nations (and was trying to do the same with English regions); increased human rights protections in the UK and moved women’s, LGBT+, BAME and workers’ rights forward in the face of great opposition.
The party I joined never forgot that it wasn’t some exercise in academic Marxism but existed to further the interests of the people who put it in power, even when that involved imperfect compromises or uncertain solutions. It didn’t strive towards some hypothetical perfection at the expense of achievable progress.
And the party I joined was not perfect. At times it lacked ambition and could have afforded to take an electoral hit for political efficacy. At times it made terrible mistakes, the most obvious of which has had lasting effects in the Middle East and only history will tell just how much of a mistake it was. It was when it refused to listen to different views and the leadership blustered on ahead with its plans that it made the biggest mistakes.
But most importantly, the party I joined knew that it couldn’t remain the same forever, it needed constantly to change to meet the challenges of the times it was in. It knew that the best way it could achieve this was to listen to different views and reflect their ideas in its politics.
The party I’m a member of today is different. It feels very different.
The party I am a member of today is not proud of the party it was 10 years ago, to the extent that it cannot even seem to accept it was ever the same party. It cannot acknowledge that the party of 10 years ago did any good; nor can it acknowledge that the party today can do any bad. And that is a great shame.
The last 10 years have been a time of massive change for our party, as were the 10 before that and, particularly, the 10 before that. The Labour Party has always been party that changes to create a change in the country. In the 1990s and early 2000s that meant New Labour – because “secur[ing] for workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry” didn’t really work in a country whose industry was killed the decade before.
So in the 2010s and the early 2020s that must mean something new again – but to establish what that is means we must look at the world around us and deal with what is in front of us, not what we wish was there. We will have to deal with the issues and situations that face us, and, most importantly, convince the electorate that we are worth trusting again.
But for that to happen we have to show that we’re trustworthy. We have to show that we allow a plurality of ideas and views and that, even if you don’t agree with our leader or manifesto on everything, we can work together to make the country better. We have to show that we’re able to represent not just “the many” but everyone, and we need urgently to start demonstrating that we are a party that allows everyone to come together “freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect” for all.
The last year or so has been very difficult for our party. Just this week, our members decided to re-elect someone to our most powerful committee who questioned the widespread existence of antisemitism in our party. Yesterday, it emerged that the Iranian state broadcaster Press TV had live-tweeted and had pictures and video from a members-only CLP meeting covering a vote of no confidence in a Labour MP who has challenged antisemitism in the party.
These situations, the decisions members of our party have taken, make it more difficult to demonstrate that we deserve that trust to govern. The fact we have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism is a step on the right path, but it is only the first step. Saying we will not tolerate active hatred, is not the same as saying we will promote active inclusion.
10 years after joining this party it is still, beyond doubt, my political home. But, like any home, it requires housekeeping. I hope that on 8th September 2028 we will be looking back on this period where we were unable or afraid to face up to our internal challenges as the point where we renewed ourselves, like we did 20 years previously, to meet the challenges of our time.
Just now, that means Brexit, the housing crisis, renewing the constitution across the UK, and dealing with the ever-rising cost of living and unstable and precarious work. But in a country where being working class now more likely means you are the means of production, the challenge to our party is to re-examine our traditions and offer solutions that are right for now.
I am proud to have been a member of the Labour Party, our party, for 10 years. In that time I have followed in both my mum’s and my dad’s footsteps in being both CLP Chair and Secretary. But this is a dark time for our party, and I do not think history will judge it kindly. It is in our domain to change that and show we do not represent merely ‘many’, but all who seek fairer work and a better life.
I hope, in 10 years’ time, to be reflecting on that – and on the achievements of the next Labour Government.