Big lies and bad memories

Still from film 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn'

All over the country, former Labour Party activists are filling halls and cinemas to watch Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie. I’m not surprised. They were hurt, they were cheated, they were robbed, and it’s healing, to see your story told properly. I don’t seem to have gone along though. I was a CLP officer when it was all going along, I was all too aware of what was happening.

Still from film 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn'

Like most party officers, I did get opportunities to talk to our shadow cabinet MPs, their bag-carriers and various other players in the goings on of those days. Unlike the current regime, Corbyn and his associates encouraged membership involvement – in policy-making that is, not just flag-waving and leaflet delivery. That, perhaps is why the memories that I find bubbling up now are about how the party administrators never did get that. Even those who weren’t among those daily trying to destroy the movement, they really thought “the Corbyn movement” was just some kind of fan club.

Still from film 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn'

I remember finding the party conferences a tad off key somehow, with all their drama and fanfares. Of course we got into it, of course we cheered and sang and clapped a lot – we wanted it all to work, but we were there on serious business. I remember in the 2019 conference, when we were told that parliament had been successfully re-opened – do you remember? Boris Johnson was getting cornered daily over his Brexit plans and intentions. Corbyn was leading the house to vote against him, and winning an unprecedented number of votes against the ruling party, showing up the gaping holes in Johnson’s “plans” and the dangers that hadn’t been addressed. Do you remember how Johnson panicked and closed parliament – a positively medieval response, and do you remember how those who still believed in democracy fought him on that as well – wasn’t it Joanna Cherry QC (of the women’s movement fame) who triumphed that day?

Anyway, the 2019 Labour Conference was interrupted by the announcement that parliament was restored, and all our MPs needed to go back to Westminster. We cheered ourselves hoarse. Corbyn had had the PM on the ropes, we wanted him to get back and finish the job – but there were two very interesting consequences of the sudden interruption of Conference.

The Fan Club Theory

The next morning at Conference, when we all re-took our seats to go on with the policy debates, the woman chairing the session said she was really surprised we were there. “I thought you’d all go home when the MPs left,” she said. It was a telling moment. The party administrators really did not know they had a membership that was there for the serious business of doing politics.

The Tom Watson situation

Boris Johnson was not the only person who was on the ropes. On the agenda for that afternoon had been Tom Watson’s Big Speech. All the shadow cabinet people get a Big Speech slot during conference. It’s their chance to set out their stall, to get support for their particular policy ideas but, as one of the major orchestraters of the MPs’ campaign against Corbyn’s leadership, Watson (supposedly Corbyn’s Deputy) had been infuriating members all year with his inappropriate insinuations and misleading statements so, on the morning his speech was due, many members were outside conference handing out leaflets reminding delegates of what Watson had said and done, and what the consequences had been.

People are fond of saying, these days, that Corbyn and McDonnell didn’t fight back hard enough against all the smear campaigns. Frankly, I agree but I am perhaps more aware than some of the relentless pressure they were under, and how difficult it all was. Really, the fightback was our job and that’s why delegates were deep in debate outside that morning, about how we’d go about holding Watson to account – some said we should all walk out of his speech. Others said we should shout him down, yet others that we should persistently call out demanding answers. I was with the third camp. We’d get called bullies whatever we did – MPs really were not in the habit of tolerating being held to account by party members – but I felt that if we went for options one or two, Watson would have some justification when he called us hooligans and thugs (which he’d been doing all along).

I’m told that during the morning, Watson had been in the organizers’ area desperately looking for excuses to avoid doing his Big Speech but, as things panned out, he was let off the hook by the recall of parliament. I’ve often wondered just how differently things would have panned out if we’d been able to stage our showdown that day. At that point, despite Starmer and Co’s attempt to drive in a wedge over the “second referendum” argument, most of the active membership were still together on the leadership, and they were battle-hardened, and ready to take back control.

It was not to be.

Other big lies

You have been told in no uncertain terms that you must not watch this film…

Click here to watch film trailer

Ah well – I hope you go see the film, and if you didn’t already know, I hope it reminds you what we were fighting for, and what we must still fight for – but could I also please point out that the campaign against the Corbyn leadership was not the only big lie doing the rounds. If you understand how wrong, and how damaging that was, please can I ask you to also watch another film, one about another big lie, a lie that also did serious damage to left solidarity, and is still doing so?

You have been told in no uncertain terms that you must not watch this film…

If I remember rightly, there’s one line in this film that I think is a mistake. I think Lucy says something along the lines of “the problem with the Labour Party is that it does what the membership want instead of what the country wants”. I can assure you, as a former CLP officer, that most definitely was not my experience. What the Labour Party does is what the core groups of MPs and their funders want – but there you go. People make mistakes. The rest of what is in this film is, I think, as true as what’s said in the Corbyn film, and equally important. You are being told not to watch it for the same reasons. If we don’t come to understand the issues that divide us (really understand, from all sides) then we really don’t deserve to win our party, our government, our democracy back.


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2 responses to “Big lies and bad memories”

  1. Brilliant, as ever. Your knowledge, your experience and your lightness of touch in your writing, weaving everything together, make reading your blogs so accessible and interesting … it’s a treat! Wordsmithery at a superb level. Even when it reminds us of the sadness of one of the biggest heists of recent times; the Great Train Robbery had nothing on the NEC’s cynical plots to block Corbyn and rob hard-working campaigners like me in the 2017 and 2019 GE’s. Thanks Kay.

    Liked by 1 person

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