by Gareth Williams
Probably the greatest hour in modern television history is the magisterial finale of the second season of the West Wing: Two Cathedrals. In it, President Bartlet, facing a tough reelection challenge and recently exposed as suffering from MS, is chastised by the figure of his deceased secretary over his indecision regarding whether or not to seek a second term. She issues him with the rhetorical ultimatum “if you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run cause you think it will be too hard or you think you’re going to lose…I don’t even want to know you”.
Harsh words and different stakes, perhaps, but Labour’s centrists face a similar quandary.
Is it worth fighting for a party which seems uninterested in fighting for itself? Should they go out on the doorstep for leaders who, themselves, do not see the merit in gaining office? Is there any point in putting up with voluminous and vituperative abuse day in day out?
My answer to all three would be a considered “yes”.
I did not support Jeremy Corbyn. I still don’t. I think many of his policies are both morally bankrupt and strategically nonsensical – in addition to being electorally fatal. They will, if permitted, lead us to corporeal irrelevance and political extinction. I am not alone. While hard figures remain hard to come by, anecdotal estimates of membership outflows put the figure at 25 members leaving for every 75 who join.
As the denominator of the membership shifts further leftward, so do the parameters of the debate, control over internal party structures and, with these, the possibility of the party’s mainstream ever regaining control slips ever further out of reach.
You can support the party without supporting the leader. You can help dedicated MPs, MSPs, AMs and councillors working day in day out to serve those which no other party will from the threats of deselection and expulsion.
Leaving Labour may decisively demonstrate one’s utter exasperation with the party’s electoral self-immolation, but it does nothing to help the remaining band of Labour centrists trying to reclaim the party which, for its many flaws, represents the only genuine and viable force for social justice in British politics today.
Very simply, where else will you go? The party which was the population of the Shetland Islands away from ceasing to exist at Westminster and for whom, it appears, that the only way is even further downhill? The “worker’s party” which is trying its level best to make working families more than £1,000 a year worse off? If not Labour, where?
Labour’s centrists have laboured for the party for years, with little recognition. They are fiercely loyal to it, in spite of the frequent barrage of criticism which asserts otherwise. They made the decision to run with a party which has been out of office for most of its existence. With a party derided by the upwardly mobile for its antiquated approaches when any social climber would have opted straight for the Tories. They do not join the Labour Party for social advancement – they do it out of social conscience.
They knock on doors, are nearly savaged by illegally owned dogs, are called every obscenity under the sun, get ripped knuckles from forcing leaflets through reinforced letterboxes, get sunburnt, contract pneumonia and tear calf muscles in two for it all because they saw – and see – something at its core worth fighting for.
The “light on the hill”, as the leader of its antipodean counterpart put it. The “betterment of mankind”. Fear replaced, where possible, by hope.
These are worthwhile objectives and a party which stands for them more so than any other is itself worth fighting for.
There is a historic. but time-limited opportunity to steer the party away from its autopiloted collision course in to the already visible iceberg of 2020. Do not desert us, brothers in arms.
Gareth Williams is a Labour member from Cardiff