by Kevin Meagher
If you think it’s cold wherever in the country you are reading this, just imagine how cold it is running a by-election campaign in Copeland in West Cumbria in the winter.
For those unfamiliar with the area, the answer is, of course, bloody cold. Not a place, certainly, to find yourself at this time of year, trudging the highways and byways, in the teeth of an icy Cumbrian gust.
Nevertheless, this is the lot of Andrew Gwynne for the foreseeable future.
The intrepid shadow minister without portfolio, has be despatched this week to run Labour’s by-election campaign to hold onto the seat Jamie Reed is set to vacate and stop the Tories overturning his slender 2,564 majority.
It’s a tough gig.
Lots of jobs reliant on Sellafield. And a suspicion, no doubt, that Labour is not particularly enamoured with the very industry that pays the wages of thousands of Copeland’s voters.
Joining Gwynne up there to kick start the campaign the other day was Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.
He was visiting West Cumberland Hospital to campaign against the downgrading of its services, which will see consultant-led maternity services moved 40 miles up the road to Carlisle.
This was a smart spot. A solid, resonant local issue to base a campaign around that helpfully plays to Labour’s strongest card.
After that, Ashworth hit the knocker with local activists in a show of determination to hold a seat in difficult times. Grafting on the frontline with ordinary activists.
Both men spring to mind when I think of the term ‘party loyalty’. It’s a concept that’s got lost, somewhere, as Labour has turned on itself these past couple of years.
Loyalty is not the same thing as blind faith. The swivel-eyed compliance of leadership followers (be they Corbynite or Blairite) is not true loyalty.
Nor is loyalty the same thing as discipline, per se. Clearly a political party needs coherence and the means to instil it, but real loyalty transcends individual leaders. It’s about duty. The greater good. The long game.
It is unconditional. Tribal. Instinctive. A simple acceptance that in the life of a political party, there will be periods of elation and victory and bouts of darkness and despondencey. But you stick with your team, regardless of their form. That a party has abiding values and purpose. That it means something.
I should say, too, that party loyalty is not solely the preserve of figures on the right of the party like Ashworth and Gwynne.
The same party loyalty has often been exhibited by figures on the Left like Michael Meacher, who, despite his Bennite politics, was an effective and respected environment minister under Tony Blair, (and with whom, I am sure, he had next to nothing in common).
Of course, political parties are always run by leaders and their controlling cliques, but they still need to the loyalty and support of those who do not always share their politics in order to survive. This is what we classically understand by the term ‘broad church’.
Parties need grown-ups who are willing to put aside differences to get the job done, in bad times as well as good. It is thanks to displays of loyalty like Gwynne’s and Ashworth’s that Labour will endure and shake loose from its current malaise. Eventually.
All the more important after this week’s devastating report by the Fabian Society showing that Labour could find itself reduced down to 150 MPs if it carries on losing support at the current rate of attrition.
Some on the Right of the party view this as Jeremy Corby’s just desserts. ‘You broke it’, they tell him, ‘so you pay for it.’
But it’s in no-one’s interest to see Labour crash into a wall in 2020.
Still, a growing band of would-be future leaders stand back, afraid to get their shoes wet in the swamp of real politics and help to prevent that from happening.
They assume, falsely, that they will remain unsullied by the Corbyn years and that a hard dose of electoral reality will be enough to restore the party to its previous condition, whereupon they will take the helm.
It is a fantasy.
There is no prospect of winning back control of the party be default, hoping that a short sharp collision with the electoral brick wall will play to their advantage.
Either the left will remain in control and blame the idleness of those who could have helped but didn’t for defeat – or all that will be left to inherit will be a heap of smouldering rubble.
No, 2017 is the year the adults need to get back involved.
Corbyn’s insurgency, so unexpected by the man himself, has plainly lost momentum. Who knows, there may even be a chance of establishing a modus vivendi across the various shades of party opinion behind a synthesised policy platform that grounds the left’s dreamers in reality and emboldens the right’s managerialists?
So now is the time for the mopers on the backbenches to get their shoes wet.
And what better place to do that than in the streets footpaths of West Cumbria in the winter.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and author of ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How It Will Come About,’ published by Biteback