Labour has begun the work of building a mass party

While the Tories' membership dwindles, we are changing our party and processes to make politics relevant to ordinary people.

Politics matter and political parties matter. What they say and do matter. How a political party operates, raises money, recruits members and select candidates matters. Why? Because it gives us a lodestar, a set of values and guiding principles on how to deal with things.

Just chatting to my constituents, meeting them in the streets, or seeing them in my surgery, I know what ordinary people are facing on daily basis - a cost of living crisis that’s unprecedented. Prices have risen faster than wages in 38 of the 39 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street. The average worker is around £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. At the same time, David Cameron has cut taxes for people earning over £150,000 whilst hiking them up for everyone else.

David Cameron and George Osborne boast about fixing the economy, but ordinary people in Britain don’t feel it. Yet it’s no surprise that they are so out of touch with ordinary people.

The membership of the Tory Party is dwindling; they are funded by cash from their friends in the City, bankers and hedge fund managers. They listen to their big donors, the corporate lobbyists, the richest and the most powerful. That’s why we say David Cameron is not only out of touch with ordinary British families, he is always standing up for the wrong people.

It’s the way the Tory Party operates. It’s in their DNA. The Labour Party is very different. We want to govern in the interests of all the people and not just a narrow elite. We are a One Nation Labour Party that aspires to be a One Nation Labour Government.

But for us to truly to be a One Nation Party we need to reform and strengthen our party. We are proud that our members are ordinary people who come from all walks of life. Another great source of pride – and strength – are our links with trade unions who represent shop workers, bus drivers, office workers - the backbone of our economy. We are proud those ordinary workers are a part of the Labour Party, but we want them to play an even greater role in the party. Not just at edges but right in the centre.

And yes we are ambitious, we want to see a mass party – and yes we want to have ordinary Labour Party members in every street in Britain. It means members of trade unions, who are now affiliates, becoming full and active members. It will mean a stronger Labour Party.

So we have begun a process of talking and consulting with ordinary members, trade unionists and supporters to ask how we can strengthen our party. Headed by Lord Collins, our former general secretary, we are going to work out how we can really change our party structures, processes and finances to build a modern 21st century Labour Party. Ordinary members will get their say and will vote on the final proposals at a Special Conference in March.

This is an exciting time for us in the party. Exciting, because we know that by changing our party and processes, we will be changing how we do politics and so help make politics more relevant to ordinary people.

We are doing this because politics matter and political parties matter. We are doing this because we want to change the Labour Party to be ready, in less than two years' time, to be Britain’s One Nation Labour Government.

Phil Wilson is Labour MP for Sedgefield

Ed Miliband speaks to reporters after Labour candidate Andy Sawford won the Corby by-election on November 16, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Labour candidate Phil Wilson is 48 years of age and has lived in the Sedgefield constituency all his life. His father worked down Fishburn colliery before closure.
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue