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23 December 2015

My Christmas wish for Labour

I'm dreaming of a united Christmas, says Chi Onwurah. 

By Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah

Normally I am in no hurry to see in the New Year. I like Christmas, almost no-one emails you and at least some of the media try and search out positive news stories. But right now I am really looking forward to seeing the back of 2015.

It has been an annus horribilis for Labour. It is ironic writing that as the MP for Newcastle Central in a year when our Labour majority doubled and our membership tripled. But the fact is that, the death of friends and family apart, losing the election was the worst moment in my life. And in one very important way it was the death of something I loved, a Labour government who would right so many of the Coalition’s manifest wrongs.

Instead we got a Tory majority government which is working, actively and successfully, to build layer upon layer of ideological cruelty on the foundations the Coalition set. It is entrenching and embedding all the barriers to a decent, equal, diverse and respectful progressive society that it began erecting five years ago. If the Coalition government put up the scaffolding for its dystopian and divisive vision of Britain, this government is putting in place the bricks and mortar.

And it is no wonder that such a defeat has had its fallout in the Labour Party. It was unlikely that the entire Labour movement, traumatised by defeat and disappointment, would immediately unite around a single analysis of its cause, a single response to its reality or a single vision of the road back to victory and power.

Which was why I was one of the ones arguing for greater debate, I nominated Jeremy Corbyn so that more of the memberships voices could be heard.  We had a gruelling and epic leadership election which tested every candidate’s every idea to destruction and beyond. And Jeremy was elected with an overwhelming mandate. We doubled our membership in the process, perhaps the best thing about 2015.

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But here’s the rub,  one hundred days on, what my members, both new and old, cannot understand is why the media can still find Labour MPs disaffected enough to criticise each other and our leadership.  They stop me in the street to ask me what is going on in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I try to explain that it is only a small number of MPs who are briefing and counter briefing against each other, that the media exaggerates and personalises every negative comment or division, that as MPs our jobs, indeed our livelihoods, depend on the outcome of the next election and that if power corrupts the absence of power is also corrosive.

I also say that MPs are almost conditioned to react, indeed whatever happens from a drugs scandal  to a small cyclone we are required to have an opinion and a solution and so when polls indicate dissatisfaction or a party grandee speaks out we are programmed to respond.

And there is also the tendency for escalation in the hothouse of Westminster so a slight discourtesy triggers an insult which is responded to by trolling which becomes online abuse which ends up with Jess Philipps being accused of threatening grievous bodily harm

I also say that the level of abuse by of some MPs by some members or self appointed fellow travellers is absolutely unacceptable. I welcomed Momentum’s formation, recognising that many of the thousands of new members would need a more engaging route to political activity than an examination of the last branch meeting minutes. But no group within the Party should have an agenda separate from the party. And anyone who personally abuses other Labour members should have no place in a party formed on the basis of working class solidarity. Aggressive attempts to shut down debate exacerbate divisions, undermines trust and alienates new members themselves.

But whilst they agree with the points I make, my members still do not understand why any MPs, voted in on the back of members’ hard work, personally cushioned from the worst of Tory rule by a £74,000 salary (three times the average in the North East), with a Tory government unashamedly out ideologuing its predecessors whilst simultaneously claiming to be the party of working people, would focus so much of their energy and bitterness on each other rather than the real enemy.

They cannot understand that representatives of a party whose very basis is that we are stronger by our collective action would not work with all the membership for a collective victory. It is not simply MPs’ jobs that are at stake, it is the jobs and dignity of everyone in the country from those on benefits to Sports Direct workers to steel workers to junior doctors.  The only way we will win in 2020 is to have more Labour MPs in the house than the other parties. And that means more discipline, imagination, engagement and much more solidarity.

Collectively, our New Year resolution should be to embed the season of goodwill across the entire Labour movement, in Parliament and beyond.