In May 2015, I was elected Member of Parliament for Edmonton. It was – needless to say – a disappointing election for Labour. And as I, my Labour colleagues and the press, came to dissect the election result to work out what we could do better, it was clear we needed to start with a stronger and clearer message. We needed to stop pandering to Tory rhetoric about migration – the now infamous immigration mug a lasting memory of this. We needed to stop pandering to Tory rhetoric about the necessity of austerity, as Labour’s whip continued to do post-election by abstaining on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. We needed an alternative vision; and whatever you may now think about Jeremy Corbyn he has put forward that vision. He galvanised a large section of the previously disenchanted electorate in last summer’s leadership election, and Labour’s membership has continued to grow since.
The reason is simple – Jeremy’s politics represents the working man and woman. He speaks to our very ordinary – and increasingly frequent – concerns: that our NHS is in an increasingly precarious position, that our schools are overcrowded, that the once realistic goal of owning a home now seems like a dream for so many. Neoliberalism is not and has not been working for the vast majority of the population. This was ignored by Labour for too long. It has enabled the Scottish Nationalist Party to carry an austerity message in Scotland which is clearer and more united than our own.
Jeremy’s policies have popular appeal. The parliamentary Labour party realises this. Owen Smith realises this. That is why Owen’s leadership election is being fought on policies that Jeremy does support and has put forward himself; issues that Jeremy has campaigned for his entire political career.
The PLP believe that Jeremy does not have the skills to lead this Party through a general election and into government. That, fundamentally, Jeremy is an unelectable idealist. But who defines electability? Jeremy does not pander to the media, to the Westminster bubble or to lobbyists, three powerful sectors that influence over our public perception of what it means to be the leader of a country. Public perception is changing, in Britain and worldwide. And for this reason, I fail to see how Owen Smith is inherently any more credible a candidate.
People are disillusioned with the political establishment. There has been a resurgence of populism on the right and the left, demonstrated clearly in the US presidential primaries with Donald Trump’s nomination as republican presidential nominee, and Bernie Sanders’ extraordinary journey in the democratic primaries. Nationally, the Westminster Bubble is bursting. In May 2015, the SNP took Scotland and UKIP secured 12.6 per cent of the vote, up 9.5 per cent on the 2010 election. And if Vote Leave taught us anything, it was that this country isn’t working for many people; people are angry and wanted to make their voices heard. It is devastating that people took out their anger on the wrong establishment (although two thirds of Labour voters did vote Remain).
At a time when people – perhaps justifiably – don’t trust politicians, Jeremy has shown himself to be trustworthy. He has loyally campaigned against the privatization of our public services, against human rights abuses worldwide, for decades.
Labour is now the biggest left-of-centre party in Western Europe and has won all its by-elections under Jeremy. We should be celebrating the fact that Jeremy has grown the Labour movement at a time when membership of political parties was widely accepted as a thing of the past. We need to continue growing this movement, ensuring that our growing membership extends into growing community activism. We need to be campaigning locally to make sure that our politics grows into inclusive social movements. As was key to Obama’s US presidential election victory, we need to be working hard and working constantly to expand the electorate because young people are still disproportionately underrepresented in voter turnouts.
Jeremy stands for the best of Labour. He has vision and hope for a fairer society and he understands that to enact real change we need to break through the political disenchantment of 21st century Britain and build a mass social movement.
I stand with Jeremy.
Kate Osamor is the Labour Co-operative MP for Edmonton and shadow secretary of state for international development.