It has been well documented that the Labour Party has undergone a remarkable shift in terms of its membership, with large numbers joining after the General Election, during the exciting leadership contest and most recently 15 500 joining on the day we elected Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the re-energized Labour Party. It is an exciting time indeed.
So we will be starting a series of posts focussing on members and supporters, new and old, looking at why they have joined and what they hope for in the future. I am delighted to post the first focus, by Darren Halpin, a recent new member and already an active contributor to the CLP, offering his skills as a graphic designer. I have a feeling his views will resonate with many other new members.
Why I Joined The Labour Party – Darren Halpin
Going back I was never really all that interested in politics, I didn’t really know or understand what the political parties did outside of Westminster, or that they indeed engaged with local communities and that there were local branches etc. All I really knew was what I saw on the news, and as I was becoming more attuned to what was going on in the political world (during the Blair years), all I really saw was scandal after scandal, then war. A steady diet of TV media coverage, and a feeling of disinterest from the mixed messages of newspapers (not understanding the difference between right and left wing press) which in all fairness is probably the most unhealthy political diet one can have when served and consumed by itself.
I don’t really remember when it happened, or what issue spurred me to read more into the things I heard. I do however realise that with the uprising of social media came new waves of coverage from all angles, a multitude of opinions, and a breadth and depth of discussion I don’t think many people had been able to engage with in the past, and it was happening on a huge scale and growing at a massive pace. One of the fascinating things about social media interaction; (one that is usually looked upon in a dim light) is that people say things that they wouldn’t normally say, and talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to in their usual every day interactions. This is usually associated with the negative way in which people disconnect from the reality of normal human interaction and its associated individual personal social constraints. However when this phenomenon leaks into the political arena within the social media context, what you get is a lot of positive interaction and discussion between normal people, admittedly not always constructive (as is the nature of social media), but an awful lot of people engaging in politics none the less. And this is where I think I started to really pay attention politically. In the discussion threads of political posts, reading posted articles and news stories and being able to see what others were thinking and forming my own opinions on those topics, then eventually commenting and discussing as well. I think this is perhaps true for a lot of people now. Social media has opened up for interaction issues that a newspaper or TV news program could only spoon feed you a single narrative on, and it has become the norm for people to interact and give their opinions back, form groups, become activists, with the mass backing of an unlimited amount of potential others who can find your discussion with only a single hashtag or the like… but I digress.
Knowing you’re not the only one passionate about an issue goes a long way to giving you the confidence to seek out others and effect change. I’d seen countless others in discussions surrounding the disgusting treatment of the sick, disabled, unemployed, low earners, public sector workers, in addition to my own first had experience of the struggles of disabled members of my own family having to go through brutal WCA’s, having their money stripped back, means of getting about and ability to lead a normal life taken away. Now I’ve always been a socialist, certainly to the left on most issues, so to see the most vulnerable in society being punished so harshly, coupled with the crippling social and financial policies of the Tory government that clearly have no basis in what Cameron calls a “Fair Society”, I am for the first time in my life seeing (in a politically awakened state) what others around me have always said; that you have no business voting for a party that seeks to make the rich richer and squash the poor into destitution. And it’s no longer a scary bedtime story as it were, it’s a reality that I can see all around me. Demonization of those on benefits, (not just by the government, but their agenda aided by their rich media mogul friends too), the sick and disabled, the unemployed; people pushed into literal destitution by sanctions, and enslaved by workfare. This is not the kind of society I want to live in, and I’m certainly not the only one.
I, like so many others have found that Labour have been so close to their right wing counterparts on so many policies that they have become a party offering no real alternative, particularly during the last GE. In voting terms I have moved from the unaligned middle during the Blair years to firm left in the ensuing years, I have undergone a political grounding. As I have become engaged with politics, my personal beliefs have translated into political standing. As with so many other people I have talked to, the rise to prominence of Corbyn through this leadership candidature has given hope to socialists up and down the country that there may once again be a real alternative to the drawn out drift to the right of British Politics, which has become so embedded that any change will be met with the harshest of resistance, especially from the top.
My personal hope is that whatever the outcome of the Labour leadership election, the party will wake up to what the people want, and Corbyn has widened the scope of the political debate, so if anything will make or break the Labour party it will be their reaction to the massive influx of new members, joining and voting with not only their £3, but their hearts also. I am one of those people, criticized for joining to vote in the Leadership election. To those criticising I say “Damn Straight”, you’ve always had my vote, for right or wrong, whether or not my heart was in it whilst ticking that box on the ballot paper, so now I choose to become an active member, to have a say in how the party is run and its policies formed, you should hush and listen. I am one of many such people who have been side-line Labour voters/supporters for a long time, and now a candidate from your own ranks who manages to enthuse and mobilise so many people with his ideas and attitudes has increased your membership massively; there is an underlying message there you shouldn’t ignore. The Labour movement is re-igniting, and it’s something I want to be a part of. Real social change, for the benefit of all.
Thanks for your contribution Darren and if anyone else would like to contribute a member focus, new, long standing, or even just thinking about joining, please do contact me, Allison Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org (IT Officer and Membership Secretary).