Personality and Presentation, or People and Policies

On Thursday evening, I attended the Dagenham and Rainham CLP meeting where we officially chose what candidate we were going to endorse in the 2016 Labour Leadership. The meeting was packed, with 74 members in attendance, resulting in a charged, yet positively friendly atmosphere.

The meeting saw several speakers, including myself, stand up to state why we were voting for our chosen candidate, and why we thought other members should do so. After these, we had the ballot, where the outcome was that the current incumbent, Jeremy Corbyn beat challenger Owen Smith with 52 votes to 22 votes.

As such, with 70% of the votes, Jeremy Corbyn is officially endorsed by the Dagenham and Rainham CLP as our chosen Leadership candidate for the Labour Party.

The highlight, for me, was the speeches – which showed that even in division, the Dagenham and Rainham CLP are both passionate, yet respectful, with a deep respect for our fellow members. As with the meeting prior to the EU Referendum, we continued to hold the idea of unity and cooperation above all, with a civil, even friendly, meeting regardless of whom members stood for and voted. It was agreed that the key principle of the Dagenham and Rainham CLP was democracy, and that regardless of the outcome, we would stand united, because unity is what is required most at this time.

The takeaway for me was how the speeches ended up being either for or against Jeremy Corbyn, rather than for Jeremy Corbyn or for Owen Smith. I felt that there was much that Jeremy could learn from these comments, which covered both his strengths and weaknesses, and would enable him to be a better leader. It also appeared to me that if circumstances were different, Owen Smith might have stood a chance – but right now, he’s perceived merely as not Jeremy Corbyn.

It rather makes me wish that I had recorded the speeches, as the passion and sincerity of each were self-evident. Local Councillor Phil Waker made a rousing speech as expected, ending in the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has awakened a social movement which cannot be denied. Whether or not that is enough to make him a good leader, or to win Labour the next General Election, remains to be seen – but it cannot be discounted.

For me, I spoke briefly about how I had always been agnostic, if not adverse, to party politics, up until Jeremy Corbyn brought me “in from the cold” convincing me to put aside by fears and give the Labour Party a chance. I know I am not alone in this – a few members were also either new to Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn, or returning because of him, and it felt good to be able to speak of my personal perspective, knowing that I was also able to speak for them.

For me, what it come down to was exactly what type of politics did we want to endorse. It was widely acknowledged that Jeremy Corbyn had been smeared by the press, if not vilified by it, and that the coup attempt that preceded this challenge was a disgrace to the party.

However, what needed to be challenged the most was the idea that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable. The evidence is clearly showing otherwise, with Labour winning every election in the last 9 months, and the membership increasing massively. Whatever is said, Jeremy Corbyn has been good for the party.

Yet there is still this idea that Jeremy “doesn’t look right.” We must ask ourselves, do we want to endorse the politics of personality and presentation, over the politics of people and policies? Are we, and the electorate, ready to put aside our preconceptions of what a Prime Minister should look like, so that we can get what we believe a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should act like?

I would like to hope so – and I couldn’t help leaving the meeting with the feeling that the Dagenham and Rainham CLP had taken a big step towards that by formally endorsing Jeremy Corbyn as our Labour Leadership Candidate in 2016.

Christina Freeman – Village Ward Labour Party Member 

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