By Chris Williamson
Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the Labour Party is in rude health. For the first time in decades, we are a mass movement party offering a bold prospectus to the country. Sadly one tiny branch of the party is struggling to come to terms with that fact.
The tiny branch in question is the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). I was a member of this branch for five years from 2010 until 2015.
This branch does not have the powers it once did. When I first joined the Labour Party in 1976, MPs were able to select the leader of the party without any recourse to members. Then in 1981 the party established an electoral college to elect the leader, which diminished the role of MPs. However, the PLP still held 30% of the vote with 30% going to constituency parties and 40% to affiliated trade unions.
This all changed when Ed Miliband, proposed that the Labour Party should introduce a one-member-one-vote system to elect future leaders. His proposal was overwhelmingly agreed by delegates at a special conference in 2014.
In his opening speech at that conference he told delegates that: "It has always been movements and people that change countries and change our world.
"Workers' rights at the beginning of the 20th century. The National Health Service after 1945. The principle of equal pay for women in the 1970s. The minimum wage in the 1990s. Gay rights at the 20th century's end.
"All of these things happened, not because leaders made them happen, but because people and movements made them happen.
"Today if you vote for these reforms you will be voting for Labour to be a movement again."
That decision deprived the PLP of its special status in electing the party leader, but nearly every Labour MP enthusiastically backed Ed Miliband’s plan. Only the leaders of the three biggest affiliated trade unions sounded any notes of caution.
I remember standing in a PLP meeting listening to Ed Miliband telling MPs that his reforms could lead to Labour becoming a genuinely mass party with 400,000 members, or more. When he sat down, he was cheered to the rafters by many of the same people who are now complaining that Labour has too many members.
Two years on and it seems many Labour MPs are no longer so keen on being part of a genuinely democratic political party. While they should be celebrating the democratic revival within the party, for some reason a number of Labour MPs don’t see it that way and have forced another leadership contest just 10 months after members last made their choice clear.
The unsuccessful coup attempt that preceded the leadership challenge was an inexcusable fit of pique that has baffled, angered and alienated hundreds of thousands of members and millions of supporters. Furthermore, the ongoing refusal by the majority of the PLP to take up positions on the frontbench, in order to hold the government to account, means they are effectively refusing to do their job. In any other profession this would lead to summary dismissal for gross misconduct.
The PLP's petulant behaviour has already brought the party into disrepute and in less than two months they must come to terms with whoever is elected leader of the party. If it is Jeremy Corbyn again, they need to stop the sniping and start selling the message of hope that Jeremy represents.
They should celebrate the fact that Labour's membership is touching 600,000 and is still growing. It is a number Ed Miliband, and those cheering him in that PLP meeting two years ago, could have only dreamed about But it is now a reality. Labour’s members are a huge asset and should be nurtured not neglected and insulted.
People have been inspired to join in huge numbers because of Jeremy Corbyn's integrity and policy agenda. He won the Labour leadership last year because he offered an alternative to austerity and the stale old politics of the last three decades.
His plans to ensure a future Labour government would make the economy work for everyone, not just the top one per cent, was a refreshing change to the austerity-lite that Labour had previously offered.
His commitment that a future Labour Government would build council houses and regulate private sector rents struck a chord with millions affected by the housing crisis.
His pledge to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce student maintenance grants was greeted with acclaim by everyone who is dismayed by the commodification of higher education.
His promise to renationalise the railways and take a stake in our utilities is hugely popular with the vast majority of the British public who are sick of being ripped-off by these privatised industries.
His determination to substantially increase the minimum wage, invest in hi-tech manufacturing and stop corporations offshoring skilled and semi-skilled jobs is acknowledged as plain common sense.
His guarantee that a future Labour government would repeal the anti-trade union legislation, clamp down on tax evasion and stop British dependencies being used as tax havens would improve the living standards of millions.
And his resolve to renew the nation's infrastructure, create a million green jobs and eradicate fuel poverty is welcomed by campaigners, trade unions and businesses alike.
Jeremy Corbyn is offering the country a new consensus; a consensus that works in the interest of the majority of the British people. This is precisely why he is being traduced by the very establishment who want to preserve the status quo. That establisment includes those Labour MPs who are attempting to sabotage Labour’s efforts to build a fairer, compassionate, and more secure and prosperous country.
Despite all the attacks, I believe Jeremy's innovative and hopeful policy agenda will once again secure him the Labour leadership, and enable him to go on to be a great reforming prime minister. If the PLP are unable to accept that then they should consider another job.
Chris Williamson is the former Labour MP for Derby North
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