Time To Start Talking

Picture by Anna Hutchinson

Tonight, at an event hosted for new members of the Labour Party in Manchester, Mike Kane (MP for Wythenshaw & Sale East) told us that 60,000 people have joined the Labour party since May 7th. According to the Guardian, after the 2010 election, the party had just over 60,000 members. Not a bad surge by any standards.

We were very quickly encouraged to talk openly to the other members at our table. Why did we join? How did we want to be involved? What issues were important to us? Immediately, the diversity of our table joyously presented itself. From Teachers to Musicians, PhD students to a founding member of FC United — we were all ‘different’. And yet, we had all come to the same conclusion: we have to do something. This was the first step.

Each table (the venue was the Frog & Bucket Comedy Club on the edge of Ancoats) was then given an opportunity to share the themes explored. No specific goal or objective per se — for me it was just to demonstrate that we are far from alone. Self-evident perhaps, given the fact that the city of Manchester is exclusively Labour, but no less encouraging.

Calmly and eloquently, our Political Sciences PhD student raised the question with Mike Kane: what had happened with the welfare vote the previous day? To outsiders (via the media) it appeared a complete fracas. Labour whipped to vote, some rebelling, others abstaining. Ultimately, the party was cast as supporting the Tory benefit cuts.

Before I explain the answer, here is a handy diagram to show the stages a bill has to go through before it becomes law:

via http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/commons/coms-commons-comittee-stage/

The recent vote was at the ‘Second reading’ stage. If it were in school, it would just be going into year 3, top infant (far from taking anything remotely looking like a GCSE). Labour had two choices:

  1. Vote against it entirely. Lose anyway. Have no credibility with which to push for amendments in subsequent stages.
  2. Vote for it based on some of the policies contained within that they actually put forward in their own manifesto, and try to mitigate the damage for those hit hardest at subsequent stages.

Both scenarios chalk up some kind of win for the Tories. In (1), they would have free rein to shape the bill as they see fit. In (2), they have a fractured Labour party seen to be going against some of its core principles. Believe it or not (shock!), Labour are trying to do the best they can for the people of the country. This isn’t an easy feat considering the fact that they are in opposition and have 98 fewer votes than the Tories.

This is what Mike Kane tried to explain to the room. His answer was not well-received by a minority of those present, and thankfully he took control and reminded everyone why we there. If we have an issue with a parliamentary bill, we can take that to our MP (I think I said that already?). The evening was about what we can do as new members, not one for holding the entire party to account.

A Father from St Crispin’s Church in Fallowfield stood to speak for his table. He talked about the people in his constituency that had become depressed and suicidal faced with benefit sanctions and other cuts. His vision for what needed to be done was simple and eloquent:

“We need to be the festering boil on the anus of this government”

I’m barely paraphrasing. In fact, ‘boil on the anus’ is 100% verbatim, that I remember. The room erupted. That someone in a position perceived as reserved and conservative (with a small ‘c’) could be so vitriolic in his outlook was a sure sign of the state of things. This Atheist was almost ready to go to church and shake his hand on Sunday.

After the event was officially over, I stayed to chat with my table. We talked about our views on the leadership candidates, our background and if we had any future political aspirations of our own. Mike came over to speak with us and proved that talk of ‘out-of-touch’ politicians is mostly ridiculous. Having grown up in a council house in the constituency he represents, no-one can claim he knows nothing about ‘real life’. The fact that he deliberately took time to speak with us only helped to reinforce my recent revelation: Politics isn’t out of reach, it’s right there in front of us and ready to listen. We only have to start talking.