Like many people over the last few years I’ve been seething from my sofa, ranting online to anyone and everyone who will listen about the iniquities of the current political system.
From the outrageous number of people who have died shortly after being deemed fit for work, to families existing on handouts from food banks because they have been sanctioned for petty or non-existent ‘crimes’, to people burned to death for want of regulation; I have seeing all this and raged.
I have expressed my views at the ballot box but with barely tissue paper separating the policies of the major parties, it doesn’t seem to have made that much difference. Many on the left felt they had nowhere left to go as the Labour Party moved inexorably to the right.
With the Tories tacking even further to the right to the catch the UKIP vote and the Liberal Democrats also occupying the centre space, that just left the Greens as a party of the left, but like many people I didn’t really feel that many of their policies were achievable.
So for historically labour voters like me, the selection of Jeremy Corbyn as a leadership candidate was a real shot in the arm. Not only did he espouse policies that we believe in, he turned out to be a campaigner par excellence, pulling crowds of tens of thousands to the hustings.
He won the first leadership election with over half of the votes cast on the first ballot, something not even Tony Blair had managed to do; but barely a year later most of his own MPs turned on him and I was appalled to see the vote of no confidence from the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the live-on-tv mass cabinet resignations orchestrated with help from the BBC.
What happened to fair play, what happened to due process, what happened to standing behind the leader who had increased the number of party members to its highest ever number and is now largest political party in Europe? It looked as if I could no longer sit by the sidelines and hope the party would do the right thing.
So I made the move from keyboard warrior to real life activist. I joined the Labour Party in July 2016 to vote in the second leadership election. After they took my money I was deemed to not have been a member long enough to be allowed to vote. I paid the extra £25 demanded and enjoyed the schadenfreude of Jeremy Corbyn increasing his mandate.
And yet the PLP didn’t look like they were giving in anytime soon. The backbiting, negative briefing, gerrymandering and all-round skulduggery continued unabated. Brexit was Jeremy’s fault, attacks on female MP’s was Jeremy’s fault, If the sun didn’t shine it was Jeremy’s fault. To his eternal credit he refused to “go low”.
I was mightily impressed with the campaigning of the newly-formed Momentum and joined the organisation. I have views on just about everything but if there’s one single issue that has politicised me more than any other, it’s the way the government has treated disabled people who rely on state benefits.
If the measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members then we are barely civilised. I simply can’t understand how a society which claims to be fair could hound people to death. Many sanctions cost more to implement than they save, so the reason for their existence seems to be more about punishing the weak then any economic justification.
I had intended to canvas during the run up to the June 8th General Election but unfortunately surgery on my foot meant that walking was not an option. The result was amazing. The political pundits should be hanging their heads in shame and handing in their badges, but you know they’ll do no such thing.
I started this blog but again didn’t really feel like I was doing enough. After the election I hobbled to my first Momentum meeting. I went to a couple of Labour Party meetings and was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming the atmosphere was.
An event organised by Manchester Metropolitan University called Women in Parliament caught my eye. It was for women who were interested in becoming active in politics. The speakers included councillor Zahra Alijah from Manchester who told her own moving personal story of political engagement.
Tellingly one statistic that stuck in my mind was that men on my need to be told once that they have potential before they feel confident enough to become politically active but women need telling nine times before they feel the same level of confidence.
By the end of the 90 minutes I felt confident enough to take part in my first proper canvassing session for the Fallowfield by-election in Manchester. I was part of a group with experienced councillors who not only explained what to do but kept each other going with lots of humour . (L-R in photo above: me, cllrs Aftab Razaq, Patrick Karney and Hannah Priest – thanks for the cakes Patrick ). In stereotypical Manchester style we got periodically soaked by the rain but it actually added to the cameraderie.
At least half the doors I knocked on remained unanswered but this I suppose is the nature of the beast. I felt like I’d achieved something in the handful of cases where people came to the door and were delighted that I’d reminded them to vote in a small local council election. (Oh and the Labour candidate Ali Ilyas won with 76% of the votes cast.)
So I’ve made a start, it’s onwards and upwards. Many many thanks to the Parliament Project keep going ladies, we can do this. If you’re thinking about getting more politically involved there’s no time like the present. You have very little to lose and a whole lot to gain. What’s stopping you?
Marcia Hutchinson MBE is a former lawyer and publisher of culturally diverse educational resources.