Two of Labour’s rising stars visit the city that sits on an island surrounded by a sea of Conservatism.
Dr Creasy (her Ph.D thesis is here) is one of the candidates for the Labour deputy leadership – one of three candidates I’ve either met and/or have worked with. The other two being Tom Watson MP & Caroline Flint MP – the latter who I worked with during my housing policy days when she was Minister for Housing.
Open space with Labour activists
Dr Creasy’s standing for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Like her opponents, she’s been going around the country to various events. Unlike her opponents, she’s been running a series of open space sessions to tap into the ideas that grassroots activists have. You can almost imagine the Malcolm Tucker (from The Thick Of It) characters in the party being apoplectic with rage.
“Listening to the opinions of the grass roots – well that’s a recipe for anarchy! They’ll be nationalising the trains, the buses, the taxis, the planes – who knows where it’ll end?!?”
There were just under two dozen people taking part – slightly lower than I had expected but this was due to the short notice of the event. For these workshops Dr Creasy doesn’t have the institutional backing of the Labour Party lest it be seen to be favouring one candidate over the others. With this being the first of three workshops she hosted that day – the others being in Nottingham & York, she had her hands full bringing in the equipment needed to run the event.
Not the usual suspects
I only recognised a couple of people in the room, one of whom only joined Labour just after the election. There was also a good mix of people and backgrounds, yet it was at a scale that made for productive conversations. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years at large left-wing or left-of-centre political gatherings is the lack of substantive conversations between people taking part. I remember one education rally at the University Arms Hotel a few years ago where the entrance had lots of middle-aged blokes in their 50s waving red flags, with an event full of speeches but no opportunity for people to get to know each other. (Something I’ll touch on later).
At this one, everyone was having productive conversations and interacting with people they otherwise wouldn’t normally converse with. The reason why this is important is perspective. Everyone in the room had different perspectives. There were a couple of people who had stood for election, including Cambridge Labour’s young activist Tim Sykes who stood in the local elections in 2014 in Cambridge in Trumpington – a safe Lib Dem seat. Putting your name forward for election and going out to the public asking them to vote for you is one of the hardest things to do – perhaps a reason why so few of us do it.
It’s probably no surprise after reading the above that I’m a big fan of Dr Creasy. Having seen her both on demonstrations and addressing large corporate conferences, she is passionate, personable and articulate. Being a fan of ‘open space’ events, I wanted to get a feel for what Dr Creasy would be like hosting such an event. Would it be ‘going through the motions’ or would there be a genuine interest in the views and experiences of participants? Fortunately it was the latter.
Stella and Jeremy singing from the same hymn sheet?
The consistent message from both Dr Creasy’s and Mr Corbyn’s events in Cambridge is that Labour – locally & nationally, cannot afford to run roughshod over the views, experiences & opinions of their members. Both were critical of past behaviours of the party where members and activists were expected to do as party HQ told them, while having their views ignored when it came to party policy. As Dr Creasy said, 600,000 people with identical views is not a political party, it’s a cult. As a social-media-savvy MP, she’s not afraid of making her opinions public, leading from the front (think payday loans) or being at ease with the idea of fellow party members having different views – views expressed publicly.
Mr Corbyn said similar – saying that members had to have much more of an influence on party policy, and consign the days of a small elite setting party policy to the history books.
Corbynmania comes to Cambridge
See the full speech below – including the fun & games at the start on where Mr Corbyn needed to stand to ensure as many people could actually see him!
Here’s Jon Vale’s report from the Cambridge News – another one here. Great St Mary’s was full to capacity, with another 100+ outside hearing short speeches by Mr Corbyn & his economics adviser Richard Murphy. See Mr Murphy’s speech below, which I filmed.
I’ve wanted to get Mr Murphy on film for quite some time ever since I heard him speak back in 2011. An economist who is not without his critics, one of the challenges for both Mr Murphy & Mr Corbyn is to bring in more people with expertise on tax, economics and finance to develop their ideas further. The reason being is that the scope of the subject is so great that it’s beyond the comprehension of any human being – there are simply not enough hours in the day. This was what paralysed Labour in their final years of government: they had become so over-centralised that decision-making froze as ministers waited for clearance on things that they should have had the confidence to have gone ahead with. The publicity the two of them are now receiving is also an ideal opportunity for them to publicise the work of new thinkers, bringing them & their ideas in the public eye for the debate and scrutiny to then happen. Just by being there, they are forcing news and media organisations to discuss policies rather than personalities.
“What did the audience make of it?”
I got the sense of the sheer ‘relief’ that there was now a safe space to talk about the policies Mr Corbyn was espousing. As Mr Corbyn said, many a demo people go on seem to be about opposing something rather than proposing something. The difference with the movement that has grown around Mr Corbyn is one of hope, one of proposing new ideas & alternative policies, he said.
There were certainly lots of Labour Party members and supporters in the audience judging by the number of people responding to one of the speakers asking for a show of hands on who had and who had not voted in the leadership election. There were still lots of people who had not voted. For those who had never been to such an event before, the experience will have been electrifying – simply because of the number of people who were there.
Mr Corbyn vs his rivals in Cambridge
At least ten times as many people turned out to see Mr Corbyn as his rival Yvette Cooper (See here on CambridgeTV). The visits of Ms Cooper and Andy Burnham were hosted at Cambridge Labour Party’s HQ at Alex Wood Hall. What strikes me about Dr Creasy and Mr Corbyn is that their events had little visible involvement of the local Labour Party at an official level. This for me reflects a cultural difference between the approaches of Dr Creasy & Mr Corbyn vs their rivals. Dr Creasy & Mr Corbyn have made their focus about building a movement – going far beyond party membership. The other candidates seem to have focussed on the party membership with a view to reaching out afterwards. In that regard, Dr Creasy & Mr Corbyn have stolen a lead on their rivals by ignoring any restrictions that could have been put on them. Such an approach is refreshing to see – and for me is essential in a social media age.
The lesson learnt: make it easy, enjoyable and exciting for people to get involved
Dr Creasy’s approach in Walthamstow is one for the rest of her party to learn from at a constituency level. When constituents approach her on campaigning issues, her approach is to get those constituents involved in the campaign. Rather than having an approach where constituents write to her and say “Why don’t you do something about it – you’re my MP?!?”, her response is: “Yes, this needs somebody to do something about it, but what if that somebody is ‘you’? I’ll help you, but I’ll need you to get involved!”
An interesting autumn ahead in & around Cambridge?
This goes out to all political parties active in Cambridge:
Publish a calendar of events and publicise them as being open to the public
The student societies are normally very good at this, but those outside political parties and/or on the ‘town’ side of the city all too often feel that such events are not for us. I’ll list & link the societies for you:
- Cambridge University Conservative Association
- Cambridge Young Greens
- Cambridge Universities Labour Club
- Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats
Oh, and if anyone can persuade Cambridge Labour Party that they can do so much more with their facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeLabourParty) please get onto them. Because compared to what Dr Creasy has for her constituency here and for her deputy leadership campaign here…exactly.
“What if Stella and Jeremy win? Could they work together?”
They would certainly make a very formidable partnership. Age and genders aside, they compensate for each other’s weaknesses while complement each other’s approaches. As Tony Blair had with John Prescott, such a partnership would ensure Mr Corbyn as party leader would have a deputy from another part of the party rather than a carbon-copy clone. It would also alleviate the concerns some have that under Mr Corbyn the party could turn into an intolerant far-left sect.
I think Mr Corbyn is a lot more pragmatic than many think he is. I don’t buy the doom-and-gloom warnings we’ve seen in the media. The biggest unknown is with the team around him. Who are they and how will they cope with a 24/7 media spotlight? Because while Mr Corbyn & Dr Creasy are more than competent at handling the media, those who might otherwise be currently on the fringes may find themselves facing a baptism of fire. A Conservative Party fresh off an unexpected election victory won’t be doing them any favours – in particular Chancellor George Osborne who is now showing himself to be a sharp and ruthless political operator.