There is no scientific, material reason why people get involved in politics. If it were this simple then surely we would not have the kind of unequal society we have. For many people the idea that we can change things seems like a dream or something that is too much work. It’s easier to deny it is possible and accept life as it is.
People need to be inspired to get involved in politics.
If we are to engage more people in politics and set up a mass membership Labour Party that will defeat the Tories, we must do our best to make sure we encourage people to get involved and don’t demoralise them.
I always prefer to talk from my own experience than hypothetically, so I will describe how important my spirit has been to my own political life and how this has shaped my activism in the Labour Party.
A personal journey
I first became interested in politics after long conversations with my dad about Margaret Thatcher and after hearing Tony Benn speaking about how it was possible to create a more just and decent society. This fired me up and I became a member of the Labour Party when I was 16.
However, when I went to a few party meetings, my spirit was dimmed by my experience of seeing bare-faced factionalism. I became aware that politics was being hijacked by egomaniacs who were less interested in changing anything than in keeping their positions in a clique. This turned me off getting active.
It wasn’t long before I was not involved in any political party. Instead I spent my time partying, listening to reggae music, supporting Fulham and, like all people who have lost hope, trying to become a stand-up comic. My time away from politics lasted sixteen years – except for demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq.
What inspired me to get back into politics was the death of Michael Foot in March 2010.
I was on the treadmill in the gym during my lunch hour at work when I saw tributes and clips of Michael Foot on the telly. I saw the pictures of him with his stick on Hampstead Heath and of the ‘donkey jacket’ at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. It made me think what a principled man he was – devoid of ego – and how he was not given a chance by the biased media. I thought about how a good man had been taken away from us and there was no-one like him in politics. This made me think of rejoining Labour and trying to promote the same type of politics.
Yet again I was not inspired to get involved in politics for any material reason. It was more like a spiritual decision.
When I started to attend local Labour Party meetings I found that there was often a tendency for some people to dominate (as I’d seen in the 1980s) and that ideas about encouraging other people to get involved were not popular with many office holders.
I was frustrated at the lack of opportunity I had to do anything locally. My plans to design and distribute regular newsletters to constituents were vetoed by a committee, my plan to increase party membership was also scuppered (I was actually told to ‘f*** off and leave the party’) and soon I was voted out as vice-chair membership – there was even an organised campaign to stop me doing anything.
However, these events did not break my spirit. I realised that there were other ways I could make a difference. If some people in my constituency were going to block me, then I would have to work outside that.
I set up Stand up for Labour and it has been a perfect vehicle for me to try to encourage more people to get involved in politics and to keep people inspired who are already active. The problem that I had for many years was that I felt isolated and that no-one else felt the same way as me. I’m sure that is the same for many other people. Now I have provided an affordable and entertaining way for Labour supporters and members to come out and feel connected. It didn’t exist before I started it.
The #JC4PM tour that was started this year took this to another level. We had over a thousand people in Kentish Town for the first event in February and it was magical when Jeremy Corbyn made a surprise appearance. Anyone who was in the room that night will have felt inspired by the music, the poetry, the comedy and the speeches. And we toured England, Scotland and Wales and the response from the audience was fantastic. These are the kind of events that make us stronger.
I combined politics with curry by putting on a few ‘Curry for Corbyn’ events in my local area. These were designed to give everyone a chance to talk about what is happening politically, get things off their chest and then eat heartily. The discussion was not set up in such a formal way as political meetings and everyone was given an opportunity to put their points across. I am sure these made people feel more connected with each other too.
At the end of this year I helped to produce a Christmas single once more aimed at raising morale. ‘JC4PM for me’ was a lot of fun. The cheesiness of the music and the video were an attempt to show humour and carry a message about Jeremy Corbyn that the media couldn’t sensor. We had plans to get it into the charts (well you have to aim high), but we didn’t really get the backing we needed to make this happen.
Fear and cynicism is our enemy
When Jeremy Corbyn stood to become leader of the Labour Party in 2015 he inspired hundreds of thousands of people to get active in politics again. The spirit of hope was clear for all to see at rallies across the country and on social media. People felt energised about a new form of straightforward, honest politics.
We always knew that the political establishment – and the establishment generally – would do all they could to undermine this spirit. We’ve seen daily attacks in the mainstream media on Jeremy Corbyn and his allies and we had the attempted coup in the summer plus the leadership challenge. These were all aimed at knocking us off course.
The main thing that the establishment wish to do is to produce fear and division in us.
They want us to be wary of what we do, to worry about what the media will say and to end up by bickering amongst ourselves. And it’s happening. I have no idea how to stop it but I would like to suggest that – instead of getting drawn into personality clashes – we all look at organising events that bring us together and raise our spirits.
Events I helped organise in 2016
Stand up for Labour gigs
- Hemel Hempstead
- Kentish Town
- Swansea (picured above)
- Kentish Town
- Liverpool (2)
- Conway Hall
Three Curry for Corbyn events in Hounslow