I am privileged enough to work for a Labour MP in a marginal seat that the party managed to hold on Thursday, bucking national trends and polls on the night to increase our vote share. Friends and family and acquaintances and all manner of people have, since this result was announced, been calling me and messaging me to say congratulations; to say that we should be proud of our hard work. People saying this makes me pull a face a little like the one you have when everyone’s singing you happy birthday (or, at least, the face I have when people are singing me happy birthday): profound discomfort barely concealed by a thin veneer of cordiality. In part this is because the election results have left me heartbroken and every nominal emotion I’ve expressed since 10pm on Thursday night has in fact been a thin veneer stretched over deepest sorrow. In part, however, it is because I am not sure it is the right thing to say: or, rather, I am not the right person to say it to.
We ran a great and positive campaign around a strong local candidate. We ran ourselves into the ground, staff and local members and volunteers from around the country. Late nights and early mornings and cold leafleting rounds and GOTV in the pissing rain and seemingly endless hustings; we did these things and we worked and we worked and we won. The thing is though: I have never known a Labour campaign, winning or losing, that has been any different.
I have been a party member since moving to the UK in 2015; functionally all of my adult life. I’ve run local branches and university Labour societies and schlepped it out on the doorsteps with the best of them. If there is one thing the cursed result of this general election has done, it has shored up my faith in my fellow man. Or, rather, my faith in my fellow comrade. Because, quite simply, there is no seat in this country for which members of the Labour Party did not fight tooth and nail. We fought for safe seats and marginals. My friend, campaigning at home in her safe Tory seat, told me that her local party chair’s printer had broken on Wednesday, so he had stayed up all night hand writing out WARP sheets. That kind of ridiculous commitment will have played out in living rooms and community halls across the country on Thursday.
Members of Progress and members of Momentum; pensioners and teenagers; parents, teachers, bus drivers, council workers, radio DJs, PhD students, shop workers and railworkers and accountants. The normal people who make up the rank and file of the Labour Party gave up their time and their hope and their labour because they believed that the country could be bettered. It’s unglamorous and they did so with no assurance of success. They will continue to do so in the aftermath of defeat. It’s always striking to me that people are so cynical about politicians, because there is absolutely nothing cynical about political activism.
The Social Review’s election editorial stated that it did not regard the party with “untainted affection”. I might say instead that I do not regard the party with uncritical affection – certainly, it is wildly flawed, and we have much work to do – but I do regard it in no uncertain terms with affection. I love the Labour Party. I love what it stands for and its history; I love its capacity to bring people together and I love my fellow members. I love its potential to improve people’s lives. It makes us do crazy things, it eats our evenings and our weekends and makes us walk miles in the rain. It makes us have dreams about exit polls and leaflets; it makes us think, when looking for somewhere to live – hmm, could I run a committee room from here? It makes us get up at 4:30am to leaflet in unwinnable council by-elections. It sucks us into the grand collective endeavour of the left and makes us comrades. There are myriad reasons why I would never be a Tory, but among them is this: they will never know how truly, truly sweet solidarity can be.
It would be naïve to think that there will not likely be bitterness and recriminations to come. It is stupid to say that there should not be serious change; that the “period of introspection” must be more than all of us hunkering down into our pre-assigned factional spots to start the ground war. The Labour Party failed people who needed us on Thursday, and the consequences will be dire. We failed, badly; but however helpful or unhelpful it is to hear, I love everyone who tried. We have done so much; we will have to do so much more, not just in the party but in our communities, in the years to come. As a starting position, love and support for our comrades is not a bad one.