A piece I wrote for The Huffington Post:
It was the aftermath of a shocking, devastating general election loss. The Labour party leader was standing down. Nobody knew exactly what would happen next.
It was May 2015 – and it hit me that I actually cared very much about what happened next: both in the Labour party and in the country. And it hit me that I couldn’t really complain about what happened next unless I got involved somehow.
So in June 2015, I joined the Labour party. Without any history of activism, volunteering or politics. Just a history of shouting at my computer screen.
It was that election result that finally made me take action, of course; but probably also, somewhere in the back of my mind, a favourite scene from one of my favourite films.
It’s in James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News – a moment where super-smart, super-informed TV news producer Jane (Holly Hunter) chastises super-handsome, not-very-informed TV presenter Tom (William Hurt) for complaining about feeling out-of-depth in his new role as a news anchor. “I agree with you – you’re not qualified,” she tells him. “So get qualified… Stop whining and do something about it.”
Lines from films, books or songs stay with you because they resonate somehow. I realised that deep down, I wanted to be a Jane – but had actually been living my life as a Tom. So in June 2015, I decided to stop whining and do something about it.
And if, as I felt back then, you’re feeling upset at the general election result; if you have an opinion on why Labour lost so terribly, on why the Tories won so convincingly, on what’s happening in our country, on what you think should happen next in the Labour party; if your values align with Labour’s and, most of all, if you’re sick of shouting at your computer screen, then I urge you to join us.
You don’t have to agree with everything Labour has ever done or said, on every policy idea, with every member you’ve ever met or with every MP you’ve ever seen on TV. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a Labour party member – and as I say, joining it was my first foray ever into politics – it’s that a political party is like a family. A dysfunctional family, yes. But a family nonetheless. A family that rows and falls out, a family in which you feel more comfortable with some members than others, a family which can often drive you crazy… but a family that, when the chips are down, comes together. Because we recognise that, for all its faults, this family is important.
Join us because we need you. We need people, we need ideas, we need opinions – particularly, I’d argue, of those who have been on the outside watching in. Not least because, I believe, any party is at its best when it listens to all ideas, and recognises that nobody – no one person, no wing, no “faction” – has a monopoly on wisdom.
Yes, it’s been hard sometimes – indeed, there have been times when Jo Cox’s wise words that “we have far more in common with each other than things which divides us” have felt like they were about the Labour party itself, rather than the wider parliament, as she originally intended them. There have been times when I’ve been deeply frustrated and upset: when the party’s leadership team didn’t deal with anti-Semitism swiftly and decisively enough; when it obfuscated so long on Brexit that its final (and to my mind, good) position was too little too late; when I see some on the left – and I include non-party members in this – being quick to dismiss those who don’t see the world as we do, and rather than listening or trying to understand, instead seem to have a mindset along the lines of ‘we are right and you are wrong, so we’re going to stand over here and wait until you see sense and come over to our side.’ I imagine a similar worldview may well exist on the right, too – I wouldn’t know, I don’t hang around with them long enough – and funnily enough, it’s one which reminds me of another brilliant exchange in Broadcast News: when Holly Hunter’s boss sarcastically says to her: “It must be nice to always believe you know better” and, utterly seriously, she replies: “No, it’s awful.” So yes: I’ve realised that in politics, even on your own side – even when we all ultimately have the same goal – there will still be some people who see the world, and others in it, quite differently.
But then that’s sort of the point: I am me in the Labour party, and you can be you. Whatever your view, whatever your passion, you will find others who share it – and, yes, probably some who will challenge it (but that’s no bad thing, right?) – and I guarantee you will find people who inspire you, too. I am in awe of the Labour women I know through the Fabian Women’s Network mentoring scheme – women of all ages and backgrounds doing amazing work behind the scenes, on the frontline or both, to improve people’s lives, influence party policy and lift each other up. I am constantly impressed by the work and dedication of my fellow Labour councillors on Westminster City Council, and proud to be part of such a brilliant, caring, supportive group of people who stand up for the vulnerable and try every day to practically improve the lives of Westminster residents (and often succeed, even in opposition). And every time there’s any sort of election, I never cease to be stunned and humbled by “the Labour family” in action – the staffers, volunteers and activists who organise and show up from all over country, in all weathers, to help, support and work together for something that is bigger than all of us.
So join us. Because there’s strength in numbers, because it beats shouting at your computer screen, and because the Labour party is the greatest force for unseating the current government and trying to put right the damage we know it will cause. Who knows – you may even find your decision to take action snowballing to such an extent that you’ll end up a few years later, as I did, as a Labour councillor. Whatever happens, I do know this: you won’t be whining about things – you’ll be doing something about them instead.