DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party
I was having a discussion with one of my new found Labour colleagues on Facebook the other day about the merits and pitfalls of having acquaintances of the Tory persuasion. As a Newcastle fan I would liken meeting someone and during a conversation finding out they are a true blue to be similar to discovering that they are a Mackem. In both cases, you can never look at them in the same way again.
I could count on less than one hand the people who I have met who I know voted Conservative in the past and no one who was active in the party. And maybe that’s because where I live, in the Labour stronghold of South Tyneside, if you are caught even wearing a similar colour to the Eton Old Boys Club you would be shot on sight and your severed head would be stuck upon a pike outside South Shields town hall as a warning to others not to stray from the path or this will be you next.
I am proud to be able to say I was born in this borough which is famous, among other things, for the Jarrow Crusade; where 207 marched from the North East down to London to lobby parliament for jobs. It is also the birthplace of author Catherine Cookson, who’s stories of growing up in poverty are read all over the world and adapted for TV.
I am also proud of our history of tolerance and inclusivity. South Shields has had an immigrant population since roman times and Muhammed Ali himself came here to be married in one of the UK’s first mosques. Jarrow constituency, in which I live, has been held by Labour since 1935. The area had seen massive changes through those times, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the closure of the mines & shipyards under Thatcher and even outside my window last month when the building I had known as ‘Hebburn N.A.S.A’ because of its resemblance to the Kennedy space centre was dismantled.
Because of these events and more, if I was to even think about voting Conservative I would be disowned by my family and my coal mining ancestors would turn in their graves. So I guess it’s fate in the same place where I made the slightly less idiotic decision of voting for the Lib Dems in 2010, I now start my most local political odyssey in the most local of places, Hartleyburn Avenue Community Centre just down the road from where I live (making a mockery of the title of this series, I haven’t visited a Social Club since the start of this).
Now before I go on, I’m not going to deliberately slag off anyone at the meeting like I have in the previous 2 instalments of this series. After all, these are the people who I hope to be working with closely for the foreseeable future.
As I entered the building I was greeted by 2 of the 3 councillors in attendance who said ‘you must be Giles Matthew’ looking at me as if expecting someone else. Well it wasn’t an oversight on their behalf, I had joined Labour students in October 2010 like many who did so after Ed Miliband’s leadership victory (I though he was going to take the party left, hindsight is a wonderful thing).
However, I had rushed through my application form and inadvertently called myself Miss Giles Matthew. When my membership card came I was too embarrassed to turn up to any meetings until now. With that cleared up I joined the 6 other party members around the table.
Before the meeting commenced a few members brought up Osbourne’s spending review published that day (yes, I know this dates the meeting to nearly a fortnight ago but this is how long it’s taken to get round to writing this, deal with it), they obviously disagreed with the measures taken but failed to go into detail and didn’t bring it up during the meeting itself. I see this to be a common trait between not only Labour members but also active union members. They posses the knowledge of what is currently being imposed on this country, but are unwilling to go beyond their party/union doctrines and voice their opinion when it matters.
One of the councillors, who I recognised visiting my old secondary school, took great pains to explain all the processes when they were announced. I was nominated for youth & student officer for Jarrow CLP, which was self explanatory since I was the only person you would class as young in the room; something I was hoping to change as I expressed my desire for more people my age and younger to get into politics.
Come the end of the meeting (which would not be held for another 3 months) I announced that I was an activist in the People’s Assembly North East and handed out my card to everyone in the room. Faces fell. I knew it would be a risk and who knows I could have blew my chances of getting anywhere in this CLP now. But I reasoned that I had to be straight to them about my intentions, I didn’t want to get an official position of some kind and turn around and say ‘haha, I’m actually a left wing loony here to destroy your party’ (which I’m not by the way).
But if anyone from the local Labour Party is reading this, I’m not giving up and I will not go away. As I said earlier I am proud to be from and live in this corner of the North East and if cant make a difference here, where can I?
So I go on with my journey of discovery and come early September (when I get to know if I will become Jarrow CLP Youth & Student Officer) I’ll be roaming the streets radicalising the youth of South Tyneside like Abu Hamza only with hands (joke).
Who knows where part 4 will lead me; my continuing adventures in the shadowy world of the Labour Left? The ever growing bandwagon (I mean that in a positive sense) which is the People’s Assembly gearing up for the regional conference to be held on September 14th? Or maybe the beginnings of the localisation of the movement which Alex Snowden touches on here. A lot of stuff going in at the moment and its all moving very fast (too fast for my brain to communicate the necessary information to my hand in order to type relevant blog posts in time).