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IT seems appropriate somehow that it was on another April 4, 26 years ago, that I lost my precious dad to the ruthless cruelty of prostate cancer. At the age of 23, I was reminded that life is not fair, that bad things happen to good people.
Maybe that’s why I’m not so shocked that on another April 4, we lose Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. And my feelings about it are not dissimilar to my feelings when I lost my dad too soon.
The anger I felt towards my dad’s cancer for cutting him down in his prime, I feel towards all the forces that were waged against Corbyn’s leadership to make sure he would never become prime minister, except more keenly because cancer doesn’t have a brain.
It is not conniving and selfish and devoid of compassion for the people it strikes down.
Encompassed in that group are the PLP, the Tory media and last but not least, the “People’s Vote” lobby who bore relentless pressure on Labour to adopt a policy I knew — and I suspect many of them knew — would cost us a general election.
But in the same way I felt anger towards my dad when I found out he’d been ignoring the early warning signs of his cancer, Corbyn does not escape my anger. He made mistakes. He should have stood stronger against those forces.
He should, even now, be speaking out against them.
In a recent interview he blamed Labour’s 2019 defeat solely on the media. No mention of MPs who worked consistently to destroy him, or MPs who pushed for the party to become a Remain party, a stance that was electorally toxic and cost us our Red Wall seats.
Having said all that, Corbyn has been a truly wonderful leader. He’s been strong against unbearable pressure, dignified against the most vile of personal attacks, principled, inspiring and loyal. For no-one can argue that Corbyn is not unerringly loyal.
When the PLP were bearing down on him trying to force his resignation in 2016, he refused to budge. His loyalty towards the members outweighed any amount of pressure he felt to stand down.
And I’m so glad he stayed. Jeremy Corbyn has been a breath of fresh air blowing around what had become a moribund political scene.
The past five years have been exhausting, exhilarating and frustrating, but one thing they have not been is business as usual.
If I genuinely believed Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham would have won a majority in the 2017 or 2019 general elections, I might feel differently about where we are now, but I don’t.
Labour have been losing votes and seats since Blair. The closest we came to significantly turning that tide was in 2017 when we gained 3.5 million new votes and won the biggest swing in vote share since 1945.
Corbyn’s detractors are busy trying to airbrush that inconvenient fact from history but we must never let that happen.
The biggest and most significant difference between 2017 and 2019 was our Brexit position, which was rightly viewed as a U-turn on the promise made to respect the referendum result in our 2017 manifesto. A betrayal of trust.
Pro-Remain MPs who refuse to accept this fact publicly know it privately, and are simply trying to dodge any blame for the result.
Unfortunately, huge swathes of the membership are doing the same, hence the support for Keir Starmer. If you refuse to acknowledge the damage wrought by our Brexit policy, you’re left with two options, either blaming Corbyn for being too left wing and radical — or the media who attacked him for it.
Both amount to the same conclusion — we need a safe centrist leader the media can’t vilify. The fact Miliband and Brown perfectly fit this mould but also failed to win general elections because they failed to inspire the electorate seems to have passed them by.
With Corbyn as leader, even the Tory narrative on austerity has changed. This is no coincidence.
Anyone who thinks the Tories would be spending a single extra penny on our NHS or police service with Kendall, Burnham or Cooper opposing them at the despatch box, is very much mistaken.
Corbyn scared them. The 2017 general election result scared them.
They know we handed them an easy win in 2019, giving their “Get Brexit Done” motto a power they didn’t have in 2017, but they can’t count on Brexit dividing the electorate in the next election.
All they can count on now is us going back to being Tory lite, so our voters stay at home in enough numbers for them to win again.
And that’s why I urge the members to stand strong at this time of change. We are Corbyn’s legacy in the same way the values passed down to me are my dad’s.
I might not agree with the majority of members on the reasons we lost the last general election so devastatingly. I might believe the membership needs to better reflect our working-class voters, but I do agree with the majority of members who want to offer the electorate policies that will dramatically improve their lives and those of their loved ones.
Corbyn brought us together and we need to carry on holding the torch he lit together into the future, making it hard for any future leader to ditch a manifesto that is truly worth getting out to vote for.
If I’d had a look into a crystal ball five years ago and seen the way things would end, I would still have started the petition calling for an anti-austerity candidate to stand for Labour leader, I’d still have devoted my life to fighting for Corbyn to win that first leadership and the second and to protecting his leadership over the next few years.
I still believe the rock we have thrown into the stale political pond will be sending out ripples that will change political history forever and for the better.
Once the flame of hope is ignited, it is almost impossible to put out, especially if we guard against it.
So thank you Corbyn for lighting that hope in our hearts. We will never forget all you did for us. All our gains from now on will be made because of you.
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