Saturday, 8 August 2015

Being a left-wing nuisance is necessary and desirable

Becoming involved once more in the politics of the Labour Party, and the election for its new leader has given me much to think about over the past weeks. Coming from a trades union background (USDAW), serving on trades councils, and being appointed as a national officer for BTOG at, what was then, a very young age for such a job (26) I met and worked with many committed trades unionists who were considerably older than I was. Indeed, many were old enough to be my parent or even grand-parent, in some instances! 

Having that experience helped me to learn such a lot about the history of the Labour Party, from those involved, and what it stood for, and what it had achieved in the years before I was born. I enjoyed long chats with people who had been on the Aldermaston Marches, with people who had been involved with the NHS at its inception, and with those who had been involved with various labour disputes over the decades. It was, for me, where I honed my political beliefs, beliefs which I had first heard at the knee of my lifelong Socialist grandfather, who died when I was 10 years old.

One of the women with whom I had contact whilst working at USDAW was the late Audrey Wise (1935-2000), former MP for Coventry South West (1974-1979) and Preston (1987-2000). Audrey Wise teamed up with Jeff Rooker to draw up the Rooker-Wise  Amendment to the then Chancellor Denis Healey's 1977 finance bill. The Rooker-Wise Amendment "introduced retrospective inflation-proofing on tax allowances, which led to £450m being handed back to taxpayers." That was quite an achievement - two backbench MPs managing to over ride the plans of the Labour government's own Chancellor for the people. It made me realise that ordinary people could make changes happen if they stand up for what they believe in.

Audrey was a huge inspiration to me. She was never afraid to say what she thought, she spoke her mind, and stood firm for her principles. According to her obituary in The Guardian, "At Westminster in the 1970s she was regarded as something of a left-wing nuisance, a state of affairs that she viewed as necessary and desirable." In many ways Jeremy Corbyn reminds me of Audrey: firm in his beliefs, principled, straight talking, able to inspire people and to make them believe that they can make changes happen.  It's also what I believe in.

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