On Monday evening Thurrock Constituency Labour Party held a ballot to decide whom it would support in the LP leadership contest. Due to rules set by the national EC only those who were members before 12th January of this year were eligible to vote. They also laid very tight guidelines as to how the meeting should be conducted. This resulted in one eligible members being turned away at the door as she arrived just after the 7pm cut off time.
Despite the EC's attempt to stifle party democracy, the meeting went ahead overseen by the CLP secretary and president. It was conducted in a very comradely way, the platform of both Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith were read through at the start of the meeting, then the chair asked for speakers who wish to advocate the two respective candidates. Each were then given three minutes to make their pitch.
From the Corbyn supporters there was clear anger at how many within the parliamentary party have acted when they first refused to serve under a democratically elected leader, and then went on to instigate a second leadership contest in just over a year. One speaker spoke of how out of touch with ordinary people many of these labour MP' have become, isolated in the Westminster political and media bubble. Another said we already had a party leader who was voted in only last year, and she would not have her vote usurped, so once again she would be supporting Corbyn as the leader of her Party.
The first Corbyn supporter spoke for many when he said he would be supporting Jeremy because since he became leader he has changed the whole tone of British politics. He used the example of Theresa May's first statement when she became Tory leader. He added Jeremy has brought some decency back into politics, he has clear ideas and policies having moved the party away from austerity lite, neoliberal economics and military intervention overseas. Over all they all expressed confidence in a Corbyn leadership bringing about real change in both the party and country.
The speakers in favour of Owen Smith were less upbeat. One especially irritated me, when he all but blamed the working class for not supporting Labour and said electing Corbyn leader would push the labour vote in Thurrock into the Ukip camp. Another made a passionate call to elect Owen Smith, but beyond the candidate's own publicity which could best be summed up as anyone but Corbyn, he couldn't put anything more positive on the table. He hardly reinforced his point when at the end of his piece he made a slip of the tongue and said "that is why I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn."
After the last speaker had finished speaking the chair called for the vote to be taken in a secret ballot with tellers elected at the meeting overseeing the count.
The outcome was eight votes for Owen, and twenty seven for Jeremy, who was duly nominated as the candidate TCP would be supporting.
Given the local party supported Yvette Cooper in the 2015 leadership contest there has clearly been a sea change within the minds of many members. It wasn't a great turn out with only 35 people attending, but what struck me was the willingness to embrace the type of change Jeremy Corbyn is offering.
Those who supported Smith are very pessimistic about the future yet as far as I can judge take no responsibility for the fall in the Labour vote in Thurrock. Their way has not won Labour a general election for over ten years. Yet basically all they offer up is more of the same, a top down party, led by MP's, the majority of whom believe it's the neoliberal way or no way. And why wouldn't they when many of them are part of the small minority of the population who have benefited financially from globalisation? No minimum wage, zero hours contracts, loss of mobility cars, rent hikes, poor housing, lack of job security, etc for them.
I'm certain most anti Corbyn Labour MP's are decent people, but they seem oblivious to the hardships of those they were elected to support. The fact they chose Owen Smith as their candidate brings into question their judgement and not for the first time.
Corbyn policies offer the local party a new start, an opportunity to claw back old supporters who turned elsewhere and new. His policies on ending austerity, adequately funding the NHS and an end to privatisation within it, abolish the Bedroom tax and Atos type medicals for the sick and disabled, integrating health and social care so elderly people can be cared for with compassion when they become too frail or ill to live in their own homes. Building a million new homes, half a million council houses, introducing rent controls and secure tenancies in the private sector, bringing railways back into public ownership, end to tuition fees and much, much more.
Most if not all of these policies will be attractive to Thurrock people, whether old, middle aged or young. The only thing we should fear about UKIP is fear itself, they're policy lite to say the least, They claim they're against the EU but despite the Brexit result they continue to slurp on the EU money trough.
We live in interesting times, politically everything is to play for.
* The above is not a verbatim account of what took place but a summary.