EDITOR’S NOTE: I disagreed fiercely with Chris Williamson MP in the two years before the general election. I never thought we could win seats like Derby North on a platform like Corbyn’s. Chris made me eat my words, but in so doing, he never resorted to name-calling or abuse. He has always been remarkably courteous in person. We retain some important differences (I will never be a vegan, for instance), but in very many ways, Chris was right, and I was wrong.
Pay close attention, I’m about to reveal how Labour won back Derby North, the most marginal seat in England.
First, a bit of context. I was the MP for Derby North from 2010 to 2015 when the Conservative Party won the seat by a mere 41 votes. Derby, like the rest of the Midlands, voted for Brexit. The region represents a headache for Labour; despite impressive gains last month – causing a monumental upset to Theresa May’s hollow power grab – Labour lost four seats in the East Midlands, two of which had never seen a Tory MP before.
Why did Derby North counter that trend?
The launch of Labour’s manifesto was a turning point in the campaign. It’s been a long journey from the days when, two years ago, the bulk of Labour MPs were unwilling to vote against Welfare reforms that would punish the most vulnerable for the banker’s crisis. Corbyn and McDonnell put forward a clear-sighted programme that chimes with the mood of the nation as well as the economic juncture that we face. The manifesto’s populist rhetoric was heavy on rebalancing our tax system away from Britain’s elites yet behind the scenes Labour’s plans for a national investment bank represent the structural reforms necessary to provide a new era of equitable growth, similar to the reforms made by Labour in 1945.
Of course, the establishment media came out in force against Labour and our so-called radical leader. However, Corbyn’s popular support helped to tip the balance. The Labour Party now represents the largest political party in Europe with over half a million members. Activists were mobilised both on the doorsteps and online. At a high point of the campaign we had over 150 canvassers out in a single day in Derby and twice that on June 8.
Everywhere Corbyn spoke crowds appeared, many literally singing his praises. Likewise online, a million flowers blossomed: the official party output was far behind the curve yet countless social media accounts sprung into action creating a new left ecology for the party. The value of this new cultural environment cannot be underestimated and our campaign in Derby North was one of the few by individual MPs to actively attempt to harness it.
Fundamentally I stood proudly on a platform that was able to attract the energy and support of both young and older voters. For young Corbynistas, Labour’s traumas between its left and right factions are almost meaningless. For them, support for Corbyn is not an issue of left or right; it’s a matter of right and wrong.
New active supporters were able to engage older more cynical voters whose vote for Brexit was a vote against neoliberalism and the hollowing out of the working class experience that has accompanied the decline of manufacturing.
The forging of this popular constituency is the shockwave that Corbyn has sent through the Labour Party and, with another general election surely not far away, it promises to become the wave of hope that will rebound throughout the country.