Saturday 10 February 2007

Notes on the Campaign Stomp: Heartening and Motivating

Someone asked me to blog about it was like to be on the campaign trail. To get a flavour here's just the last few days.

On Wednesday night I was at a great meeting in Leytonstone talkng with Labour Party members and ex members. There were about 120 people at the meeting enthusiastically debating national and local politics. The local MP, Harry Cohen, and Katy Clarke MP joined me. Harry is not only well known as a really hard working constituency MP but he is also a principled socialist who has consistently campaigned in Parliament on a wide range of progressive causes. Katy was elected at the last election and quite simply is one of the best hopes for the future of the Left in Parliament and the party. She's a superb advocate of our policies.

On Thursday the encouraging news came through that ASLEF executive had taken the decision to support me for leader of the party. As this was the first union to declare its nomination this was seen as a real breakthrough. You would have thought it would merit at least a small column inch in the Guardian so even I was a bit surprised that there was not even a mention in the paper. Nevertheless the news of the nomination spreads throughout the day.

On Friday I attended my local youth parliament to talk about local issues but was pleasantly surprised when a group of young people came up to me at the end to offer their support and help for the leadership campaign. Later that day after speaking to the NUJ national Executive I was on the campaign trail in Norwich.

First I spoke at an early evening meeting of about 80 to 90 students and some trade unionists at the University of East Anglia. They had range of fascinating questions. Later I addressed a meeting for local Labour Party members. There were about 20 to 30 members, with the local MP Ian Gibson. Ian has consistently and barvely spoken out on issues like the Iraq war and Trident and with his academic and scientific background speaks with an authority which surpasses Ministers and their advisers. The discussion with Norwich party members demonstrated yet again that despite the media people want the right to have an election for the leader based upon policies not personalities and many want change.

On Saturday (today) we have had a brief meeting of the co-ordinators of the different elements of our campaign. Everyone is really buoyant and reporting back widespread activity and enthusiasm from the local meetings to the different campaigning groups such as the pensioners4John or the womens group, the Punjabi community campaign or the Socialist Youth Network. We have planned a rally livened up with music, stand up etc for the afternoon of 31 March at the Shaw Theatre in London.

Artists and speakers are being booked as we speak but as always it is a rush job and we are all a bit edgy about whether we can pull it off. But if you don't try you don't succeed. If there is any one out there with music and arts connections let me know. Does anyone know what Soweto Kinch's politics are and how he could be approached? If you have heard him you will know why. He is just superb.

After the meeting I dashed to the demonstration outside Harmondsworth Detention Centre and spoke to the demonstrators. Harmondsworth is in my constituency and I have been visiting the centre for over 20 years. It used to be a few small huts with about 20 detainees. Now it is a massive prison like insitution with 400 inmates and with another 400 in the Colnbrook centre next to it. My constituency office deals with detainees' cases every day.

At the demonstration I met the campaigners I have been working with who are trying to expose the Government's policy of deporting people back to Iraq. On Monday they told me the Government is deporting up to 40 detainees back to Iraq by military airplane from RAF Brise Norton. I raised this issue in Parliament two weeks ago and yet the Government persists in sending people back to a war zone. Where is the humanity in that?

This is just a brief description of a few days on the campaign stomp. For me it combines the exhilaration of meeting good people who want to talk about what socialism means in the twenty first century with the heartrending consequences of the existing administration's policies towards asylum seekers. These experiences both hearten and motivate me.