By Graham Smith
“You may say I’m a dreamer,” he said, “but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”
The words were of course very familiar, but the context was not. It was easily the best speech made at the Labour Party conference that year, and it not only got a standing ovation, it left many of the delegates in tears.
The speaker was Fenner Brockway, aged 96, and I was there. It was Bournemouth, 1985. Some bastard called Neil Kinnock hogged all the headlines that year, but it was the noble Baron Brockway who was the real conference star.
Barbara Castle, Tony Greenwood, Fenner Brockway and Tony Benn, organising an anti-apartheid petition in the early 1960s
I had previously been only dimly aware of Brockway, who was still at that time chairman of the World Disarmament Campaign. I also knew that he had been a friend of George Orwell and had been prominent in the campaign against the Vietnam war. He died in 1988, just a few months short of his 100th birthday.
Fenner Brockway’s life is still worth detailed study. In so many ways he was pioneer, and he remains an inspiration.
I’m thinking of Brockway now as I survey the field of Labour Party candidates in some despair. A collection of technocrats, with not a single idea between them.
At the same time, I am pondering how "disruptors" like the the Social Democrat Party, in 1983, or UKIP in 2015, or the Brexit Party last year, can have a massive influence without ever winning power.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of competence and there is a place for technocats. Political parties need people who know how to run things. But even more, they need idealists.
The purpose of all this writing, leafleting, door-knocking and social media campaigning is not to win power just for the sake of it, it is to change the world. And that means having good, original ideas and challenging bad ideas.
In a little more than 12 months, political activists in Cornwall will be fighting the council elections – 87 seats, on new boundaries never contested before.
All the signs are that the Conservatives will win overall control of Cornwall Council. They will need 44 councillors. They already have 46.
The new, larger ward boundaries will pose a challenge to the Independents. I suspect that many current Indie councillors will join the Tory Party before long.
The Liberal Democrats still have an effective on-the-ground data-driven electoral machine and will not be completely wiped out. But the demographic tide turns further away from them each year, and the best the Lib Dems can hope for is to become County Hall’s largest opposition group.
Which brings me back to Fenner Brockway, and the need for new ideas.
Never before has either the Labour Party or the Green Party managed to field a full slate of candidates for a Cornwall Council election. Labour and the Greens should try to work together next year, and this is how I think it might work. Mebyon Kernow might be interested in this too.
Let me try to deal with the obvious objections. The Labour Party is not only tribal to the nth degree, it is controlled by a remote bureaucracy which despises its local activists (I know, I am one of those local activists, constantly at war with head office.) Under any of the likely runners to become the next Labour leader, there will be no formal alliances.
Previous attempts at so-called “Progressive Alliances” in Cornwall have been little more than a front for the Liberal Democrats. And given that the Lib Dems have, since the death of Charles Kennedy, been a centre-Right party with no obviously progressive ideas, they are today much more likely to form an alliance with the Conservatives than with anyone on the Left.
But the reality is that at a local level, Labour, the Greens and MK could well come to an informal arrangement not to stand against each other in the council elections. They still might not win, but they would at least provide a single focal point for progressive voters.
Most of the Labour Party activists I know admire many of the Green Party’s policies, but cannot bring themselves to leave the mainstream. My Green Party friends view Labour with suspicion, and now, possibly, as too willing to ditch the radical platform of Jeremy Corbyn. We shall see.
The idea is obviously not without problems. For example, two of the existing four Labour councillors in Cornwall voted recently in favour of the spaceport, somehow totally defying the logic of their earlier support for declaring a climate emergency. The traditional automatic support for all public spending brings with it its own blinkered thinking.
That baggage would be not only a problem for the Greens, it is also a problem for many in the Labour Party. But it would only be a problem for voters if there were both Labour and Green candidates in the same local council ward.
All of the progressive parties are still some way from even selecting candidates for next year’s election. I doubt very much that Labour, the Greens or MK will on their own manage to find 87 candidates.
At a local branch level, they should get their acts together now. The reality is that a local branch of a political party is less likely to worry about selecting a candidate of its own if it knows there is already an individual, seeking voters’ support, with whom they already broadly agree.
Maybe the deal could be nothing more than having campaign literature which says “So-And-So is a Labour (or Green) Party candidate, with Green (or Labour) support.”
You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.
Please feel free to use the comments section below to declare your candidacy.
First come, first serve?