West Country Labourites have felt more than a little left out by the ongoing leadership and deputy leadership contests, now ratcheting up several gears as August approaches.One particularly galling sentence on the party website – since deleted – boasted that leadership hustings would be taking place in ‘every region’ of the country. In fact, the furthest West the candidates ever came was Swindon – not especially satisfying for those of us in Somerset, let alone for loyal Labour supporters in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
Out to right this particular wrong, leader of Bridgwater Town Council Cllr Brian Smedley contacted candidates, asking them down to visit. And Walthamstow MP, Shadow Consumer Affairs Minister and Star Wars enthusiast Stella Creasy, said yes.
Stella, at least, can’t be accused of neglecting the West. Arriving in Bridgwater after a whistle-stop tour of Devon and Cornwall, having already visited Bath and Bristol last week, she spoke to a group of over 40 Labour activists and supporters from across the county who’d gathered to see her in the Bridgwater Town Hall council chamber.
The Labour Party is what its members make it
As anyone who follows her on Twitter can attest, there are few MPs who seem to love their constituencies quite as much as Stella Creasy loves hers, and she began her talk with an ode to her East London patch – the place we can thank for Durex, the iPad, and Brian Harvey, as she duly reminded us.
There was a serious point, though – Stella’s politics are motivated by the idea that somewhere in Walthamstow, there’s “a kid who could cure cancer” given the right encouragement and support. And in quoting her most illustrious predecessor as Walthamstow MP, Clement Attlee, she neatly summed up the theme of her campaign: that “the Labour Party is what its members make it”.
Stella believes that Labour has become too much of a top-down Westminster machine – an organisation all too often seen by members and supporters as one that just turns up at election time looking for votes then vanishes again. She made clear she feels that perception is overly harsh. But she passionately argued that Labour needs to become a bottom-up social movement that invests in and supports its members, so they’re able to lead the charge themselves on the issues they care about.
Labour can make real gains for working people
She also insisted that Labour politics can’t just be about what the party does in power. Pointing to her own successes tackling unscrupulous pay-day loan providers – Stella Creasy Vs The Forces Of Evil as one Lego-based tribute from an artist in her constituency put it – she argued that if it’s a proactive, campaigning opposition, Labour can still make real gains for working people even when there’s a Tory government. She continues to campaign against predatory lenders and the potentially devastating effect of large debts on consumers – calling on government to “take responsibility and properly fund debt advice services by doubling the levy on legal loan sharks and other high cost lenders, who feed off the misfortune of those suffering financial hardship” in a recent press release.
Stella took questions from the floor, and thanks to the ever-feisty and articulate people of Somerset, we learned more about her views on a variety of subjects. She’s in favour of electoral reform, an elected House of Lords and votes at 16. She’s against unilateral nuclear disarmament because we “can’t see into the future” – but supports multilateral disarmament.
Quizzed about the European Union by Bridgwater Labour’s Cllr Dave Loveridge, Stella argued that Labour needs to make a passionate case for staying in, and that it was only by working with the EU that Labour governments had been able to deliver progressive change on everything from rights at work to climate change.
‘Mutualise’ not ‘Nationalise’
And with more than a few Corbyn fans in the room, it was inevitable the man of the moment was going to come up sooner or later. Asked her opinion, Stella remained impartial, saying she’d worked with all of the leadership candidates before, and so could work for them again. But pressed on the issue – and her views on the divisive Blair years – by veteran Bridgwater socialist Pat “the Hat” Warren , she audaciously argued she was “more left-wing” than Jeremy: because he wants to “nationalise” industries and utilities, and because she, as a proud member of the Co-Operative Party, wants to “mutualise them”.
But with the 14.22 from Bridgwater Station and a day chock-full of other engagements beckoning, the questions had to cease – and after the obligatory flurry of selfies and a generous platter of sandwiches by our excellent host town mayor Cllr Leigh Redman (which Stella has now appreciatively tweeted and instagrammed all over the country) the Member for Walthamstow had to go.
Helping Stella’s campaign
Huge thanks to Stella for taking the time out of her (manically) busy schedule to visit. It was greatly appreciated, and we hope to see her again before too long – quite possibly as Labour’s new Deputy Leader.
If you would like to help out locally with Stella’s campaign, you can contact Sam Foulder-Hughes, who’s organising phone banks and other activities in the county, on firstname.lastname@example.org