This past year, my membership of the Labour party has been hanging by a thread due to the abhorrent stain of antisemitism.
Yet, it is still unfathomable to me that Labour, once the greatest force for good, is now in a position where it faces the threat of never winning power again. While I, along with many others, knew that we were facing defeat on 12 December, nobody was prepared for the magnitude of our defeat, and the existential crisis that would follow.
There is, however, a tentative sense of hope; a sense that we can now rebuild and recover. To do this, it is absolutely critical that we get the right leader in place. This will not be an easy road back. ‘Continuity Corbyn’is not an option– the Labour party does not exist to be a party of protest and slogans, we exist to make a difference to the communities that we serve. Standing still in a mire of hard left dogma will finish us as a political force.
The cold, hard fact is that Boris Johnson was returned to Number 10 with a comfortable majority. We lost numerous heartland seats that the Tories are not going to give up easily in a general election, and where we are going to have to win back trust.
Recently, I have been lucky enough to spend some time with an absolutely inspirational group of people – Labour councillors from across the country who are all genuinely committed to a vision of making life fairer and more equal for the people they represent. It is being around my fellow councillors that was behind my decision to stay and fight. They represent both the strength of our wealth of talent and of our values.
Therefore, I have two demands of the candidates in the leadership contest. Firstly, that the next party leader trusts our instincts as Labour’s representatives in local communities and secondly, that they value us for the contribution we make. Our party needs to stop taking the work we do for granted.
While Labour may not be in power nationally, it is those of us who are governing locally who are taking the tough decisions and showing bold leadership. The reality is that we are now facing yet another five years of Tory policies and budget pressures, and that we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and regrouping. Instead, we are setting our incredibly tight budgets for the year ahead, fighting for fairer funding settlements, and pushing on – trying to do the best we can for local areas with what we have.
We are finding ways to build the homes we need, to consider bold approaches to the challenges of social care, and to genuinely engage with our residents on the things that matter to them. For some examples of how creative we are being around the country, look at the Local Government Association’s ‘100 Innovations by Labour in Power.’
We are also vital to health and success of Labour as a party. Via our councillor levy we contribute around £2.5m a year, and councillors provide the foundation for effective local campaigning for the good of the party, and for that of our local MPs.
The next leader also needs to ensure the membership are encouraged to value our work. When one of the candidates contacted councillors, wanting to meet with us in Manchester, the response on social media spoke to a real lack of understanding about the role of local government amongst the membership, some of whom described us as an ‘unaccountable elite’. Aside from demonstrating the fractious nature of relationships within the party, it also shows that some members lack information about what councillors do – as a portfolio holder for adult social care with a £49m budget, I am very much accountable.
Local government is truly at the heart of the local communities that politicians at a national level seek to govern and it is where trust, and a reputation for both competence and care, will be rebuilt. For leadership candidates my message is clear: councillors need to be trusted, values and respected if Labour is to win again.
Joanne Harding is the executive member for adult social care on Trafford council. She tweets @Joanne13Harding