Recently joined member, Olivia Knight, explains why it’s fun to be in the Labour Party
Joining the Labour party for the first time in the summer was a new and exciting experience for me. But at the same time it felt like coming home.
Growing up in Lewisham in the 1980s I spent every weekend at the Labour Club. I loved sitting up on the bar stools with my sister and ordering our own packet of peanuts and glass of lemonade. We were in our own world, as kids usually are, but I remember the reassuring sounds of the grown-ups around us.
They’d start by catching up on the week but the conversation would soon turn to politics with voices getting louder as they’d start debating, excitedly interrupting each other and thumping fists on the table. I loved the rhythm – gentle chatter, animated debate, raucous laughter. I loved playing hide and seek under piles of chairs, dancing in between grown ups’ knees and falling asleep under a pile of coats. I felt happy and excited and safe.
The Labour club was a place of initiation - winning my first raffle, sneaking sips of beer, learning how to snog and, most importantly, discovering the principles of equality, social justice, peace and solidarity that have guided me my whole life.
It’s seeing these values return to the heart of the Labour leadership that has allowed me to become a member of the Labour Party for the first time in 38 years. And it feels amazing.
Like so many others who’ve felt silenced and switched off from party politics for so long. I’ve felt empowered and energised by the feeling of hope and the possibility of change. It feels like being a member actually means something in a party that’s prepared to listen to its grassroots.
Of course this brings disquiet and discord. Because it allows debate. There’s been much talk in the press about fights within the Labour Party and all I can say is that I’ve never been to a really good party where there hasn’t been a bit of a bust up – it’s natural when people, energy and ideas all get together. In my opinion we need more party in politics.
Sadly, the Lewisham Labour club closed down years ago. And people, up and down the country, have fewer community spaces to meet, share their experiences and find support. The closure of Sure Start centres, libraries, breast feeding cafes, community centres and adventure parks means that people have fewer places to come together to find collective strength and organize effective resistance against austerity.
Consecutive governments have wanted politics to be academic, inaccessible, complicated, business-like and boring. They don’t want politics creeping into people’s social lives. They don’t want us connecting politics with pub chats about our jobs, kids schools, new neighbours or the price of milk. They don’t want politics to be common sense or straightforward, social or fun. But it is - or at least it should be.
When I and a few friends became new Labour members in the summer the atmosphere, in packed hustings, on demonstrations, on Twitter and in the pub, was amazing - energetic, positive and super powerful. Our first meeting in Lewisham was packed out and there was so much still to discuss afterwards that we all decided to carry on into the night.
With no Labour club to return to we all headed to the Ladywell Tavern where we stayed till closing. It was a brilliant night with old and new members getting to know each other. Starting with polite chatter we moved through animated discussions, we shared experiences, motivations and ideals and we came up with a few good ideas - like the one to plan a Labour Party party so we could all get together again soon.
Once sober it took us a little while to get our plans together but the Labour party that we organised just before Christmas was definitely worth the wait. A brilliant line up of local musicians including the ridiculously talented Kate Tempest packed out the Albany café while old, new and not-yet Labour party members chatted over mince pies mulled wine - and kids danced, hid under the stacks of chairs and coloured in Jeremy Corbyn cut-outs on the play table.
The plan for our party was simple. It was to have fun. And we did. And that’s really important. For too long witnessing Labour ‘progress’ has felt like watching a funeral march. But in the last six months we’ve seen the Labour movement come alive.
We need to be a party that is strong and unified, that celebrates its values of peace, equality, social justice and solidarity. And we also need to party. Together. So we can laugh and dance our way to a better future.