IT WASN’T LONG AGO that socialists in Tyne and Wear were campaigning against the introduction of a metro mayor in the region. Now, many are campaigning hard for a socialist mayor standing in the North of Tyne mayoral election. Most have probably not changed their mind too much about mayors. The difference is the candidate, and the possibility of using the campaign to win the argument for a local, socialist economics.
So much has changed in the Labour Party in such a short period: the election of Jeremy Corbyn; the chicken coup; the promotion to the front bench of socialists; a general election at which we added three and a half million votes on a socialist manifesto; a change of General Secretary in Jennie Formby, and a community organising team. But are there any Corbynistas in power yet?
Well in less than two months there might be. Far from the gaze of the Westminster media, Jamie Driscoll has been selected as the Labour candidate for the North of Tyne metro mayor, beating none other than Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City council – a big beast in local government, leader of the Labour Local Government Association and NEC member – and a local MEP along the way.
Jamie Driscoll is a very different kind of political animal. He is known in the North East as a grassroots activist, and widely respected for his inclusive approach, running the political education group ‘Talk Socialism’ and building bridges across the Labour left. A veteran of anti-fascist work, Jamie is prepared to put in the graft and get his hands dirty. That's how he's running his campaign.
It's egalitarian: activists get a say. Like Jeremy in 2015 and 2016, he talks about “our campaign” not “my campaign.” There are mass meetings to discuss policy, social media banking and groups of activists out door-knocking. The social media operation is interactive and creative. There are no buzzwords or spin. What’s more, you can volunteer from anywhere in the country.
He's up against a multi-millionaire Tory, who's playing dirty, and could do with some grassroots donations to pay for leaflets and postcards. If ylu can help witb this, click here. A metro mayor is hardly a government department. But it is state power. Jamie's leading on community wealth building, a platform he was pushing as a backbench councillor and he is a friend and political co-traveller with Matthew Brown of Preston council. He'll set up a People's Bank on a co-operative model.
Jamie’s big on Green New Deal policies – and organised a conference with Rebecca Long-Bailey to promote Labour’s green industrial revolution in Newcastle, the city where the electric light and Stephenson’s Rocket were invented. He’s actually going to build social housing that is exempt from right to buy – by making them co-operatively owned by the people rather than by the state – and an equalities unit, to evaluate all policies for their effect on gender, ethnicity and people with disabilities, who are hit hardest by austerity.
This is democratic, community based, red-green socialism, where the people are involved locally, and decisions are made far away from Whitehall. Many Briefing readers will recognise the themes from our recent past, before the Corbyn surge, and the Chesterfield conferences in particular.
Maybe there'll be another general election soon. Maybe it's over three years away - in which case the North of Tyne could be a trailblazer, the proof that socialist economic policies work a damn sight better than neo-liberal policies, even against a national backdrop of austerity. I spoke to Jamie about this article, and he said:
“Remember to tell people to help us. They can join in the social media, they can volunteer, and they can give us money.”
If the JD4Mayor team win, we all win.
City of Durham CLP