It was impossible to miss the media storm surrounding the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party earlier this year. It was presented by some as if this decision had torn the party asunder, splitting friends and comrades apart in some sort of leftie civil war.
The actions of many prominent figures, from Chukka Ummuna to Robert Webb, seemed to confirm this as the dreadful reality.
As a member of the local party, (and a self-confessed Corbynista), this alarmed me. Has the conflict (if it is indeed happening) reached Corby and East Northamptonshire?
At first glance, there seems to be no issue with Corbyn’s leadership from within the local party. According to Julie Brookfield, the local constituency party secretary, everything is normal. She says that the local party is ‘united in support of the new leader’. Indeed, the leadership race may have even improved the position of the party locally. Apparently, the Oundle Branch has ‘more than doubled in its number of full members’ since the leadership election.
However, during the campaign for the leadership elections, there were many members of the party who did not campaign for or even vaguely support Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, Andy Burnham appeared to be a very popular choice amongst local members. The talk he gave at Pen Green Centre was basically full, and there were also local party members whom I met at the Nottingham leadership hustings who were handing out ‘Andy for Leader’ fliers.
Therefore, you might expect that this would be a source of division within the party, as Burnham’s campaign had some very different positions to Corbyn’s. When I talked to one of those Burnham supporters, they said that they were ‘very disappointed that Andy is not the Labour leader’, and that ‘it was upsetting [for Andy Burnham] to have polled so little’, which some may take to mean that they are opposed to the new leader.
Andy Sawford, our former MP, and the most likely candidate for the general election in 2020, is another person who you might think would be very anti-Corbyn. This is due to the fact that he is generally regarded as a very centrist, and appeared to offer his support to Liz Kendall and Stella Creasy during the election campaign.
During this time, he also tweeted what may be interpreted as a veiled criticism of Corbyn’s campaign, when he tweeted that ‘the problem with the hard left is that reality always intrudes on rhetoric’.
However, that position seems to have mellowed now that Corbyn is the leader. When I spoke to him about his personal views, he was much more guarded, wishing Corbyn well: ‘The result is a good position to start from’.
He did admit to some caution. ‘I think that Jeremy Corbyn has a huge task ahead to win the confidence and support of the voters. Five years is a very long time in politics.’
There was also at least one Liz Kendall supporter within the local party who I spoke to who was very frustrated with many of Corbyn’s policy positions, from immigration to foreign policy. There may indeed be more dissenters.
Yet, despite some disquiet, the local party is very much united behind Jeremy Corbyn for one simple reason. The Burnham supporter I spoke to earlier said: ‘Even though Andy is not the leader, I am very loyal to my party and will campaign for its best interests’.
That is the reason why the local party is as strong and united as ever.
By Kieran Marray