PAUL SALVESON brings his celebration of the 120-year-old Colne Valley Labour Party up to date with a look at its present predicaments and future prospects
In the aftermath of the May 2010 election defeat there has been a re-evaluation of where the Labour Party was going, at local and national level. Despite being defeated, the mood has been far from being despondent.
After a prolonged leadership contest Ed Miliband was elected national leader. Drawing a line under some of the less popular policies of new Labour, he offered a fresh start, based on making basic Labour values relevant to a modern world, not simply adapting them to neo-liberalism.
At an individual level, many people who had left the Labour Party re-assessed their own position and decided to rejoin a party which looked far more attractive than it had done for many years. At the same time, many people, shocked by the reality of having a Conservative-led government, felt the need to join Labour as the only party which could present a serious challenge.
Constituency meetings have gone from having a small handful of over-stretched activists to gatherings of 30 or 40 members, buzzing with ideas. The way the party works has changed dramatically as well. Instead of long tedious debates on administrative detail, we discuss policy on local and national issues. Discussion groups are in, long-winded speakers are out. The gender balance has also shifted, with a roughly equal number of men and women active in the party.
Labour made some impressive gains in the 2011 local elections with Labour’s Hilary Richards winning Golcar ward after a gap of many years. Labour also came tantalisingly close to winning the so-called ‘no-hope’ Colne Valley ward, with Tabatha Ellam, a recent young recruit to the party (pictured below), putting in a strong challenge.
Innovations, such as running open events aimed at particular sectors, have been tried successfully. Shadow business trade minister Ian Lucas spoke at a conference in March for local business people, organised by the constituency party. A gathering of some 30 people, including more non-members than members, sat down to discuss future Labour policy at the Marsden event.
At branch level, members are more active in their local communities, taking part in carnivals and galas. New members are taking on roles as branch officers and getting involved in constituency activities.
However, there is a question mark over the future shape of the constituency. The Boundary Commission is reviewing the whole electoral map and there is little doubt that the Colne Valley constituency as we know it will change. Since it was formed in 1885 it has changed shape frequently, so nothing new there. But it would be a tragedy to lose the identity of the Colne Valley. Let’s see. But whatever happens, we’ll still be here and so will the communities which have nourished such a strong distinctive local culture over the years.
The Colne Valley CLP is a vibrant part of Kirklees and we want to make a greater contribution to the work of our Labour council. That means we need to win more council seats, in wards such as Golcar, Colne Valley and Holme Valley. Next year sees the 120th anniversary of Slaithwaite blacksmith George Garside’s election to West Riding County Council. It would be great to mark it by capturing Colne Valley ward for the first time in years. Yes we can!
Socialism is not just about winning seats. It’s for a reason, to make our communities healthier, safer better places to live and grow up, and to work. We are developing innovative ideas for local economic development with an emphasis on co-operatives and social enterprises. We want to work with small businesses to create vibrant village centres. We want to get better public transport services and a healthier environment. Colne Valley constituency has a remarkable range of voluntary organisations and they need support and encouragement.
Colne Valley is still important for manufacturing and we are determined that it remains so. A strong economy can never be based on paper transactions, it has to be about making things. But those ‘things’ can be very diverse and new industries, as well as more traditional ones, need support and back-up.
Many people have moved into the Colne Valley, changing the shape of our communities. A lot of them have made a conscious decision to live here because of our landscape and cultural heritage, not to mention our good schools, a transport network with rail links to Leeds and Manchester, and a wide range of other public services.
We have a flourishing arts sector, with film and folk festivals in Holmfirth, the well-established Marsden Jazz Festival, Moonraking, and plenty more. The re-opened Huddersfield Narrow Canal has brought new visitors into the valley and given a boost to local shops.
In the next ten years the Colne Valley, by which I mean the Holme and Colne Valleys and Meltham sat between them, will face no shortage of challenges as the coalition government’s cuts bite and the council is unable to maintain services. The resilience and creativity of Colne Valley people will get us through it, however, supported by a dynamic and progressive Labour Party working with the community.
Boundary changes loom and might mean the shape of the constituency alters – or it could disappear entirely. We are proud of our history but the actual boundaries are not of prime importance and have always been subject to change. But the principle of having a constituency called ‘Colne Valley’ is one we will defend.
Whatever happens, a socialism that is open, tolerant and democratic will continue to flourish in this rugged, independent and beautiful place.
Paul Salveson’s new book, Socialism with a Northern Accent – radical traditions for modern times, will be published later this year. More information from www.paulsalveson.org.uk
This is adapted from a new booklet called Looking Back, Looking Forward: Colne Valley Socialism 1891-2011 published by Colne Valley CLP to celebrate its 120th anniversary. Copies are available from 21 July for £3.95 including postage from: CVLP, 90a Radcliffe Road, Golcar, Huddersfield HD7 4EZ. Cheques payable to ‘Colne Valley Labour Party’.
For details of the Colne Valley CLP 120th anniversary celebrations, click here.
For the first part of Paul Salveson’s history of Colne Valley CLP, click here.