Labour MP Ian Lavery is Chair of the Labour Party and its joint National Campaign Co-ordinator. He spoke exclusively to the SKWAWKBOX in both capacities, as well as talking about his ‘pitmatic’ accent and the snobbery of media pundits.
Ian, you’ve had some stick lately because of your north-east accent. There’s been a lot of attacks on MPs lately for their accent, with Angela Rayner and Laura Pidcock particularly under fire. You mounted a typically pithy defence on social media yesterday – what do you make of the comments about northern MPs’ accents?
I made the point that I’ve been abused because of my accent but it’s never changed and it’s not going to now. I’m so proud of my pitmatic accent. It’s who I am. There’s no doubt there’s misogyny in the attacks on Angela and Laura – with a lot of out and out snobbery as well.
As far as the attacks on me go, it started because I spoke to Conference and then I was on Question Time and some people didn’t like it. If they can’t attack what you say, they’ll try attacking the accent.
You’ve been party Chair for a few months now. How are you finding it?
I’m really enjoying being party chair, there are lots of different parts to it. As far as I’m concerned my main job is to build on the energy of the 2017 conference, which was just incredible. There was huge talent at the conference – people who’d never spoken before, never been to Conference before and yet they were very confident, they were very talented. That gave me lots of hope and we need to be harnessing that huge talent and democratising the party for the many not the few. If we do that, we will undoubtedly have a great chance of taking the keys of Downing Street. You can have the greatest policies and make all the announcements you want but it means nothing until we take power. We’re making great strides forward and I want to push Labour over the finish line so we can put it all into effect.
Speaking of democratising the party, Jeremy Corbyn announced his ‘democracy review’ last week. Will you be involved?
The democracy review will report back to me. Katy Clark is running the review and will report to me and Jeremy, we’ll be involved throughout. It will take a year or so but it’s going to look at all areas of the party and be absolutely vital.
Our membership is 570,000 and just last weekend a thousand people joined the party. People are excited, they’re sick to death of austerity and they want to see change. We must give them access to the party to get involved and contribute.
One of the issues that most frustrates and exercises members is the matter of people who have been suspended or expelled for what many consider to be trumped-up reasons. Will the review look at that as well?
The party needs to deal with the issue of the people who were purged very quickly indeed. I’m getting lots of letters so it’s something I’m very aware of. Some of the people who’ve been purged have been great supporters of the Labour Party and there’ll be some who some who have been justifiably suspended or expelled, so we need to understand who’s who and put it right where appropriate.
Another area where a lot of members think urgent change is needed is local government. What about that?
Local government is key. We’ve got great people out there now, a whole array of new talent with a great vision for the future and we need to review how we assess people to go onto [councillor selection] panels and make sure we accept and reject people as candidates for the right reasons.
The review is healthy and it’s essential. We need to bring the party up to current day – if we don’t empower people we can lose them as quickly as we gained them and I intend to make sure we empower them.
We’ve got to keep hope and aspiration at top of agenda so they’re enthused, they’re energetic, they want to speak to people and they want to work on behalf of the party. This is our biggest opportunity for generations and we can’t afford to miss it.
Only a year ago pundits were saying party was on precipice and look where we are now. We’ve got great opportunities, so we’ve got to grasp them, we’ve got to be relentless and we’ve got to make sure we push forward.
You’re also joint campaign manager. With all these new and energised people, it must have a big impact on Labour’s campaigning?
Last Saturday we had an incredible National Campaign Day. That shows what we can do in contrast with what the Tories have. On that one day we had people all over the country out telling people about Labour policies and spreading that excitement. Shall I give you some stats?
We had 420 CLPs (constituency Labour parties) out campaigning – that’s 363 in England, 37 in Scotland and 28 in Wales.
We had over 1000 people join the party over on Saturday and Sunday.
We handed out over 550,000 leaflets in England and 50,000 each in Scotland and Wales – that’s huge.
Our Twitter content reached 8 million people – and our #LabourDoorstep hashtag was the 3rd-biggest trending item on social media in UK and 49th worldwide.
That’s incredible and beyond what any other party can do, so what I’ve got to do is make sure we don’t stand still – that we build on what we’ve got, campaign every day like the General Election is tomorrow and we keep on doing that until we’re in Downing Street and beyond.
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