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Is The Labour Party In UK Heading Towards Doomsday?

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By Ipsita Barik

The history of Labour Party in UK can be traced back to the 1800s. Its foundation is embedded in the backdrop of escalating factory labour in the cities and their subsequent franchise empowerment in 19th c England. Keir Hardie, the founding leader of the party, was a coal mine worker, who climbed up the ranks of Scottish unions and was voted in as one of the earliest Labour MPs in parliament. Subsequent leaders, including Arthur Henderson and George Nicoll Barnes, were rooted in working class careers. The Labour party soon replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Conservative Party in UK. It has since navigated from its original socialist political commitments to adopting the ‘Third Way’ social democratic stance.

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.
Jeremy Corbyn. Image source: Wikimedia commons

 

The party, under the lead of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, ushered in the ‘New Labour’ era. It defined and distinguished itself from the ‘Old Labour’ that was deeply entwined in trade unionism and working labour support. The Labour party has since engaged in the shifts including Post Thatcherite Conservative ‘Big Society’ call, the Blue Labour evocation and the Red Tories of Scotland. The past few years have brought rebellion back in vogue, with massive movements such as ‘Occupy Wall Street‘, ‘Blockupy‘, the Arab Spring, Gezi park protests, 2011 English riots, Chilean Winter, anti-austerity movements such as ‘The Indignants‘ and the political offshoots in Podemos and Syriza. In the above context, the 2015 Labour party leadership elections has assumed enormous significance. Will Corbynmania swing the Labour to the left or will the New Labour withstand the rebels?

What’s getting British Conservatives all excited this season? That a possible Corbyn victory in the upcoming Labour leadership elections in Britain might just spell doomsday for the Labour party. Wishes are indeed wild horses! Jeremy Corbyn is to the left of the Labour party spectrum. He is a Bennite and one of his significant political schools were the ‘Sunday evening salons‘ chaired by Tony Benn. Corbyn calls himself a democratic socialist. The big question doing circles of the Big Ben these days, is whether Corbyn’s radical left politics within the Labour party will lead to a windfall for the conservatives and the pits for the Labour. Many have pointed out that David Miliband’s left swing in 2015 general elections was the key causal behind the party’s loss in the elections and that Corbyn’s ultra-left politics will only push the party to the brink.

It’s interesting that even a party that traces its origins to trade union activism, is hesitant to adopt the socialist tagline! The faction on the other side of the fence argues that the significant gains made by the SNP (Scottish National Party), was due to its bold support for anti-austerity economics, which the Labour party never wholeheartedly vouched for. In that case the broadsheets howling bloody murder with headlines claiming a looming Labour crisis, lest Corbyn is voted the 25th Leader, is far beyond a “bit of a stretch mate!

Andy Burnham, one of the contesting candidates alongside Corbyn, accounts that the political clamour surrounding Corbyn actually boils down to August being the ‘silly season‘ in British media. On the other hand the surging union and member support for Corbyn, doesn’t indicate similar goofiness or puerility on part of the ballot!

Edward Vallance, in his article analyses Corbyn’s interest in the 17th century radical John Lilburne and says that the Corbyn political past of confronting party whips fits him perfectly into the adage – “if the world was emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John and John with Lilburne!” I quite like this Lilburne guy already! They say the age of radicalism and socialism is long dead and yet in the spate of social movements that have washed the streets of both the 1st World and the rest of the ‘worlds’, including the Occupy movement, Blockupy, the Arab Spring, Gezi park protests, 2011 English riots, The Indignants, Chilean Winter; the two stated ideas have been evoked, debated, dissected, thrashed, revoked and all over again! Are the 60s back already or what? Who cares whether the movements/protests have been successful or not, the fact that politics is back on to the streets, is an achievement worth celebrating with a ’round of shots’. It’s just like toasting the fact that Corbyn’s candidacy for Labour Party leadership elections got the mandatory 35 nominations by a whisker!

That Blair and Gordon have warned of stringent consequences [render Labour unelectable] in case Corbyn is elected, hasn’t led to the demise of the Corbynmania. MP Emily Thornberry voices that – “to be the Leader of the Labour Party, you need to have the ability to negotiate, to compromise” – which Corbyn with his Whip-defying history might not bring to the table. But what Corbyn does bring, as Esther Addley points out, is a wider definition of politics. While hammering out the North England political policy in the paper ‘Northern Future‘, Corbyn and his team, invited ideas and opinion from all registered Labour supporters in the North via email, which ultimately found their way into the paper and not the garbage can. So with Corbyn it is just not supporting participatory politics, it’s practicing it too.

The political season in Britain is anything but dopey. The political debates have landed at the dinner tables and it doesn’t get more gripping than this. That Corbyn evoked the 1983 manifesto [gulp!] has supposedly left the conservatives rubbing their hands gleefully, awaiting the Labour foundering, cause the last time the same was bellowed over the hills, the conservatives swept in with Margaret Thatcher! That the second preferences are counted under the Alternative vote system has left many political pundits hollering for supporters to cast their seconds in favour of anyone but Corbyn! Whatever the ultimate outcome might be, facts such as 160,000 new voters joined in on the final day of registration, that some shadow Labour cabinet ministers were eager to halt the impending leadership election, the Clause IV furore and the rally around cornering the second preferences makes it a riveting battleground.

Politics demands spurts of street fights and the ‘dog bites’, otherwise it ain’t politics no more. The Alternative vote system has left many political pundits hollering for supporters to commitment, which could get the Labour party to think about what it actually stands for. Isn’t that the core call here? Corbyn takes a clear stance, without dodging issues, whether austerity, anti-war, social housing, public schooling or Palestine. When he states – “Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity,” he bites the bullet. With changing times, ideological weights within political parties swing to either the left or right, or simply hovers the middle ground. This is an indispensable process that inescapably happens. No point in evading and trashing natural political churning. Rather let’s wait with abated breath, to see in which direction the Labour bloc swings this once! It has swayed towards Corbyn already. But will it swing too?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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