Clichéd: Peter Kilfoyle reviews 'Manifesto'
Punctuated with trite language reminiscent of times past, this documentary exploring three years of Labour Party activism in the Liverpool area seems confused in its intent
It is not really apparent what Manifesto intends to convey. One assumes that the answer lies with the fact that Liverpool council had a 63 per cent cut to its budget over the previous 10 years and that Liverpool Walton is the safest Labour seat in the country. However, one does not follow the other, as recent electoral history shows. The last three Walton MPs all topped the list of having the safest Labour seat at one time or another. This was little to do with an often inefficient – and sometimes corrupt – local council.
What was obvious was the effect of Corbynism on the “activists” featured in the film. In a party which prides itself in the lifelong commitment of its members, none of those featured were Walton members 10 years previously. As one executive member commented: “Activists are a minority.” The chanting of slogans and the waving of banners is not the way of the average Liverpool voter – unless it is at the two local football clubs.
The workerist inclination of many of the Walton Corbynites is very evident; and their post-election comments after the 2019 defeat evoked the memory of Tony Benn’s classic misjudgement that the 1983 electoral debacle was because the manifesto was not radical enough. Gerald Kaufman’s wry characterisation of it as “the longest suicide note in history” was much closer to the truth.
Much of the activists’ language took me back to the Labour Party of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It was trite and clichéd. In places, it was alarming:
“No one can be blamed for acting selfishly.”
“Injure or be injured.”
These are not views I recognise in a democratic socialist Labour Party.
There is no easy correlation between activism and electoral success in the way in which there once was
This signposted a failure to recognise that Labour is a party that seeks incremental (although radical) change rather than revolutionary change. It reminded one of the Militant Tendency. Their attempts failed, of course, because their offering was not what the vast majority of Labour members and voters wanted.
Yet, as the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is worth noting where the Walton activists went in search of fresh electoral triumphs. The first was to Blackpool North and Cleveleys, labelled as very like Walton by the Walton CLP secretary (no longer a member!). The Labour vote fell by nine per cent as the Tory share went up by eight per cent. An aberration, perhaps? Well, another target for the Walton activists was Crewe and Nantwich. Their efforts there were equally negative. Labour’s share slid by 9.7 per cent, as the Tory share went up by six per cent. We should not be surprised that even in Walton in 2019, the Labour share fell by one per cent as the Tory vote increased by 1.3 per cent.
There is no easy correlation between activism and electoral success in the way in which there once was. We are in a much more complicated world in terms of communication, speaking more to consumers than citizens. We need the political tools appropriate to our times.
Peter Kilfoyle was Labour MP for Liverpool Walton from 1991 to 2010
Directed: by Daniel Draper
Broadcaster: Selected UK cinemas
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