Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Day At The M4C National Assembly

Look at that photo. Just a group of people with common purpose.

Keir attended an event that took him way back yesterday.

Virally promoted on Twitter and driven by personal relationships, not press releases, David Miliband's Movement for Change National Assembly was probably a very new experience for many of the 1,000 people who had gathered. Keir's recent experience of political meetings and gatherings has been far from inspiring. Dull branch meetings in smokey rooms aren't what people join for, yet that's often what we get.

But the National Assembly was so far removed from those meetings. It showed that the people have the ability to turn those meetings on their head and turn politics on its head. The Assembly was by the people in it and for the people in it. It was in their experience; there were unscripted outbreaks of Zimbabwean song and dance, leaders of the allegedly conservative Pakistani community on their feet shouting and hollering, beach balls, flags and technical glitches that caused the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland to do a small dance followed by a few lines from a popular song. It was fun and it had some small mistakes; that is in people's experience. Passing resolutions and minutes is not. It was also in their experience in other, more serious ways. Testimonies from our Labour people who are going to be affected by the Conservative cuts made the Assembly what it was: moving, powerful, important and a stimulus for continuous action.

"The coalition's cuts could kill me" began one of our people. It was no exaggeration. The gentleman's story could not fail to resonate with any person in the room. And then the story of the young carer: her life, changed at the age of 9 when she had to begin caring for her mother and siblings, reminded the people why they were there and why they are Labour. The Tory cuts to the organisation that helped her through her life and into University will mean people like her will not be given the chance to succeed; all of them, our people.

Finally, the white, working class man with a white, working class family. Some suggest we lost our way and stopped helping this family. That argument is hard to believe after hearing the story of how the NHS helped him provide for his young disabled son. Shoes to help his son walk, shoes that would have cost £100, free on the NHS. "I don't want the world", he continued, explaining that all he wants is the continued chance for his family to live a dignified life.

And at no point in the personal testimony was there the tone of the victim. Dignity and determination flowed from the testimony-givers, who were not professional speakers, as they told their story to the thousand gathered.

So when David Miliband got up to speak the atmosphere, above all other things, was one of solidarity. Keir's fond of a good speech: Obama in the rain, Gordon against the world on May 3rd , JFK's "we all breathe the same air", Dr. King telling the people not to let dogs or water hoses turn them around and Malcolm X scaring the life out of the Establishment all rank among the favourites. Let's be frank: as good as David Miliband is, this was not going to be an MLK speech. But Mr. Miliband did not lecture, he did not preach and he did not patronise. He spoke to each person in the crowd. Of course he was the main event and of course he seemingly has hero status with many people, but he was part of the Assembly like anyone else. He spoke with them, was angry about the same things they were angry about and determined in the same way they were.

The speech was superb. Sadly, Peter Mandelson, as much as Keir respects him, has hijacked the headlines. It is all getting a bit tiring now. So the people's Assembly was not as high on the news agenda. But ask the 1,000 people there what the biggest event that day was and you'd get a different perspective. Ultimately, that is all that matters: the people.

Kudos to Stella Creasy and Willie Bain too. A nice presentation about the birth of our party with lots of pictures of Keir. Stella is clearly going to be a crucial member of the parliamentary party for many years. She spoke on stage about real things in the community that matter to people's everyday lives and also managed to recruit, on stage, a 15-year-old Walthamstow pupil to the party. Adding to the Walthamstow connection was a stunning song and performance from a 14-year-old girl who had seen the effects of violent crime in her community. You can follow her on twitter @mizzcamara. I'd recommend you do; she will be a big deal.

And Jim Murphy...what a guy. Keir can confidently say that he has never seen a Shadow Cabinet member do a little jig and sing in front of 1,000 people.

What's important now is that Labour members make the right choice. David Miliband is the only man who will win us an election. Elect any other candidate and we face a decade in Opposition whilst the Conservatives destroy the lives of the pensioners, the young carers and the working class families: our people.


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