Is the Labour Party in Tunbridge Wells about toÂ achieve a political breakthrough? That’s the questionÂ being asked by those who organised a meeting in theÂ town last week of young Labour activists.
It is the first time there has been any hope for aÂ sustained youth movement in Tunbridge Wells forÂ ‘decades’ and that hope has been boosted since the General Election with almost 100 new members, agedÂ 14 to 26, joining the handful that has kept the Red Flag.
In order to galvanise this new tranche ofÂ youngsters, a special guest was invited to theÂ Camden Centre, where the meeting was being held,Â to give a presentation.
And although this humble reporter was barred fromÂ the meeting itself, on the grounds that it was ‘private’Â and I might put the young members off speakingÂ their minds, I was allowed to interview the guestÂ speaker beforehand.
Bex Bailey (24) may not be a household name, yet,Â but she has played a significant role in the LabourÂ Party. Until recently she had spent the Last threeÂ years as representative of Young Labour on theÂ party’s National Executive Committee.
Much of the internal politics of the labour party, withÂ its byzantine organisations and, as of late, increasinglyÂ bitter machinations, passes by the average voter.
But to the political spectator the arrival of MsÂ Bailey was a bit of coup by the local party, who areÂ aiming to increase their tally of two councillors at theÂ upcoming local elections on May 3.
And so, with a very narrow window of opportunityÂ before being invited to leave, the interview beganÂ with some enthusiasm on the part of this writer.
When asked whether Labour really stood a chanceÂ in the borough, the well versed lines of ‘Tories’Â hitting vulnerable people hard, young people ‘fighting back’ and the fact there is no such thing asÂ ‘no go areas’ for Labour were all deployed.
It was something I was expecting, but I knew fromÂ her own background in the party, as a campaignerÂ for her current boss MP Liz Kendall in the leadershipÂ elections, that perhaps it was not the whole truth.
So, what were her thoughts on leader Jeremy Corbyn?Â I could see her thinking of a diplomatic answer: “He isÂ part of the reason why young people are signing up.”
It was far from a ringing endorsement, especiallyÂ when pushed further on whether Labour should,Â at this stage of the electoral cycle and with the Conservatives tearing themselves apart, really beÂ miles ahead in the polls.
“I think these local elections will show us how wellÂ we are doing. We should be winning seats,” she said.
But if some predictions of the Labour Party actuallyÂ losing up to 150 seats come to pass, is it time for MrÂ Corbyn to be ousted?
“It’s early days and we are developing policy, but youÂ do need to win elections to put ideas into practice,”Â came the coy reply, which to this journalist at leastÂ said nothing was out of the question.
Leadership aside, the former LSE graduate in HistoryÂ and Politics was incredibly candid on several issues afflicting the party.
When asked if the party has a big problem withÂ anti-Semitism at the moment, without hesitation sheÂ said: “I think there is a problem with anti-SemitismÂ in the party at the moment and it is unacceptable.”
Her solution, aside from better vetting, is to setÂ up an independent complaints ombudsman in theÂ party with powers to deal with serious issues.
Likewise, on non-political matters which seemÂ to preoccupy ‘the left’ in general at the moment,Â she is more nuanced in her outlook than some young activists.
We were about eight minutes into the conversationÂ when we were interrupted as I was getting herÂ opinion on the current craze for ‘safe spaces’ atÂ universities. She supports the idea in principle butÂ believes it can be open to abuse if used to stifle freeÂ speech. “There is a line,” she said.
By this time, the meeting was already five minutesÂ late beginning, and as I walked out of the conferenceÂ room I passed very few members waiting to come in.
However, the brief chat was informative and I leftÂ thinking that perhaps I had met a future LabourÂ MP… or even a potential party leader?