The Fire Brigades Union has voted to affiliate to Labour today – having cut ties with the party over a decade ago in 2004. And it was for good reason, too.
When Jeremy Corbyn announced he would run for the Labour leadership, it was not a controversial idea that we should back him. Corbyn has a very long record of supporting firefighters, going back to 1977. Indeed, just last year we marked his long contribution by presenting him with one of our long service badges. We backed him initially despite the fact that we were not affiliated, and at the time we weren’t at all sure he would win the leadership elections.
But the campaign over the summer was remarkable. It took everyone by surprise, including the ranks of bemused media commentators who struggled to understand how such supposedly outdated ideas as those raised by Corbyn could get such an echo.
What they missed was that Corbyn tapped into the widespread hostility to the bland and insipid soup that forms much of Westminster politics.
The Corbyn campaign cut through this. It appealed to tens of thousands precisely because it did not reflect the mainstream consensus. It spoke of an alternative to austerity. It spoke about civil rights and opposition to war. It appealed to many ‘traditional Labour voters’ who may have drifted away, but also to young people looking for an alternative to long-term student debt and the prospect of being ripped off for yeas by private landlords.
As firefighters, we now have the chance to take part in shifting political debate in favour of ordinary people, in favour of public services and in favour of trade unions. That is a unique opportunity. We debated whether we should take part in it – and, happily, we decided that we should.
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