Sitting with my cappuccino in one of Durham’s most fashionable and modern coffee shops, a mere stone’s throw away from the glistening cathedral, it is easy to feel isolated from the rest of the world. Yet as soon as my interview with Jade Azim, joint Chair of the Labour Club, begins in earnest, she is quick to remind me that her politics, and the society’s politics, transcend far beyond the narrow confines of the aptly branded ‘Durham Bubble’.
Striking me immediately is the eclectic mix of hope and despair emanating from Jade’s views on the future of the Labour Party. As a seasoned activist, her disappointment at the result last May is tangible. Yet like the thousands of new Corbyn-inspired members, there is an equally clear sense of hope; not necessarily for the development of a long-term ‘social movement’, as the Labour leader has expressed himself, but also a genuine belief that the party can regain power in 2020.
This is reflected when I draw the conversation back to Durham, and the goals of the Labour Club over the next couple of years. The focus, asserts Jade, must be on local campaigning with a national vision. Pertinent issues affecting both the student body and the wider Durham community, namely electoral registration and the proposed cuts to tax credits, will be the central campaigning points for the society going forward, achieved through close collaboration with the local constituency party and external organisations such as Citizens UK. The 2015 General Election was damning, but the vision for the future appears very clear.
Inevitably, the conversation then turns towards Jeremy Corbyn. Though acknowledging her numerous ideological overlaps with the new Labour leader, Jade is quick to recognise his considerable impact upon the wider party membership, and the membership of Durham Labour in particular. As a result of the reinvigorated enthusiasm brought by hordes of new members, Jade and her co-Chair James Andrew have been “very grateful” for the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing formation of a mass movement within the party; encompassing an ever-widening broad church, from Blairites of ages past, to Corbynites of the future. The message from Jade is clear: everyone is welcome at Durham Labour; be it participation at their fortnightly ‘Campaign Wednesdays’, to sharing a pint on the famous cross-party bar crawls.
As I move the conversation towards the Tories, I get the imminent sense that Jade has had a million conversations like this before. Dismissing Cameron as the “empty face of Osbornomics”, the dialogue moves swiftly towards the man who is perhaps most likely to lead the charge against Labour in 2020: our iron chancellor. “I fear him more than the Dark Lord himself” proclaims Jade; a reference, of course, to New Labour’s philosopher-king Peter Mandelson. Despite explaining to me the innate depths of Osborne’s Thatcherite-inspired dogmatism (“he is finishing the job she started”), I press Jade for even a glimpse of anything she admires about the Chancellor. A few empty seconds follow. It is his ability to portray himself, and “an ideological agenda, as pragmatic and necessary”, replies Jade after racking her brain. I wonder if she would concede similar sentiments about the sometimes much-maligned Mandelson.
Nevertheless, Jade is very clear about the pragmatism of Durham Labour for the next election, acknowledging that “we must win in 2020”. For people in poverty, for people on low pay, for our generation, winning matters. It is won, believes the Labour Club, through local canvassing and doorstep-to-doorstep action.
Indeed, this theme of mass participatory democracy resurfaces throughout our interview. Clearly Corbyn’s impressive performances in the Commons hitherto, and his emphasis on a “new kind of politics”, has transcended far beyond the Westminster bubble. Jade’s final message is a proverbial call to arms: if you are mourning from the last election, put that anger in practice and turn it into something positive. Join the Durham University Labour Club, concludes Jade, and we can begin to make a real “difference in opposition”.
Photograph: DU Labour Club, Facebook