When I was elected to the post of General Secretary in 2011, one of my top priorities was to finish the process of paying off the £24.5m debt the Labour Party had built up after the 2005 general election, work my predecessor Ray Collins had already made real progress on. It was essential we became an organisation that could live within our means.
Over the last few years we have had to take some tough decisions and make some difficult choices, but we have now paid off the last of our loans and achieved our goal. This is a huge accomplishment for the organisation and means that the Labour Party can now move forward, away from the cloud of debt that has been hanging over us for so many years.
It also means we are now in a stronger position to make some long term financial decisions. So this week we signed the lease on a new HQ on Victoria Street, just around the corner from our present location. This will bring certainty and stability to party staff and ensure the party’s HQ remains in Westminster, so we can continue to work closely with our Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, our Deputy Leader Tom Watson and our colleagues in Parliament.
As I said at last September’s special leadership conference, the Labour Party does not belong to any of us. We merely hold it in temporary trust. We inherited a party from the men and women who built it up over many years and who fought to make the Labour Party a party of government, able to change our country for the better by embodying the best of British values – fairness, justice, decency. We have a responsibility to them, to our members, and most importantly to the millions of people who want and need a Labour government, to uphold the traditions and values of our party and ensure our organisation is in the best shape it can be, forward-looking and focussed on winning back the British people’s trust.
I know Jeremy and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet will work tirelessly and will never give up on our aspiration to form the next Labour government. That starts in May with elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, councils in England and City Hall in London.
We will be supported and sustained in that fight by our members. We are Britain’s biggest party by miles – double the size of the Tories and bigger than the other parties combined- and Jeremy’s huge achievement as leader has been to inspire hundreds of thousands to join us. I celebrate that and welcome our new members. Together with the existing thousands of long standing members, whose loyalty and hard work has sustained us through thick and thin, we are building a powerful movement. All our efforts must be devoted to kicking out the Tories and electing a Labour government in 2020.
Of course there remain huge challenges ahead if we are to achieve our goal. We worked so hard to win in 2015, but in scores of marginal seats once held by Labour MPs, people preferred the Conservatives to us. As a result we have a majority Tory government – breaking its promises and hitting hardest those who can least afford it.
We know too that the Tories are set to introduce unfair boundary changes, pernicious trade union laws and a proposed 19 per cent cut to the Short money opposition parties receive to hold the government to account, which will impact negatively on Labour Party finances.
Making sure the Labour Party remains on a firm financial footing is going to be one of the many challenges we will face. But we have shown before that if we have the courage of our convictions and a clear set of priorities we can build a strong and united movement.
Tom Watson has already set out reforms that will ensure the Labour Party is in touch and in tune with modern Britain, continuing to look to the future and able to fight and win elections using the best campaigning methods. So some of my priorities, working with Jeremy and Tom, will include the continuing expansion of community organising; introducing bursaries to ensure candidates are reflective of the country – more women, more black and minority ethnic candidates and more people from working class backgrounds; and facilitating and harnessing the talents of our members to be true community champions.
These are all challenges that if we deliver on will strengthen our movement. I promise I won’t shy away from them as General Secretary in the years to come.
Iain McNicol is general secretary of the Labour Party