Review: Michael Chessum’s ‘This Is Only The Beginning’

I joined the Labour Party in Autumn 1979, within 6 months of the economic and social carnage beginning under Thatcher. Tony Benn in the late 70’s and 80’s inspired a generation of us to aim higher.  In those heady times I supported disputes and campaigns including my election to Middlesbrough Council during the miners strike – as we fought rate-capping; declared nuclear free zones; our solidarity with Mandela, Cuba & Nicaragua. We also decentralised housing management, established community councils, and promoted co-operatives, welfare rights, fairtrade, equality & diversity.

Michael Chessum’s ‘This Is Only The Beginning’ reminds of me my own experiences in the movement, but his experience began in 2010 with his politicisation through organising student protests over tuition fees.  As well as his personal journey, the book evaluates Labour from both outside and inside and, to a degree, charts the wider developments in politics over the decade from 2010.

The backdrop is Tory austerity imposed on communities; the Tory success in mobilisation of envy and prejudice; Labour appearing staid and unimaginative nationally. Running alongside this, the dynamic shift from hierarchies to networks and the evolving power of social media and digital campaigning. This created the groundswell for Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent, particularly amongst young people.

Michael cites too much trade union campaign reliance over the period on ‘A to B marches’ and ‘one day strikes’. He also drew comparisons between the New Labour era and the current Starmer leadership’s caution along with, playing out as we speak, much heavier-handed party management.  This he also attributes to the latter stages of the Jeremy Corbyn era, particularly around Brexit – although he is also clear that the attempts to sabotage Corbyn’s leadership from within were ongoing and unprecedented.

His  ultimate conclusion when looking at how politics should best be done going forward is that the Labour Party needs to split, and for more groups and campaigns to develop outside it. Given Michael’s experiences that he documents in his book, his thinking behind that is understandable.

When it comes to how politics should be done, my own thoughts and efforts over the last year have been on the need to focus on changing our electoral system to a form of Proportional Representation.  The campaigning around it, bar the Labour leader’s support, is building across the party and society, and it has to be the way we do politics in the future.

‘This Is Only The Beginning’ is an essential read, especially for those who are clearly passionate about Labour politics and the direction it is going in like Michael Chessum is. Anyone who has taken a leading role in a group or campaign will feel, not only the stresses and pressures of when things aren’t going well, but the life affirming emotions of when they do.


Barry Coppinger is long-standing member of the Labour Party in Middlesbrough; former councillor; and former Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland.

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