Around 10 months ago, I decided my faith in Corbyn had waned, and that I’d lay my cards on the table and declare why I had decided to sod it, but from a place of history — where I had come from, why Labour was so important to me, and why my adolescence had made me increasingly aware of why a Labour government was so important.
Although I was not chosen to speak at my CLP nomination meeting, I did have a speech written that ultimately updated that blog, and was remarkably static in its conclusions. I wrote:
“I was 15 when I joined this party. My dad had just lost his job and my mum was working three to keep us afloat. We were in debt after falling into the trap of payday lenders and gambling. We were relying on an anti-poverty charity. We almost lost our home.
I joined the Labour Party to seek a source of hope. Everything that had happened was at least partially a consequence of the Coalition […]
I am standing here today because of that: because of the urgency, the sense of necessity that is not borne from ideology but desperation, of living life precariously, to urge you to vote Owen Smith.
I began Jeremy’s leadership with hope, but then came dread, watching the party under his stewardship abandon people like me[…] The hope of relief of a Labour government [in 2015] has dissipated as I watch polls slide. Today we are on 29%. Jeremy stands 30 points behind May.[…]
I urge you not from ideology, but rather urgency, give families still struggling across Britain hope of a Labour government. Nominate Owen Smith.”
My anxieties that led to my faith waning 10 months ago have not changed. They have been exacerbated. My conclusions hardened. But what I observed at my CLP meeting was a party that either did not care or chose to avoid such expressions of anxiety. Speakers on Owen’s side pleaded to the room to look beyond its four walls, to no avail. In that moment, I realised that my pleas would also be fruitless. It did not matter if I was from a Genuine Working Class Background™️, or that other working class people had no faith in Corbyn. What mattered was that the PLP, above all else, made us think that way.
A lot of MPs from that treacherous PLP have (bravely, I might add) written accounts from the inside about the incompetence and recklessness of the Leader’s Office that had persuaded them to quit. Lillian Greenwood, Heidi Alexander, and Thangam Debbonaire, all largely from the soft left, had determined that their resignations were, in the end, necessary. Their accounts have been met with screams of ‘traitor’, with misogynistic abuse, with accusations of bad faith rather than genuine consideration on their part. But these accounts are important nevertheless. There have been a few waverers who have decided to take their concerns on board. It is to those waverers that I write my own account.
Activists like myself, many of whom have been with Labour far longer than I have, have also come forward and expressed why they have reached their conclusions, too. Some of these accounts are from former Corbyn supporters, who feel let down by the sheer incompetence of Jeremy or the hostile environment created in his name.
I cannot speak as a former Corbyn supporter. But I did start supportive. I stood outside Westminster Central Hall when we all knew who would be announced the victor. We had known for months. I was on Andy’s campaign but I knew it had failed in its own right, and I was let down. Let down because I wanted that Left alternative that could put forward an anti-austerity platform. I chose not to support Corbyn because I knew he would not be a good advocate for it. Nevertheless, when a group of us stood to hear the announcement outside that hall, I did so with an open mind.
I had asked my friend, “What if it is all okay?” Their reply: “What if it isn’t?”
His pessimism would be vindicated.
As crowds came flowing out, some happy, some sad, Tristram Hunt passed a large crowd of people. The people all caught on he was there as he tried to avoid contact with them. They booed and hissed in such a way that I was genuinely taken aback. “Get out of the party!” and “we got the party back” were shouted at him. It’s fair to say my politics are not his, but I couldn’t comprehend a scenario in which any decent person could treat another with such contempt. In that moment I felt a deep sense of dread, one even sharper than I had felt during a Summer of being called a Tory by people that had voted Green just months before.
We immediately followed the crowds back to Parliament Square for a Refugees are Welcome rally. Corbyn’s attendance, I thought, was genuinely admirable. But beforehand, speaker after speaker sought to introduce him as a break from Labour’s neoliberal and filthy past, a past that I had knocked doors for, one that under Ed I recognised had its flaws (the Mugs, for one) but I just didn’t recognise as the New Labour years they were branded as being. Then Billy Bragg came on, and, to his merit, urged the crowds to get in their CLPs and knock on doors. A couple behind me laughed, with one turning to the other to say “ha, as if!”.
I don’t seek to suggest this couple represented everyone that had joined that Summer, but it did seem to foretell Tim Bale’s research.
I went home from that day slightly less open-minded than I had gone into it. And over the next few months, even weeks, it became crystal clear that things would get worse.
Jeremy Corbyn immediately refused to go on a succession of politics programmes, something now explained by his team’s paranoia, which allowed the other side to immediately set the agenda. We all knew this would come, the hostility, but we also knew that as Labour members such an uphill battle was awaiting us no matter the leader. This leader decided such a battle wasn’t for him. I watched as he was tarred and became the first leader to start in negative ratings. The PLP wasn’t needed in that endeavor, for it was all his own.
Then there was that Donkey Coat moment. Headlines as I walked around Tesco about him not singing the national anthem. I began to wonder if he was going to pick the right battles. It also crossed my mind that I would have a hard time selling this on the doorstep. I coincidentally had just become Chair of Durham University Labour Club and many months of canvassing awaited me.
I was then a steward at a surprisingly pleasant conference in 2015. Going into it, I watched Corbyn’s Marr interview where he finally gave a good and clarified pitch. I began rooting for him again. Why wouldn’t I? I just signed up to 72 hours of stewarding. And the four days went surprisingly well. More than that, I had the time of my life. John McDonnell’s speech was surprisingly measured, very Ed Balls (to the point I wondered if the radical re-packaging was all that worth it); and while Jeremy’s speech spoke only to us in that room, he didn’t, like, vomit on stage. It could have all been worse.
Oh, except it was. My bubble was burst as I walked into a ‘Spoons just as I came off my final shift. As soon as I sat down, I looked up to the TV. ‘TRIDENT ROW’ was emblazoned across a Breaking News banner. Oh, I thought, it was all for nothing. The only headline will be about Trident. Again, how could I sell that issue on the doorstep? Did I even want to? (No.). When I finally got back home, the first Labour-related observation my mum made was “I saw about that Trident thing on the news. Jade, I’m not so sure.” I was exhausted and my time there felt fruitless.
During Christmas break, with temperatures plummeting, I chose to take part in the Labour campaign on railways. I mean, if there is one thing that unites the party, it is trains. So I happily woke up at 5am to stand in the cold for three hours. What I wasn’t happy about was seeing the reshuffle that day completely wipe the news story off the map. As with conference, a decent opportunity for Labour to put forward good policies had been wasted. Seeing Corbyn repeat the exact same policies again, I know their fate.
More than that, as I was handing out leaflets, a man approached me. A Labour member, at least I think. He asked, “What Labour are you?”. I asked him to clarify. “What Labour are you? Stella Creasy (my local MP) or Nancy Taaffe (our local, infamous TUSC candidate)?” Slightly worried about the reception to my reply, I said “Stella. Nancy isn’t a member of the Labour Party.” The man grunted and walked away, handing my leaflet back to me. Not only had I had a mightily bad and, again, fruitless morning — I had my first real life insight into who would then continue to lecture me about the party’s values, and they didn’t want me or our local MP in it. Such interactions would get worse from there.
As Oldham approached, Corbyn then made headlines over the Shoot to Kill fiasco. It was a surprise to me, I admit, we won Oldham, but the fiasco cut through to doorsteps nevertheless. As many things would, and none of them good.
The council elections at this time would mirror canvassing generally under Corbyn: abysmal, especially in Labour’s strongest wards. While we did better than we feared (though still the worst result for an Opposition since 1982), the moment that sticks with me was this particular session in a council estate. In just one row, three former Labour voters told me they had voted Labour under Foot, Kinnock, Blair, Brown, and Miliband, but would now be a non-voter under Corbyn. So much for inspiring non-voters, Corbyn was adding to the tally! This pattern repeated itself through the rest of the 2 hour session. There were a few members who had even let their membership slide into arrears, with no intent of renewal. This was a deprived ward, these were our people. I saw myself in these people. I turned to a local activist (I was not a local to these parts) and told them Jeremy was the biggest reason people were not voting for us. She sighed, feeling defeated and unable to speak about it. “I know.”
When I went back home to campaign for Sadiq, it was the only time we had felt confidence in winning. It was perhaps the happiest I had been in months. We were worried there would be cut-through of all the Corbyn lines Zac had deployed, just a taster of what a general election campaign would be like. We were jubilant that it didn’t, though the campaign actively distanced itself from its Leader right from the start. When Corbyn hailed Khan as his success, we all felt anger and upset. We worked against him in all those months. This was not his.
The EU referendum need not be expanded on at great length. I will be told that I am scapegoating Jeremy if I do indeed say we received very little assistance. The campaign was the worst in my life. Labour areas swung heavily to Leave in the North East. There were none of the rallies or mobilization, indeed innovation, that I have seen Jeremy use to save his own skin this Summer. All he offered was the immediate call to trigger Article 50. HM’s Opposition was nowhere to be seen. And this was before the coup.
And this isn’t even mentioning PMQs for those long, long and soul-destroying months. Corbyn had started moribund and slowly got to a point of weekly decimation. The nadir was watching his first with Theresa May. I wonder just how torrid a general election debate will be. If it is anything as I remember that PMQs to be, we will all be reeling for the days of “Hell yes, I’m tough enough”.
In all this time, I had watched a few Shadow Cabinet members shine, and secretly wished they would replace Jeremy at the despatch box. Among them, Owen Smith, who took IDS and then Crabb to task against the backdrop of a leadership that was too incompetent to worry the government, leaving the Lords to do the Opposition’s job — or even outright refusing to condemn IDS when he quit.
People ask, “how is Owen any better?” With incredulity, I beg them to look back and ask how it could possibly get any worse. This vote is about the survival or death of the party, nothing less.
A grueling 10 months. People have not seen left-wing values. How could they through a haze of incompetence? I cannot think of, after all this time, a worse advocate for the Left than Jeremy Corbyn.
I reached these conclusions on my own. I have not been bought (I would welcome money, to be honest), and I have not been brainwashed by a shady elite. I am not driven by contempt, but rather deep sadness for the downfall of a project I initially wanted to succeed.
It takes me back to that CLP meeting. The incomprehension of seeing that crowd give a standing ovation to the result -a victory for Jeremy- and mentally contrasting it to all those doors slammed in my face. The last 5 years were spent travelling the length of Britain for a Labour government, and that night a man stood up to say “The real wilderness years were the last Labour government.” He received applause.
I tick my box for Owen Smith. And if members choose the other box, the rest of the country will tick the one for the Tories in their millions. It won’t be because of this blog post, or because of brainwashing, it will because they came to their own conclusions about Jeremy too.