The Labour Party and me. We’ve got history.
I’ve been a member of it three times. First was in 1979 just after Thatcher clinched power, but my membership lapsed when I moved from London two years later. Although I lived in The Netherlands, I returned for a week to do canvassing in 1983 when Michael Foot was our leader. Like Corbyn he was on the left; unlike Corbyn he was a brilliant socialist intellectual. That election was a massively dispiriting experience, but important for understanding the UK’s reluctance to embrace socialism. Returning to the UK a year later I joined the party in Coventry. I stuck it for a year, witnessing the Trotskyist attempt to rip the guts out of the peoples’ party (strange feeling of deja vu right now). I switched to the Communist Party — mainly because in the 80s they were the focus for vibrant ideas and debate, because of their internationalism, because of Marxism Today and because of Jimmy Reid. I was there when the Tankies were expelled and we Gramsci-toting politicos were the coolest on the left. Then the CP imploded. I joined the Greens for a bit — then gave up politics all together.
So by 1990 I’d joined the Communists, the Labour Party and the Greens. In the 70s I’d been an anarchist, but parties aren’t really their thing. So I’d joined every kind of left-leaning party I could up to that point, except Trotskyist ones — mainly because I’m not a deranged manipulative sociopathic cockwomble.
I rejoined Labour in 2010 when voter participation hit an all time low and I held to the naive view that if you believe in democracy (which I do) then you have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for it. Labour was my party of choice because just about every positive progressive and inclusive step forward our society in Britain has taken over the last century has been delivered by Labour governments — and because over the years I’ve known some wonderful, caring individuals who have focused their idealism and activism through the Party. I don’t share their ‘tribal’ commitment to Labour — but I more than appreciate how as councillors, MPs, shop stewards and people who stuff envelopes, knock on doors and look after the communities they’re part of, they strive to make positive change happen.
Now I’ve left Labour again. I think for the last time.
What is happening in the Labour Party appals me. There is a failure — on both sides — to respect the reality that Labour is and always has to be (in our deranged electoral system) a coalition. There is a vital place for both the ‘hard’ left and for the so-called Blairites. Once you deny that, then the idea of Labour is finished. And I rather think it now is. There is a blind intolerance, which we now see in political parties in countries the world over, that is paralysing real activism.
I believe in internationalism, in solidarity, in recognising the urgency of realpolitik, in building progressive alliances, in giving people power. But I don’t believe in Corbyn. It comes down to that really. I voted for him last year, because I thought he would ‘disrupt’ the system. He didn’t — he simply took us back to 1983. He will win this election, and at that point the party that has delivered everything that I believe in, and everything that has won working (and non-working) people their rights and dignities will melt into air.
Then we have to build something new — something not rooted in and restricted to the class and national politics of the 20th century. I believe we can do that, basically because we have to. And please don’t say “join the SNP” — much as I respect many activists in that party.
We’ve all got history with Labour. The trick is to turn whatever that history is into something positive that aspires to make the world a slightly better place.