Why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn
I remember campaigning for Labour in 1983. It was horrible.
I joined Labour in 1979 after Thatcher came to power, and despite living out of the country in 1983, came back for a short time to go on the stump. My parents’ neighbour was a stalwart in the Welwyn Hatfield Labour Party — then a key marginal constituency — and I volunteered myself for a week.
I had doors slammed in my face and dogs set on me. But it wasn’t always like that. Some days things were really bad. Like house sitting for the elderly lady who would only go and vote if somebody looked after her home. In her kitchen were two cans of food and a small bottle of slightly gone off milk. Or the countless occasions when I’d have the waggy finger in the face telling me what was wrong with Labour. And it was nothing to do with the so-called “longest suicide note in history” as Gerald Kaufman was later to describe the Labour manifesto. Nothing at all. And it was nothing to do with left wing entryists either.
In 1983 Labour was defeated by the a coalition of right wing former Labour Party members (David Owen, Shirley Williams, and others) who had spun off the SDP to fight Labour, working fairly effectively with a Tory Government which had just gone to war. Labour was defeated by the SDP and the Falklands War. Never once on the doorstep did anybody mention the Alternative Economic Strategy — a programme developed in partnership with some of the best economic minds in the country — or unilateral nuclear disarmament. They mentioned Maggie, the Belgrano, David Owen, Michael Foot’s duffle coat. We were shafted, not because we were too left wing. We were shafted because Maggie blew Argentinian sailors out of the sea. Gotcha!
Disagree? Well I was there. On the doorsteps. So there. And it was horrible.
In preparation for the next election, Thatcher shifted strategy from a war against an enemy in another continent, to the enemy within. Labour’s leaders at the time never committed themselves in real terms to supporting the coal mining communities. And that is where it started to unravel. Because what is Labour for, if not to support working people in Britain?
I left the Labour Party and joined the Communist Party, which at least seemed to be having a far more interesting debate about Thatcherism, and Eric Hobsbawm’s thesis of “the forward march of Labour halted” and, unlike Labour, was connecting with broader social movements and the European left. Then after a few years I quit politics totally to get into design — which to be honest is where I think the most progressive kinds of changes can be made. I still do.
Then Blair won. Then he went to war.
A friend of my Dad was a pilot in Bomber Command. The day of the massive UK-wide demonstration against the war, he rang my father to say if he was a bit more nimble he’d be on the streets, taking a stand against the utter ignorance the government was displaying about war. The war defined Blair. It defined Labour.
The Blairites position is “well at least he could win power”. Yes, of course he could. If you go to war you do (as Thatcher demonstrated), especially if you’re up against the three most ineffectual Tory leaders who ever took their party into an election. Not difficult really. And through those elections I, along with many, many others voted Labour with a very heavy heart. In fact, if I’m honest I may well have voted Green on one occasion.
I rejoined Labour in 2010 in a gesture of desperation really. The country had not only rejected the Party as a credible government, but was close to rejecting democracy altogether, so low was the turnout. I felt that if you believed in democracy, then you had to reach in your pocket and fund somebody to represent you. And for me Labour is the only show in town.
This year, Labour was wiped out in the country that I now live in, replaced by a party that — much like the Tories — has an expertise in manipulating nationalist narrow-minded sentiment. But Labour was wiped out because it had long ceased to listen to the people.
However, becoming a party that did not listen was the least of its problems. When most of its MPs failed to oppose the most significant assault on welfare benefits, Labour entered an existential crisis.
Why does it exist? The right of the party — represented by three of the candidates — presents it as an alternative form of national technocratic management. Jeremy Corbyn presents it as something that is at least a bit about hope and aspiration.
Our children deserve a better future. Don’t they? Are we satisfied with this world? Is this the best we can offer to future generations? Labour was founded on ideals that were about hope and creating a better future for our children. And those ideals are not “old fashioned” — they are eternal. That is why we campaign and vote for Labour.
If you’d said to me just a couple of months ago that I’d be campaigning for Corbyn, then my response would have been unrepeatable. But this candidate has been honest, authentic, a bit stumbling at times, but fairly clear. He’s been a real person.
Will he make a credible Prime Minister? I’ve no idea quite honestly, but for me and for Labour that’s not really the priority. The priority is for the party to ask itself why it exists. If it exists to gain power and be good managers, then fine — count me out. If it exists to make a better future, then I’m still in. And for me Jeremy Corbyn is the only person saying this. And Stella.