When I joined the Labour Party in 2012, it was the result of a perfect storm. I was 21 at the time and my mother was collating our family tree when she told me about the rich history my family had in the Labour movement. My grandfather on my father’s side had been a devout Labour member and had helped councillors get elected in Salford during the 1950s. Further back, one of my ancestors was one of the founding members of the TUC. Upon learning this about my family, the lure of continuing the long Wood family tradition of taking part in the working class movement was too strong to ignore.
Previously I had been a member of the Liberal Democrats, however I left the party when coalition with a Conservative Party hell-bent on austerity and an abandonment of principles over tuition fees left me despondent. Shortly after I discovered the work of Tony Benn, the man who would become and remain my political hero.
Since then, the Labour Party has moved further to the left to a place that I would consider its traditional home. While remaining socially progressive, economic policies focused on giving ordinary working people more control over their lives took centre stage. In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election and the subsequent 2017 snap general election, Labour looked set to finally take away the powers that have laid in the hands of a tiny elite that have dominated both this country and the world for far too long.
This however has not materialised. Instead, the party has become inward-looking and obsessed with internal battles that have poisoned its very soul. A personality cult obsessed with the leadership has created a hostile environment where threats and abuse are hurled around with little regard for the damage they could cause. As a result, the socialist drive that was supposed to fuel a revitalised and positive Labour Party is now bleeding to death.
I have been agonising over this decision for several weeks, but the party’s approach to Brexit and the failure to deal with anti-semitism has left me with no choice but to leave the party.
I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in both his initial election as leader and then during the subsequent challenge. I saw Jeremy as the radical future of the Labour Party who could help bring in a new era of progressive socialism. As a result, I became trapped in an echo chamber that believed that he could do no wrong and that anyone who spoke against him was a centrist, Blairite enemy. It was only when I witnessed attempts to unseat hard-working councillors in my constituency of Manchester Central that I saw the movement for what it truly was. It was a populist personality cult that was more interested in fighting internal squabbles than it was on uniting the broad church that is the Labour movement in a campaign for government.
I knew that Jeremy Corbyn had been a big advocate for leaving the European Union for most of his political career and at the time this didn’t concern me. I figured that everyone is capable of change and therefore his move to a remain and reform approach was perfectly fine. However, it soon became clear after the annual conference that the leadership’s euroscepticism still remained.
At annual conference, the membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of a second referendum on our membership of the European Union. Since then, the leadership has treated this decision by the members with contempt, which was surprising given that Jeremy was supposed to be the leader who brought grassroots democracy back to the party. This contempt reached its peak when Jeremy gave an interview saying that Brexit was “inevitable.” As soon as this happened, my social media feeds were flooded with Labour members, who had previously said they supported a second vote, now saying that Brexit “was the will of the people” and that any MP who wanted a second vote was an “undemocratic Blairite.” It still amazes me the political dexterity these people had just because the dearly anointed leader had given an interview.
While the Labour leadership has now decided to listen to the will of the membership and back a second referendum, it’s hard not to feel like it is too little too late. Jeremy Corbyn’s attitude to the policy has been nothing short of contemptuous and that has continued with his strained announcement that support for a second vote is oncoming.
Incidentally, my social media feed now once again occupied by members who have suddenly remembered they did want a second vote all along. It would be funny if it wasn’t horrifying.
Brexit is nothing short of an attack on the working class and minorities. It is the poor, low earners, and migrants who will suffer most as a result of leaving the European Union under the current terms and the fact that we have been nothing short of complicit in this process for so long is a betrayal of party ideals.
Out of fear of attacks from the likes of the Daily Mail and a loss of votes in Northern leave seats — an assumption which is hypothetical at best — we have allowed a xenophobic and anti-immigrant message to flood our political discourse without any challenges.
All of this mess leads me to one conclusion: the Labour Party is in a panic-stricken quagmire and is paralysed both by a fear of losing votes and by a hardline populist group that fails to hold the leader to account. As a result, there are people in this country who don’t know what the Labour Party is about at all.
It’s quite frankly insane that now, in 2019, a Labour Party that is built on the idea of tolerance is still not able to deal with this issue. How can we be taken seriously as an electoral force or as a voice for tolerance when we can’t even deal with the intolerance in our own party ranks?
Regardless of how grassroots members feel about the MPs that have left the party to form The Independent Group, it’s misguided to deny that many members and MPs, Luciana Berger in particular, have been subjected to anti-semitic abuse from other Labour members and was forced out. These are facts and no amount of mudslinging or using the phases Blairite, Red Tory, or even Zionist will change that.
It’s hard not to feel like the difficulty we have had with the anti-semitism row is down to an inconvenient truth — that there are fragments of the Labour Party both at the top and in the grassroots that genuinely believe that their comments are truthful. There is every possibility that Jeremy Corbyn, Chris Williamson and others, believe in the Jewish conspiracy and think it is perfectly acceptable to stand up in meetings and share that view. It’s difficult to think of any other reason why terms like Zionist are hurled around without a second thought, or even why after Luciana Berger left the party, I saw tweets from Labour members describing her as an “agent of Israel.”
Right not the left is suffering, mainly as a result of its time in the wilderness. After years of being pushed into the background by Tony Blair and the move towards the centre ground, assumptions and conspiracy about the Jewish community have gone unchallenged. In context, this is hardly surprising when you consider that most of the views about Zionism and “British irony” have been kept in small, reclusive socialist meetings without any scrutiny for decades. It’s only now they have been brought to the forefront of British politics that these views are being exposed as false and immoral. Despite this, little to nothing has been done either by the leadership or the grassroots of the Labour Party to try and change this. The unnecessary battle with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance over the definition of anti-semitism is certainly proof of that.
As progressive socialists, we need to reinvent ourselves. We need to spend more time thinking about what we’re for rather than fixating on what we’re against. And we need to become the strong, positive voice that stands up against all forms of discrimination, whether that be because of race, religion, or class. It’s been one of the most painful realisations of my life that the Labour Party may be unable to take the lead on this.
Leaving the Labour Party is probably the most difficult political decision I have made in my life. It may be that any hopes I had of maybe forging a career in politics have been ruined. But as a wonderful man used to say, “dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone.” I believe the current course of the party, coupled with its inaction on anti-semitism, has damaged the Labour movement to its very core. If leaving the party and telling people why in any way highlights the issues the party has then I’m happy to stand alone while doing it.