8th January, 2016
One last Labour headache
Or, why I have suspended my Labour Party membership
The other day I wrote that I was planning to suspend my Labour membership for a time. It was a personal decision, and based mainly on the things I don’t have: elected office in the Labour Party, campaign responsibilities, a home in a town where my choices on CLP officers or council candidates mattered.
If I had any one of those things, or felt that my Labour values were connected with or contingent on my membership, I would have acted differently.
Setting all of that aside, what did my membership secure me?
I had a vote for the NEC elections, but given that the NEC has been effectively packed, I discounted it. I had the possibility of a vote for a new leader. Now that’s an eroded currency in Labour. Under the new leadership rules I can simply wait till the time comes and rejoin.
The question is not that, but at the end what my membership cost me.
I lived with the daily discomfort of funding and morally sustaining Labour’s reshaping. At length, even my direct debits started to feel like a new way of letting Labour down, so I left.
After I made my decision, some good questions were asked of me. Two of them stood out as deserving a thoughtful response.
The first was why I left. What change prompted my leaving? What could I point to with which I so disagreed?
The baseline assumption about my leaving was that it must be a matter of policy — a distaste for the embroidery on one of the altar cloths in this broad church.
For the unkind, the child of that first assumption was that I am on the Labour right, and support austerity. Sucks to that, I am not. I am a Keynesian, and have consistently argued for an investment economy. I am also, incidentally, the chair of the largest food bank in my region.
I hold no brief for austerity. I do hold a brief for effective opposition. A shame, that.
For kinder souls, a kinder confusion. But Corbyn has suspended policy work, they said. Labour’s policy staff have left or stay in misery, replaced with an email or a fog. We do not know how Labour policy will be or made, so what was there to disagree with?
The choices, of course.
Words are easy; choices signpost direction.
I am often asked for more information on the years I spent overseas, so here it is. In my early twenties, I lived in Kenya, working with UNDP. I supported projects investigating the nature of a corruption that was not overt or criminal, but systemic. An appointment here, a salary there.
The decisions made in the interests of the few and claimed for the many.
Why have I left Labour?
Because, amongst other things, six months ago, Jeremy Corbyn’s son Seb was appointed to John McDonnell’s team.
This is politics. There are worlds in our choices.
I voted for Jeremy Corbyn. Not first, but I ranked him. He lost me in that moment, and in a hundred since. Milne, Lansman, Fisher — one good old hard left old boy after another.
The suspension of national Labour campaigning to give our newly privatised campaign activity a chance. The removal of the steelworkers union from the NEC while our steel industry died and six thousand steelworkers went unpaid this Christmas. A pettish reshuffle when challenge became unwelcome. The backing given to Russia’s bombs in Syria because our friends have always backed Russia.
The backing given to the Syria regime, because Russia’s interests are there, and our friends have always backed Russia. A place in the Lords for Ken. Another office for Abbot.
An appointment here. A salary there. An Iranian television show. A paid junket to Valdai to promote Putin’s wars.
The small holes slowly turning into great unpatchable rents in Labour’s moral fabric.
Not one choice: all the choices.
I said above that there were two questions which I thought merited an especially detailed answer. The other one came, oddly, from Louise Mensch. I’ve never met Louise Mensch, but still, she put the question.
‘I just don’t understand why Labour MPs aren’t acting. Can anyone tell me?’
Because we lost of course.
There will be no split, no challenge. We have learned from our SDP years. Labour is the brand and our safety. In the five minute window on the evening of the night before an election, when the leaflets are piled on the dresser, the rose means loyalty — or a place in contention. It is the brand that puts our politics in contention.
And that is the thinking that will kill us.
For too long, we have taken our heartlands and our values for granted. Labour depends on a world that has gone away. We rely on our brand, and then tell ourselves that we can’t fight without it.
Something stuck with me from the election. A comment made by one of my fellow PPCs during the inquiry held afterwards — an inquiry that was very quickly buried.
‘Labour has co-operative values, and we fought an individualistic campaign. The Tories are individualists, and they fought a co-operative campaign.’
This is true, and strange. In Westminster everyone is an individual; outside it, we were told to think of our campaigns as small businesses. It is a nonsense — the leader makes the weather and national campaign the rest — but it must have been comforting at the centre. In Labour, we took that into our campaign. The Conservatives didn’t; they worked nationally, and they worked together.
It carries through. The PLP cannot unite because they don’t know how to unite.
To a lesser extent, they can’t unite because we have no one for them to unite behind. In Sherlock, the answer is never twins. In Labour, it is never Burnham.
The truth is that Labour has a generation of profoundly talented, clever people who could be leader today. They are women; we will not have them.
And we are not ready to leave our comforts behind. The greatest of them is that we are shiningly, self-evidently good. That we have a monopoly on the moral high ground. The politics of Frank Capra — it is Labour’s job to only wait, and win.
We are not good, we are lazy. We accommodate where the Tories unite briefly and for purpose. Labour MPs and PPCs fought and failed alone, while they piled money into the national campaign. We comforted ourselves that the leader doesn’t matter, and we comfort ourselves still.
These aren’t new mistakes, but a great, self-indulgent doubling down.
The PLP won’t fight because it isn’t yet in them. For some, it is not for the time. For most, it will never be. The best and and the youngest of them are resigned. They will lose and they will go.
Our councillors — in the great middle stretches of the country — will lose, and they will go.
The Labour rose is turning brown, and the petals coming loose.
The time will never come.
By Kate Godfrey