Leaving Labour

11th May 2016

Leaving Labour

-By Jon Rosling-

I joined the Labour Party in 1988, when Neil Kinnock was its leader, Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street and I was 15 years old.

At a time when most people voted according to their parents’ instruction, my dad’s active trade unionism and defence of the Labour movement was actually only a small part of why I joined.

More important to me was witnessing the brutality of the miners’ strike (particularly at Silverwood colliery near to where I live) and the gross injustice of the time – the shattering of communities, the economic hardship faced by many and the general arrogance by which the Conservative government of the time treated the north.

Over time Labour was beginning to get its raison d’etre back. Neil Kinnock moved the party away from the unpalatable hard Leftism of the 1970s and 1980s towards what was later described in the party’s Policy Review as “supply side socialism”. Some saw it as ceding ground to the Conservatives’ general philosophical direction but really it was about giving Labour a set of policies and priorities that were right and appealing to enough of the electorate to put Labour into power.

To paraphrase someone else’s words – “Labour is a party of government or it is nothing.”

And so it was that Tony Blair (almost) completed the unfinished revolution in the 1990s by fulfilling that vision of Labour in government.

It should be apparent to anyone why the last ten months or so have been particularly difficult for someone such as myself.

Let me say, I’ve nothing against Jeremy Corbyn on a personal level. What I object to is the brand of politics he brings with him. It is old style, out-dated and irrelevant in its appeal to the vast majority of people in the British electorate.

It’s also a body politic that isn’t particularly pleasant in its approach.

During the leadership election last summer I came out in favour of Andy Burnham and my support was registered publicly as a councillor.

What followed was an appalling tirade of abuse and insult from the hard Left whereby I was labelled a “Red Tory”, a class traitor, someone who wants Labour to lose, someone who was on the wrong side of politics and – most disgracefully – where someone even wished cancer on my young family.

I can put some of the emotion and heat of those few weeks down to the fire of the campaign and the debate that was going on at the time. Labour had lost when it was expected – in the least – to form a minority administration.

But I cannot excuse insults like the latter nor the many and varied similar comments that were directed at people like myself who have been party members for many years and supported Labour in campaigns across the country and quite often against the people making such comments.

Nor can I excuse the running commentary from my own constituency party that followed my own election last year, where local party officers and councillors (some of whom I have known on friendly terms for over 20 years) suddenly engaged in spite, malice and downright nastiness from the off.

This whole style of politics says “You’re with us or you’re against us.” It’s not what is needed in the broad church of the Labour Party to unite people after an election defeat.

Nor is it what’s need to pull people together to fight the current government.

While the PLP has to recognise and respect Corbyn’s 59% mandate from the membership, the Corbyn leadership too has to recognise that its MPs are the eyes, ears and voice to a much wider electorate. The PLP has a collective mandate of 9.35 million votes, many of which will drift away from the party in the run up to 2020 if it doesn’t represent that broad church and doesn’t get its organisation and approach together.

That electorate isn’t calling for mass nationalisation of industry; they’re not calling for PR; they’re not calling for an end to Trident.

And if Labour wanted to be a populist party that is governed by the whims of its base rather than principle and rationality then surely it would be campaigning for a return of capital punishment, an end to immigration and Brexit?

The fact that it’s not suggests populism is only being used as justification when it suits.

I want Labour to be a party that can win. I want Labour to be a party that people trust and can believe in. All of the great progressive moves in the last 100 years in the UK have been made by Labour Governments not Labour Oppositions.

But the current leadership offers little by way of a programme for government other than tyre kicking, placard waving and protest marches that achieve nothing except a day out shouting at the pigeons.

Many of its policies are a throwback, irrelevant (and arguably threatening) to most ordinary working families.

Its approach is wrong, and as a result Labour is sidelining itself.

Scotland is lost, Wales is on its way, metropolitan areas that once boomed with progressive Labour councils are also falling by the wayside.

But all this is a great success if you listen to some.

I’ve had twenty seven years as a party member and activist. In that time I’ve been a branch chair and secretary, chaired the district party, been the organiser for the Parliamentary selection process here in Wentworth CLP in 1996; and I’ve been a Labour councillor. My university career was marked by activity and campaigning within Labour.

But now I’ve left, cancelling my direct debit and sending in my resignation last week.

My values haven’t changed, my principles haven’t changed. They remain wedded to equality of opportunity, social justice and liberty; to a defence of ordinary working people against the powerful.

But I don’t feel welcome in the Labour Party any more and in that sense Labour has left me, as well as many of the millions of voters who look to it to offer them a secure, stable and prosperous future.

Kate Godfrey’s article in January sums up my position nicely:

“Leaving my membership behind doesn’t mean that I leave my Labour values, or the work I would do here. It simply divorces that work — my Labour politics — from the politics which currently hold Labour.”

Unlike Kate though, I’m not sure I will want to go back.

By Jon Rosling

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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7 thoughts on “Leaving Labour

  1. Very well put Jon. I agree with your sentiments entirely though I regret your decision to leave our Party. I have been a member since 1963. I campaigned for Gwyneth Dunwoody in Exeter in 1964. I do not like the extremist, hard left, exclusivity position of Momentum based politics. Our Labour movement i s successful as a governing party, as exemplified by Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or it is nothing. And let’s not forget the heroic leadership of Neil Kinnock in confronting the Militant Tendency and its entryist factions in the 1980s. The SDP split in those days delivered a Thatcherite Britain and all that it entailed. We should thank those in the Party who stayed to fight for a centre left coalition of progressive ideas, not least Roy Hattersley. So, for me, the response to today’s dilemma is not to resign. It is to fight on, regroup, regain the centre ground, to find the leader with the stature and stamina to tke the fight to the hard left, to rediscover the spirit of a successful, reforming Labour Party for a popular, majority government. We can do it.


  2. I’m with you Jon. I left on the day Jeremy was elected in September after 21 years as a member for many of the same reasons. Labour should aspire to be a party of power not a party of protest and until sense prevails, I’ll use my membership fee for something else.


  3. I entirely agree with your comments Jon and I sympathise with your decision in the light of the abuse you have received. But I differ in my own response to the situation we find ourselves in. First, a bit of context.I joined the Labour Party in 1963 and my first general election campaign was for Gwyneth inExeter in 1964. She won the seat then and it is still a Labour seat, held byBen Bradshaw. It is exactly the kind of seat Labour needs to win to form a government. We will not win with the Corbynist, Momentum agenda. Labour wins elections with a broad church, left of centre , inclusive agenda of the kind exemplified by Clement Attlee, Hugh Gaitskill, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, most recently, Sadiq Khan. When the SDP split from our party we delivered the Thatcher years to the United Kingdom. Our Party was rebuilt by those who stayed to fight, notably Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock. It was tough and relentless, but the founding principles of a progressive centre left Labour were maintained. We must do the same today in the face of the resurgence of Momentum style militancy which is rebranding the Labour Party as a hard left sect. So, I believe with all my heart that the Party must be fought for and not surrendered to the Corbyn left. That is why I will remain a proud and steadfast member of the Labour Party.


  4. It didn’t stop you claiming your councillor’s wage for months though, while passing on all the casework and ward work to Ann Russell and Emily Walker, did it? You moaned that the CLP wrote off Silverwood and then didn’t lift a finger to help in the local elections when the real campaign got going. A lot of us aren’t happy with the current direction of the party or the leadership, but it didn’t stop us being out on the doorstep every day to stop UKIP getting in locally. Deeds, not words, Jon.


    • Inaccurate, ill informed and incorrect Rob Wilkinson. You haven’t even got the fact that you’re NOT a Silverwood branch member correct have you? Perhaps a better avatar would have been “Rotherham Labour Group Organiser”..?

      I wasn’t going to dignify this comment with a response but it sticks in the throat a bit to see Labour Party employees coming onto a blog post pretending to be branch members when they’re not and telling half a story about someone they’ve never meet or never made an attempt to meet in the seven or so months they’ve been in post.

      To clarify a few points for you, Rob:

      1. No case work was passed to Ann Russell at all. I maintained my casework and continued my advertised surgeries, including those with Ann, with the exception of one when I was ill. That meant continuing my work with the Local Police Teams on issues locally including quad biking, fly tipping and ASB; continuing to liaise with highways and green spaces at RMBC over the state of Rotherham’s roads as well as particular issues at Woodlaithes; as well as a number of instances where I picked up casework from the local MP’s office. This is why I rightly continued to claim my expenses allowance, Rob, which – as you well know – is paid for this kind of work and NOT for Labour Party campaigning or branch work.

      2. As regards branch work – you’re forgetting that it was both myself and Emily who drew up the 8 month campaign plan for the branch last September; it was me, Emily and Ann who initiated it; and we were the only branch to have such a detailed plan and a full complement of officers. In fact YOU highlighted this in an email to me when you were appointed to the Rotherham Labour Group organiser post last year! You even praised the “Frack Free” debate we held which I chaired (and which you didn’t come to)!

      3. After Christmas I contacted you about some personal issues I was facing and you advised me to sort those first and leave the campaign trail. Since then I’ve received no information about Labour campaigning in Silverwood or anywhere else, which is unsurprising given you knew I was standing down and had been on the cusp of leaving for months. Bit disingenuous to complain now when you never contacted me again even to see if I could’ve leafleted my own street!

      I highlighted then the reasons I wasn’t standing – the ridiculous contract Labour was making candidates sign that committed all our free time to volunteering for the party; alongside the difficulty getting to council meetings held mid afternoon and evenings when some of us have young families and full time (in my case, self employed) jobs. I’m sorry but don’t have the luxury of a party salary to tide me over while campaigning.

      Facts, Rob, not words. You need a better grip of them.


  5. @David Blake

    Hi David,

    When you said “The SDP split in those days delivered a Thatcherite Britain”, I think you are completely mistaken.

    The Tories would have thrashed Foot in 1983, whether the SDP had existed or not. Polling shows that the Alliance took as many votes from the Tories as it did from Labour, and in terms of seats, most of the Alliance gains were from the Tories.

    The same would apply this time.

    At present, there are many voters who hold their nose when they support the Tories, but would much prefer a party that really did combine economic competence with compassion.

    The difference is that, this time, instead of far left infiltration having damaged the Labour party, they’ve taken over the leadership. Long-term, I think the damage will be irreparable.

    I wish you well with your attempt to rescue the Labour party, but if you fail, don’t give up hope.

    I think, in a couple of years, it’ll be time for a new realignment. And, with luck, we can succeed this time. It’d be great if, at some point, you felt able to join us, but I appreciate that may not be for quite a while.


    • Hello George,
      Thanks for your comments. I take your point about the likely result of the 1983 election. I also agree that in the long term a realignment of the progressive centre left might well be something to prepare for. I just don’t want to abandon the Labour Party and watch it be taken over by Momentum. The 2020 election is surely already lost. It’s how the Party responds to that outcome that I’m sticking around for.
      Best wishes,

      Liked by 1 person

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