11th May 2016
-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