So this evening I decided to break from my previous position of agitation from the outside, bite the bullet, and join the Labour Party. I feel it is appropriate to write a short piece about why.
I started thinking about whether I should or not based on Ed Miliband’s performance in the election campaign. He has demonstrated that he’s a lot smarter than people have been willing to acknowledge, and people have started to engage with him – and he’s shown he’s willing to listen to those who feel disengaged with politics, most particularly the younger generation who feel ignored and undervalued by political parties who appeal more to their parents than to them.
More generally, I sense a possible shift leftwards of the Labour movement, and more of a conversation about the purpose of economies, politics and so on. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP in Scotland, and in England the Green Party, have done a lot to fuel that conversation and make it relevant, but I’m not Scottish. That sort of leaves the question of why not the Greens.
To be honest, the Green Party have disappointed me, and left me feeling they are untrustworthy. On paper, their policies and principles seem closest to my leftwing ideals, but they are not underpinned by deep analysis and feel unstable.
When a prominent Green Party member (and their only MP) supports the Swedish Model on sex work law, despite the party being supposedly in favour of decriminalisation; when a prominent candidate makes transphobic remarks, and doubles down when called on it, despite the inclusive policies of the Party: these kinds of event undermine the reliability of a party built out of a single issue.
I grew up in the 1980s in a family of leftwing activists who were part of the local CND and Peace Campaign, took part in protest marches and vigils outside military instalments, hung out with hippyish types at singalongs and events. I remember the announcement of the UK Green Party being founded, and the clear lack of structure beyond the environmental issues they cared about back then. I don’t think they have ever really found a solid foundation.
More to the point, we aren’t going to see a Green Party government soon. It would be great if they were serious contenders in more than a couple of seats, but the reality is, they’re not likely to be. Their role is to put pressure from the outside (yes, I know that link talks about the Communist Party, but the same reasoning applies). We might, possibly, see a “coalition of the Left” in which the Greens play a part, and which pushes their policies forwards, but it’s not effective power in my mind.
On the other hand, Miliband is making some dog-whistle type remarks for the Labour Left. There’s a sense that he’s out to undo some of the damage done by Blair and to re-establish the community roots of the party.
I had decided I would never support Labour again after the 1997 election and the betrayals that followed; and the “modernisation” that seemed to want to modernise the party out of existence (rather like what Blair and Cameron have steadily done to the NHS). But after five years of ConDem rule, that teenaged principle seems to be pretty feeble. I don’t forget that it was some of the leftwing Labour MPs who scuppered the possibility of a Lab-Lib pact and pushed the LibDems into the Tories’ arms, because they thought it would do their party good to be out of government for a while rather than compromise further on leftwing principles.
Well, the party has spent five years on the opposition benches. The damage has been done. Somehow, the more leftwing of the Milibands came to the leadership, and has been slowly manoeuvring to steer his party back in that direction. If there’s an opportunity for a proper leftwing party, with a realistic chance of governing this country, then now seems to be the time to act. I can’t do any more to help from the outside, so I’ve nailed my colours to the mast, and set out to give my weight to a new, modern, leftwing Britain.
After four years of despair, I finally feel political optimism again. I may end up disappointed, but at least I can say I did something.
(First thing I want them to change is the sign-up form: no gender-neutral title, and only two options for gender.)