I’d like to think I’m not selfish. I’d also presume that, for the most part, few people care about me as an individual enough for it to influence their thought processes. Which is why I wouldn’t leave the Labour Party or make a ‘Why I’m Leaving the Labour Party’ blog. I’m not even really ideologically opposed to the current leadership or Party. I have no real reason to feel isolated within it. After all, as I keep clarifying, I’m on the Left of the party. My anxieties are borne from the practical reality of our terrible performance, and the historical precedent that stares us in the face. That won’t be fixed by me indulging in abandonment.
But I can write a blog about this much: I’ve lost a massive sense of purpose to being a Labour member.
I stood in a doorway overlooking the National Policy Forum meeting at Labour North’s regional conference on Saturday. There was a heated Q&A over how best for members’ to contribute to policy-making in the Labour Party. It was fun. It was also ultimately futile and redundant. Undoubtedly, the processes continue as they must: the road to a manifesto continues, even if those writing it full well know that, unless things change, it will be rejected and never implemented.
But I am bored of talking to ourselves. I have attended many a Labour event or conference in the past few months and each time I come out of them feeling it is all rather pointless. I didn’t get the same feeling between 2010-2015. I felt like it was building to something and that everything we said was significant, that the policies discussed and formulated would actually, you know, happen. But, unless you’re a fool, as I was then, I cannot see how anything we discuss now will ever see the light of day. To me, it’s just self-congratulation, or a way to isolate ourselves inside four walls and pretend the general public doesn’t exist. It is temporary utopia.
I keep getting told that it is inherent and necessary to be hopeful and to not discount 2020. “There’s still four more years!” they say, as if they haven’t learnt from Ed Miliband’s vital first impressions. I find it increasingly patronizing. It is not up to me to be forcefully hopeful, it is up to the Party that supposedly represents me to make me feel as if that hope isn’t false. Right now, I cannot comprehend why or how any Labourite can feel hopeful, or to feel like they have any semblance of being able to affect change or stop Tory devastation.
This isn’t just the story of opposition, though being reminded of a Tory majority once a day is a definite boner-killer, to say the least; it’s the story of an impotent opposition not doing its job. Worse than that, it’s the story of an impotent opposition giving itself pats on the back and attending ultimately futile protests.
I didn’t get involved in Labour to go to protests. Protests are extra-curricula. The last time I went to a protest was the anti-austerity protest shortly after the election -and I came out of it not regretful of my being there; I am, after all, a trade unionist. I usually embrace protests when I think they might achieve something. But nevertheless, I came out of it disdainful toward the people cheering and roaring alongside me. They were enjoying it! We’d just lost an election 20 days prior. I could feel Tories laughing at us from the buildings that lined Whitehall. I felt impotent, powerless and without use.
Which is why I instead embrace and champion parliamentary politics. I embrace knocking on doors to get Labour MPs and councillors elected. The only route to real change. It’s why I’ve also embraced the Labour Lords’ incredible work.
But, let’s face it, Labour is letting us down.
Most shadow ministers have been beyond excellent. Owen Smith’s work on WASPI has been great. Andy Burnham and the shadow home team have done an excellent job opposing police cuts. I’m very aware of the reality of a Tory majority and how hard portfolios must now be. Which is why I can’t grasp how shadow ministers can deal with the overwhelming sense of defeat they must surely feel as anyone with a sense of self-awareness feels on the ground.
At the end of the day, an Opposition is only an Opposition if it is a government-in-waiting. And Labour is not a government-in-waiting. Despite the Tories explicitly abandoning its quest toward compassionate conservatism; plunging thousands of children into poverty, taking money from disabled people, seeing a housing and homelessness crisis explode under their watch, and all in all not even achieving the desired targets, Labour have made no advancements. They have completely regressed. We standing between 27-30% in the polls. The electorate would rather the nasty party than the clowns.
Coming out of that conference, as much as I enjoy them for the day or two that they last, my overwhelming thought continues to be that I’m angry at anyone with the cheek to feel optimistic right now, or to tell me to be optimistic. They are the people that were laughing and enjoying themselves on the anti-austerity rally last year. Can you explain to me your source of optimism?
I, despite this blog, used to be an optimist in politics. I was an optimist between 2010-2015 because I thought we could win. That was my source of optimism. I used to go to Labour events and rallies, Ed Miliband would walk in, and you’d get an immediate sense of gravitas because you thought he would eventually be PM. Gravitas? Yeah. It was naive. But the numbers for at least four years were almost consistently in his favour. Now, if Jeremy walks into a room and does a speech, it, frankly, feels worthless. It does, of course it does. Even when we all like what is said. Jeremy can say ‘a Labour government will…’ but it’s always hypothetical, it’s simply not true.
What purpose is there being a member of a party at 29% in the polls? I keep trying to find reasons to doorknock and to sell the party to voters, but we all know what’s coming, and no one is convincing me it won’t happen. That ‘it’ being another decade of Toryism.
I continue to work for Labour victories. And there will be victories, as always. Excellent councillors and PCCs. But the policies discussed now will not succeed. I won’t be convinced until we do something radical to change our poll position. Give activists a purpose and give us better things to sell on the doorstep than dodgems. And to activists that feel optimistic still, get the wool off your eyes and start panicking before it’s too late. You’ve attended that housing bill protest. Great! It will still pass and people will suffer. People like my dad will remain homeless and many more will join him. I’m not here for self-congratulation. You shouldn’t be either. Demand more and stop pretending that we are on the path to victory. React to the evidence.
Because, for once, I would like to go into a conference or meeting where someone can put up a hand and ask why we are the worst-performing opposition for a generation without having to face the prospect of boos and ‘lalala, I can’t hear you’, promptly followed by pats on the back.