Last conference, I dedicated my karaoke choice to Peter Mandelson, with -utterly ironically, mockingly and drunk as hell I might add- Let It Go (my internal monologue was that of the much more explicit version, dedicated to myself). For months after, I would try to keep upbeat. I say months, I had privately given up on the last day of conference, when the only thing to come out of Conference was a row over Trident. But I did try.
Now, after Corbyn’s re-election, I’m choosing to let it go. To stop caring about the leadership, to detach from that fruitless debate, to move on, and do something useful. But not by leaving. I choose to be useful within the party.
This conclusion wasn’t reached placidly or without hesitation. I have thought about leaving. A lot. I wouldn’t have been alone, not even within my own household.
My brother Whatsapped me on the Thursday prior to Corbyn’s re-election to ask for my advice on what to do. A member for longer than myself, my factionless but tribal brother who followed from our traditionally Labour parents and from whom I followed in my politics, such a declaration of giving up, of letting go of the party to which both of our, indeed our parents’, identities were so intrinsically linked, was a symbolic and sad affair.
He joined for the same personal reasons I did. We both turned to the party at nadirs in our lives. We both watched on hopeful for a Labour government in 2015. There was nothing fad about the party for us. Like many, initially, it was Labour or nothing. That he may choose to leave is upsetting. That he will be accused of being a Blairite for doing so even more so. If this party isn’t for kids like him, what is it for?
We all have our different reasons for joining the party. Neither myself nor my brother joined, initially, to attend CLP meetings or vote in NEC elections. Factions were an unknown. We joined for the brand, as it were, for what it represented. And eventually for me, to campaign for the issues and for a government. My first campaign was against payday loans.
5 years on, I watch the debates unfolding now – the forces obsessed with infrastructure and takeovers, of utter self-indulgence, with growing boredom. I grow bored of the buzzwords that have came to define our selfishness. Of ’empowering the members’, that ‘MPs should represent their CLPs’, of our ‘mass movement’.
I’m bored of talking about ourselves.
It is an undoubtable truth that, because of the war of attrition, the hostility toward Corbyn, that he would be forced to look inward before outward. But time and time again, each instance it would seem we were discussing the issues, indeed every time Momentum looked to be fulfilling what I initially thought it would do -community organising- something would flick the debate right back to where it was before – internally. Aggression against an MP, using emails to determine the policy direction in a controversial area, a reshuffle. Every time someone would question Corbyn’s ability, as a leader, to advocate for the issues that matter, whether anyone was actually listening to us, the membership would be leveraged, the mandate waved, threateningly, in the face of question or dissent.
Politics should be about incremental change: palpable, measurable change in our communities and in the country. In 3 years of academia, much as I loved it and to which I owe my political development and confidence to express a multitude of opinion, I eventually became bored of theorising, of not experimenting, doing. After 2015, I instantly thought about the third sector as an outlet to create change, however small. That led me to where I am today. But projects and difference are more than the third sector. Real, long-lasting change comes from politics.
It is a shame, then, that our party has -in both electability and our debates- abandoned its duty to implement change. We are so obsessed with ourselves that we have forgotten what we are for.
My side, whatever side that actually is, is of course not immune. I’m bored of hearing myself moan, of talking about the leadership and repeatedly bleating on why Corbyn simply cannot win. I could devote another five blog posts to the subject and nothing would change. So why do I do it? Is indulging in such moaning not itself selfish and self-obsessed?
I’m equally bored of academic discussions of what Corbyn would do, as though he would ever really be PM. Feeding into a policy discussion under his leadership feels utterly redundant, doesn’t it? Even when I want to talk about the issues, no-one will listen so long as he is leader. So where does that leave his critics? Fruitless arguments about the fruitlessness of Corbyn’s leadership and eventual manifesto?
I have always hated the word ‘moderate’. I don’t feel ‘moderate’. I certainly don’t feel or have ever been part of the tribe that has come to take ownership of it as a catch-all. I didn’t come into this to be moderate or to moderate. I came to see real change in communities that would have a radical impact on the lives of its residents. But if I must refer to non-Corbynites as such, let it be to shred that mantle: moderates should be radical. Moderates should show what real radicalism is. Moderates should implement real change, or push for it. Build alternatives in their communities; in their CLPs, in their organisations -from Open Labour to the Coop- and in their Unions, to metro mayors and local government. To build alternative policy platforms or independent campaigns and projects.
I won’t not be doorknocking, and like the nerd I am, I will undoubtedly be handing out leaflets for a train policy at 5am sometime in the future again. But feeding into the leadership itself, indulging in internal operations, feels boring. This may evoke accusation that not being united in one mission is a betrayal. But we all know what will happen in 2020. Any attempt to stop that inevitability -and it is an inevitability- has failed. It breaks my heart to think that only an election defeat will wake us up -the people close to me that will suffer as a result- but I feel resigned to accepting that fate. Pretending that isn’t our fate would be disingenuous. Insincere. it would be great to think you can turn around the worst poll ratings for any opposition leader in history. But it is a fantasy. No amount of smiling and cheering, of keeping silent, of obeying demands to pretend I don’t have doubt, would change that. Loyalty and devotion gets me on the doorstep, but I don’t leave my senses behind. I am reminded of them every time a former Labour voter tells me of their disdain for our leader.
National debate thus feels pointless. Internal debate too. But no-one should give up on Labour or the good it can do.
Do good by creating and joining projects. Using the good of Labour in communities, regardless of leadership, to influence local agendas or oppose the policies of the Tories on the ground -the shutting down of a library or the eviction of social tenants- feels a better use of my time than either pretending I believe in Corbyn’s ability to make change or me spending time facepalming while arguing in circles with his supporters. Not that I won’t tweet.
If ‘moderates’ (As I said, I use the term mockingly and without conviction) in a tradition similar to my own show where you can actually make a difference, build alternatives in your communities. If need be, if the upset of knowing what’s to come feeds an urge to leave, avoid a national debate you know is worth very little at this precise moment in time.
My union, the GMB, my CLP, my organisations in Open Labour, the Fabians, and the Coop. They will be a home. They can be a place of change.
I suppose an apt metaphor would be what I intend to do at Conference. Do I watch the speeches from a Shadow Cabinet that will never be a Cabinet? Should I have spent a crapload on a balcony pass? Or do I do what I love? And what I have power over? Discussions in fringes with charities and think tanks, with socialist societies and individual campaigns?
It is a good thing, I have concluded, that I only have a complex pass.