There’s been a lot of talk about the surprising pleasantness of Labour conference. And it’s true. Far from the fist fights, and excluding some obscene and quickly shut down exemptions on the fringe, conference was a thoroughly enjoyable and happy affair. It usually is, even if as masochists we walk in expecting and even being there to observe some royal shitshow.
But, at the risk of bursting bubbles and being the cynic, I don’t think unity was much more than rhetorical.
The fringes were full of wonderful and motivating speakers pointing out just how united we were. And on the fringes -and maybe after three glasses of some really gross white wine- it is very easy to believe. Attending events on brexit, poverty, inequality, metro mayors. We, as a party, are incredibly united. This is reflected in much of the PLP too, despite popular myth.
Talking to Louise Haigh, she was clearly sincere when she told me her dissent agains the leadership was without a doubt one based on incompetence. So when Conference ended on a far better speech by Corbyn than he delivered in 2015, I am assured that much of the PLP and wider party felt a resurgence of loyalty and faith.
But, however sincere in rhetoric, there was an important characteristic to this odd affair: something felt very familiar about this conference.
I knew everyone.
The fables of insurgencies at the grassroots, indeed that which I’ve seen in the two CLPs I have gotten to know since Corbyn’s first election, was not reflected at conference. And if it was, it was in no corner that I managed to reach. And I spent much of my time wondering around aimlessly the exhibition floor.
No, for me, it was the feel of a school reunion. More than that, the school reunion of my predecessors. You may sincerely believe the party, however transformed, can coalesce and unite in such a way as to cheer Tom Watson’s speech calling for the defence of Blair. But I’m not sure I buy it. What I do buy is that the people I saw during my 3 hazy days on that exhibition floor -not so much the Right, but veterans who I recognised from the halcyon days of Ed Miliband- would absolutely cheer such a speech. But those that would not were simply absent at that time. Tom Watson’s enemies have not evaporated into thin air. They chose not to be present in any potential battlefield. It was that absence that made that hall in the speeches by both Sadiq and Tom feel thoroughly 2009.
Either that TWT was held elsewhere, and I hear it was very harmonious, or that we existed by the fringes, events and gatherings we attended (something I opted to do in place of perching myself on the balcony), or that more than just factional, there was a genuine generational impact on those that opted to attend. What it felt like to me was a trend of self-selection. And by implication a highly, autonomously and mutually managed event.
And this management was by obvious implication and assumption. The Fabian events were a moderate affair. LabourList that of older members, albeit not exclusively. And without needing to say, those organised at TWT would have given an implicitly exclusive space to their opposites. But the basic trend was that there was little shared ground to fight over. And no intent to change that.
Certainly, talking to people from the Right to the Soft Left to Corbynites, the mood was generally that of emotional and physical exhaustion, a hangover, or both. For the former two, the sense of powerlessness, of letting things slide for the four days and enjoying said four days as a bender or a chance to meet up with like-minded allies for a collective bender. For the latter, a sense it could be celebrated elsewhere, at TWT or in the fringe, where attention and anger wouldn’t be attracted. But both refused conference as a place to start or re-start hostilities, despite a few exemptions. Thanks, Max, and to Liam Young for his laughably melodramatic tweet that I read while watching members clap as the infamous guide dog Natalie navigate her obstacle course.
This wasn’t to say this divide and separation was even between Corbynites and his critics. But, as said, generationally more than anything else. The hall cheering Tom felt 2009 because it was 2009.
The few surprise unifiers that defy my presumptions are the rising stars: Clive Lewis and Angela Rayner, and the likes of Ed Miliband, Lisa Nandy, John Healey, and others, who developed followings and adorations on both sides of the party (or was that just me?). Their fringes, as with many, it goes without saying, were laden with Corbynites and critics alike. And when on the issues we all care about, the commonalities would shine through. And that was nice.
But beyond that, the peace felt rhetorical. The two sides were happy mostly to exist in parallel, coming together occasionally and without fuss. Both tribal. Both committed. But perhaps not quite there yet to sing D:Ream in harmony together. Unless I truly misread the composition of the crowd I was with at the Animal Welfare karaoke. I hope I did.
Among other observations at my tumultuous CLP nomination meeting last night, I stumbled upon a strange phenomenon.
Sitting with two other Labour women, both of whom opposed Jeremy Corbyn, we found ourselves all discussing having been called ‘brainwashed’ for our views, often times repeatedly, online, by men on the Left.
‘Brainwashing’ and false consciousness are, of course, running themes on the Left, assigned to those with whom we disagree. Beyond gender, such a slur is often proscribed to working class people who do not fulfil the activists’ idealistic mould of what a working class person should be. A clear and recent example would be the backlash to GMB members voting to endorse Smith: so the story goes that they are too stupid to understand why Jeremy is better for them, or they all have Trident on the brain (God forbid they work to save their jobs, of course).
This well-tread narrative works as a comfort blanket for a Left that would rather engage its fantasies about people than the real deal. It has become increasingly pronounced by those that justify Corbyn’s bad standing among the public. While divided parties are infamously unpopular in history, the increasingly malign pointing of fingers at the PLP as the primary or only source of unpopularity suggests a logic that paints voters as resoundingly influenced by a shady elite, with no control over their own opinions of Jeremy Corbyn in isolation.
As such, ‘brainwashing’ and ‘brainwashed by Blairites’ have become a central motif in Corbyn’s Labour.
But in recent times, in the Corbyn era, it has also become heavily gendered.
I have had this repeatedly chucked at me, both online and in person, that I am a ‘young girl’ who will eventually ‘get it’. I had been ‘seduced by sinister forces’, in other words.
An early instance was being told in a pub debate that I had been brainwashed by Blairites because I thought effective opposition required of us to appear like a government-in-waiting. I just didn’t understand that we were a social movement now, see. I didn’t get the new politics. I didn’t get it at all.
But actually, it started even before that. I was interviewed by Channel 4 News with 3 other women -all intelligent, all articulate, all worthy of being there and having their views heard. In the comments, the Liz Kendall supporter, Yvette Cooper supporter, and myself as an Andy Burnham supporter were accused of being fed lines, reading from scripts, not having anything independent to say. Only the Corbynite girl spoke eloquently and from the heart.
But I hadn’t noticed a trend until after I had the audacity to introduce Owen Smith on stage in July. My friend Abby Tomlinson -an incredibly talented, intelligent and independent woman- had introduced him a week earlier. Ever since, there have been a select few trolls who constantly tweet us with references to us being ‘young girls’ who are naive, not idealistic enough, with one even blocking me promising to unblock me in 30 years time when I would hopefully have matured into the good little Corbynite I should be.
Since that audacious moment, we have both been, effectively, told we are being influenced from the “Blairite high powers”, as put sarcastically by Abby. Manipulated beyond our control. Despite both being on the soft left, we were malleable, and we didn’t even know it. As with the GMB voters, a shadowy elite was to blame for our corruption. And it is because we are ‘young girls’ that we are such easy targets. Nay, that is, apparently, why we were allowed the platform.
This isn’t a straw man, it is a constant. Something that, having picked up on it among peers, seems to be a common experience for women on the ‘wrong’ side of the argument. It is an easy go to for shutting down debate. This is both online and in person. And it is almost always men.
It creates a dangerous precedent for any women that wish to speak independently. Never taken seriously, we will be accused of already being spoken for. The result is that independent and fiery women -from Abby to Jess Phillips- have the air sucker-punched out of them, desist from a politics that does not tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion. To be ‘outspoken’ – a word, a friend pointed out, that is only ever used to describe women- is sinful. Only Jeremy can have principles. All who disagree are stupid, brainwashed, or -as Owen Jones noticed in his blog- supposedly doing it in bad faith. Either way, it is women who have to face the brunt of this. And not only do my values get questioned, but so too does my intelligence and independence of thought – something that I hold tremendously dear in politics, as I am sure all women do.
Misogyny in the Labour Party has become a central experience for many women on the Left. Our gender is hurled at us as a weapon. Now, it’s being used as a barometer for intelligence.
Women, as with working class voters, know what it feels like to be patronised. We’ve dealt with it for a millennia. We never thought, however, that we would have to deal with it from the Labour Party.
We all live in our own bubbles.
Most Labour people that I socialize with are not voting for Jeremy Corbyn. But, at the end of the day, if we are at all the party we claim to be, it won’t be our friends in the Labour membership that we listen to, regardless of their views on Corbyn, but the people in our lives outside the party. That is our duty.
I live in a very Labour area. Also a traditionally working class area. Outside of my university and Labour circles, everyone in my older circles come from a working class background. They are a part of a minority that still vote Labour instinctively. I have been, and still am, influenced by these people more than anyone else. Growing up discovering injustice, and being lucky enough to climb the ladder to University, I have evolved into what my council estate mum and dad always were: a Labour voter. And tribal at that. But I was of an even smaller minority to actively join the party, in the hope I could contribute to it winning in 2015. That prospect kept me excited about politics, faithful in its power to change our lives.
But for me, voting Labour was not really a choice more than it was a necessity, or so I was always told. The Labour party, for friends and family, were always there at every election, a hope to keep or vote the Tories out, the latter of whom were our tribal, mortal enemies.
So, if we were to judge a leader’s and the party’s performance, it is these people that would account for the first hurdle for judgement. The people with whom I grew up not only account for Labour’s rapidly receding core vote, but more importantly, they need and deserve a Labour government, and they -we- have always truly feared the alternative.
Fear of Toryism doesn’t seem to be deeply entrenched in some of the Party’s membership. I would avoid caricatures, but there is nothing more deeply upsetting -coming from where I am from- than seeing fellow members belittle what ‘Tory’ means when they refer to other members and MPs as ‘Red Tories’. Especially those that cannot even nearly be described as Blairite, but have simply determined that Corbyn is too calamitous, too incompetent, to win. They do not fear losing.
Fear drives a lot of communities we seek to serve, but not, it would seem, a lot of members. The fear of Corbyn losing, as all the evidence suggests, a general election is not enough to deter supporters voting for him a second time round. They vote for hope instead. A very valuable thing.
Hope is something we as a party aspire to inspire. It is not unlikely or wrong that many members voted Corbyn in 2015 because he offered them hope. His programme was simply more inspirational and hopeful than his opponents, who offered little more than managing a increasingly malign status quo. Corbyn offered change. Corbyn offered hope. That motive was noble. It is something we should aim to inspire in others.
9 months later, communities like mine do not share in that hope.
Corbyn can no longer claim to be the candidate of hope. If he claims to be the ‘people’s’ candidate, it is no people I recognise.
Corbyn cannot claim these easy, appealing tag lines -for that is all they are- because, 9 months later, it is clear Corbyn cannot win, and Corbyn thus cannot inspire hope. All we have left is fear.
I know this because I ask people around me. When I ask the friends I’ve grown up with, they want Jeremy to go. My mum, for the first time in a leadership contest, will vote via her union affiliation for Owen Smith. For her, it is merely ‘obvious’, common sense, that he cannot win an election. Apparently, her staff room thinks so too. I got a chance to speak to her friend the other day, and the same sentiment is evoked.
This sounds made up, or probably does for those that would like to remain believing the contrary. But the evidence backs me up.
My circle cannot represent everyone. I get this enough when I write on this matter. “I’m working class and I voted Corbyn!”. That’s fine. But my community, rather than them, are reflected more accurately in both canvassing and polling. Not only does polling have the Tories in the lead among C2DE voters, and in every single region bar the North East; not only does Theresa May poll 30 points ahead of her rival; not only has Corbyn got a -40 approval rating; not only does he even poll negatively, by 60:30, among trade union members – but I’ve never quite experienced canvassing as bad as I do now.
In deeply deprived wards, I get people telling me that for the first time in their lives, they cannot vote Labour. It doesn’t offer them hope anymore.
It’d be easier to dismiss our opponents saying this as ‘Red Tories’, except these are the people whom we claim to speak on behalf of. It isn’t a game. They are not careerist MPs with a fetish for extreme Blairism. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? These are our people, or at least, the people we claim as ours. It’s imperative we listen.
And for those listening, it is quite surprising that anyone that simply has the chance to speak to people outside our circles -either in their social lives or while canvassing- would still have faith in Jeremy Corbyn.
By Corbyn’s own standards -to inspire the poor and disenfranchised- he has failed. He has failed to offer them hope. His mission has failed.
It is no secret that I am voting for Owen Smith, as a consequence of the last 9 months and because I have held a torch for him and his politics for a while. But I am also voting for hope, and for hope’s restoration. For the hope that drew me to the party in the first place. Merely getting rid of a leader that only inspires fear -fear of the other side, of a perma-Tory government- will inspire more hope than we have now.
But it is more than that. For Owen simply represents our communities better than Corbyn. There is hope in a man who has feared Tories himself, because the imperative to beat them is stronger. Growing up experiencing the miners’ strike, and the repercussions of the tumultuous 1980s. The desperation of seeking a next Labour government.
A Labour government is both more likely under Smith and would -if his words are anything to go by- deliver the homes and jobs that our communities need. It would be radical in office rather than merely in Parliament Square. Real, genuine hope for real, genuine change.
I urge you all to vote for hope. Not the abstract hope that inspires Corbyn rallies, the ones that many neighbours will not share, but for real hope of a Labour government. For people we seek to serve. Please listen. Recognise the fear, recognise hope has been all but erased, and that soaring rhetoric does not mask the dread. Real hope is that which can genuinely offer the belief that, in the near future, there will be an end to the Tories seemingly perpetual rule. The first step to believing that is voting for Owen Smith.
People keep asking me and those associated with it,” what is the soft left and what does it stand for?”. They ask, “what is the alternative to Corbyn?”. Many consider the only alternative to this clusterf*ck of a leadership is ‘neoliberal orthodoxy’. Yes, the only thing standing in the way of decades more of Thatcherism is a man who refused to attack Iain Duncan Smith.
You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel very much defended by the Labour leadership. You’d have to excuse me if I cry at the thought of the only thing standing between me and unfettered global markets is Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s simply not a reality. There is an alternative. It doesn’t have to be Full Blairism.
So, what does the soft left stand for?
Kinnock, regardless of where you’d think to place him on the party spectrum, summarised it at last night’s PLP meeting in two words: parliamentary socialism.
In those two words, it distinguishes itself from the hard left’s revolutionary socialism, one that begrudges Parliament and the Labour party’s mobilisation for the establishment of a parliamentarian presence; and Blair’s ‘social-ism’ and European social democracy that abandoned trade unionism.
It is, and has always been, the champion of parliamentary socialism. I suppose, really, you can also add the Old Right to that, too.
But for me, the soft left is about achieving the representation of its people in Parliament via the recognition that with a good leadership and strong priorities, you can be far more radical than when you wear it on your sleeve. I see it as the John Smith or Bank Manager theory, Clement Attlee’s complete lack of grandeur, Wilson’s smoking pipe. You don’t have to wave placards to be a radical, or call for -in abstractions or dogmas that are, as they say, “irrelevant to the real needs”- the end of capitalism as boldly as so.
That does not exclude the attendance of rallies, but it does not revolve around them either. It distinguishes a social movement and a party; arm in arm but working for parliamentary representation of its people.
And it achieves that by basing economically transformative policy in the everyday lives of people. To be the radicalism of the workers.
We can talk about economic overhaul without talking about Trident. We can talk about council housing and wage suppression and rent control without the Falklands. We can talk about a sensible foreign policy without flirting with Stop the War. We can even, maybe, outline what exactly ‘anti-austerity’ means beyond its sloganisation.
Really, just being boring and sensible and British but transformative without being techoncratic or managerialist or abandoning commitment to an economy that works for everyone and our on-the-ground mobilization of the people via a partnership with the trade unions. This, the most British of socialisms, is where I think most of the British public are. It’s also where decades of soft leftism has always been -from Compass to Tribune, the Bevanites (the language of priorities is the religion of socialism) to Smith.
My belligerence against Corbyn is not socialism -I am a socialist- it is his adherence to believing he is above British politics and British socialism, that our morals are infinitely superior to both the public and our Labour descendants’ presumptions about the public, and people will one day become conscious of that and ignore the centuries-old British small ‘c’ conservatism regarding leadership and join those rallies on Parliament Square.
To recognise Britishness and Parliament is not to abandon our principles; it is to embrace everything that is and always was the Labour Party.
When we have, to our left, rallies shouting obscenities at Parliamentarians; and to our right, some that are ready to lunge and call for a break with the trade unions, it is the soft left that has to step up and defend what the Labour Party is and what it was and always will be.
Whether that is through a growing Open Labour in the style of Tribune mobilizing itself and those that may come to find an allegiance to it, that solid majority of the PLP that finds themselves neither in Progress or the Socialism Campaign Group, or members and voters who simply feel politically homeless in Labour right now. Those voices need to have the courage to clearly define where we are, and to put forward a third alternative. That being, parliamentary socialism.
If the soft left does not find courage now, if it is not definitive and strong enough to stand on its own two feet, Labour will be doomed.
The membership of the Labour party is at odds with the world. In outlook and in demographic. It is also very powerful, and likely set to become even more powerful.
At this pivotal moment in Labour history, it has to look at itself long and hard, and probably conclude, “yikes”.
When Corbyn says he will not “betray the grassroots”, we have to ensure that does not mean we are betraying our voters by doing so. That the grassroots are not ever more at odds with the people it claims to make a stand for. As arguments are maintained that we are on course for election victory so long as we “unite”, it is becoming clear that the gulf is widening.
It’s not really our fault. It is the nature of a party membership.
Most of us near 300,000 do not regularly consult increasingly dire polls or focus groups like HQ or the PLP or Alistair Campbell. We are not experts on strategy. We are not briefed when YouGov shows 52% of Labour voters want Jeremy gone, and that 1 in 4 will not vote for us at the next election. We do not know that for just a slim majority we will need to win Chingford. There are a very niche few of us who await polls embargoed for 10pm. That regularly consult and consume evidence. That nerd herd are a bubble within a bubble. Most of the membership do not.
We will have unlikely read about Value Modes or MOSAIC or other ways to examine the electorate; segmentation that shows we are at odds with the people we claim to speak for.
We attend events where we only speak to ourselves, only vote on our motions, only drink with our peers. Of course we are gonna think everything is great when we’re singing the red flag in a hall of a thousand people. In that moment, we are a weighted sample.
Even on the doorstep, we -and I- convince ourselves we will be fine. We knock together, we coalesce at the end of each road group, “that was okay, wasn’t it?”. It’s not the same as a focus group because we can choose to ignore it once the door is slammed in our face. “It’s just an unrepresentative road, isn’t it?”, we say.
By the very nature of being an exclusive club of less than 1% of the population, and choosing to be so, we will be talking to ourselves. It is social media as real life.
That puts an enormous responsibility on our shoulders to look beyond our four walls and, importantly, to recognise we are within four walls. This rests on two dimensions: class, as I have written about often; and our realistic chances of winning.
Class because it is an undeniable fact that the membership has long been (fairly, pre and post-Corbyn) disproportionately AB. If we refuse to recognise that we are very detached from the people we claim to speak for, and we do not listen to those voices, or there is no strengthening of instruments for us to listen to people that are not us, we will –as I have said before– become the Green Party.
Our chances of winning because we need to look outward and recognise we are an exclusive club and our fervor for the leader and the sizeable rallies we can muster are not a suitable indicator of public mood. That refusing to recognise the evidence that the rest of the country outside of our club rather loathes us right now, we yield that responsibility in favour of self-indulgence.
This is about that very thing: recognition. Recognition of our exclusivity and our largely disproportionate membership when it comes to voter groups in any way you measure it: by values or class or geography.
Personally, because I do not feel we are recognising that; often times that we are refusing to recognise who we are and how different we are to the rest of the country. I know that when I offer polling data, it is often times point-blank refused. When I plead for my anxieties to be recognised as legitimate rather than malicious, peers online opt for the latter.
I can’t do this anymore. I keep hearing people on council estates and in low-income households say they cannot vote for us. After years of being loyal to the party. It breaks my heart. And yet it doesn’t feel like it’s breaking the hearts of anyone else. We, the members, the devotees, are effectively erasing these people.
Thus, gifting more and more power -as the PLP-less leadership are doing, and will do should they win again- to members is increasingly irresponsible, at least without certain considerations. That’s a pretty controversial thing to say. But by arguing now for such things as deselection , regardless of whether you agree with it or not, the leadership are effectively prioritising the membership over its increasingly disaffected and abandoned voters. By using members’ protests and lobbying of staff to pressure MPs who would have heard negative feedback on the doorstep, we are prioritising the members over constituents.
I can’t really change that. In any other context empowerment of members would only be a good thing. Neutrally, it must be recognised as such. It thus means we have to make sure an empowered membership is also a responsible, aware one. Power is on its way to you. So it falls on your shoulders, as you become more powerful: choose to use it by reaching out and self-reflecting, or condemn the party to death. In doing the latter, you will be condemning lives that are not yours to perpetual Tory rule.
It falls on the leadership to make sure its members know where we are at. To introduce new measures for ensuring ordinary voters are included in our consultations. Ask a Barrow resident what they think of Trident or ask pretty much anyone in the north what they think of Jeremy. Brief the membership, ensure we remain informed and understanding of just how dire our standing currently is. That, or not using Twitter accounts to suggest rallies are a sign of just how popular Jeremy is. This is, of course, against the interests of the leadership. But a leadership that wants to win will not poke fingers in its ears, and it shouldn’t want the membership to do so either.
This isn’t patronizing. I have been told by members, and as said s I have seen reflected from official accounts, that Jeremy is ‘really popular’ and his policies ‘resonate’. All evidence and all my experiences outside the party tell a rather different story. This is post-truth politics being embraced at every echelon of the party, but managed by a top-down trickle effect. We have to stop. We have to recognise the responsibility to fact check unconditional fanaticism where it rears its head. Otherwise we will become a stubborn, immovable cult.
It also falls to the leadership to either expand the membership beyond its usual remit (easier said than done given fewer people still want to vote for us, let alone join us), or ensure, simply, and this shouldn’t even need saying, that voters’ concerns are considered every bit or more legitimate than signed-up devotees. And that members know that in policy-making processes leading up to a manifesto or an election strategy.
But it ultimately comes down to the totemic force of the membership to make a choice to look beyond our own indulgences, the halls we fill, the retweets we seem to use as confirmation of popularity, and the selfies taken with the leader. To consider the question: just because Parliament Square was filled, do our people, our voters, stand alongside us?
The membership is more powerful than it has been for decades. It has a responsibility. It can either choose to listen to people that are not us and save the party for the people; or we can pretend the rest of the world isn’t happening. Opting for the former is the duty we owe to the people we champion. It is my duty as an activist.
The last 48 hours have been fucking awful. I can’t quite describe how awful. I could explain how Brexit made me feel. Markets tumbling. Xenophobia and racism rising. And the Labour Party disintegrating.
I didn’t want a coup to happen. I eventually found myself watching it unfold in hope because the ideal situation did not happen. I wanted Jeremy to step aside when it became clear he cannot win the election that will likely happen in October. I would think such a resignation would be noble. His stubbornness and self-indulgence and selfishness has changed all of that. Respect has turned to contempt turned to hopelessness.
When Jeremy speaks, when his rallies gather, my heart drops. Not because I disagree with anything he says. I want a movement that acts as a bulwark between me and the austerian, xenophobic voices that would do me and my friends harm. When Jeremy Corbyn speaks of how important it is to stop cuts, why would I disagree? To what end would that serve my community?
No, my heart drops because I don’t think that bulwark exists anymore. I do not, sincerely, think Jeremy can win an election. Blame it on disunity, it doesn’t matter anymore. His mission has failed. His movement has failed. And as a snap election comes toward us, full throttle, the evidence grows that we will not win. Of course we won’t. Of course we won’t.
I feel, completely, utterly, betrayed. I feel betrayed not just for feeling this but for this feeling -shared by so many, ordinary members and a tearful Angela Eagle and Lisa Nandy and PPSs and PCCs- having been shrugged off as mischief-making, a corridor coup, a Blairite plot, pursued by pro-cuts marketeers coming out of a 16 hour House of Cards marathon. I have this feeling as, and others will tell you that this overrides any ideology, a working class kid who will have to face a complete and absolute shitstorm of a perma-Tory government initiating Article 50 on their terms.
I am not the only person in the Labour Party who will have to bear the brunt. Of course not. But the urgency of an impending election only to be met with stubbornness has made me feel more isolated in my own party than I have ever felt before.
This isn’t a game anymore, this isn’t a power struggle happening between vocal Blairites who do have ideological distinctions between themselves and Corbyn and noble leftists. This fight has extended to the soft left and even the Corbynite left. More so, this extends well beyond any factions. The urgency of a Boris Brexit government has driven home for us the desperation to get our act together. The horrific prospect of what that means hangs over our head. That’s why this is happening.
In the forthcoming contest, I will argue -like a lot of people on the soft left- for a unifying candidate who I think can win on a good platform.
If Jeremy Corbyn wins, he wins. Watching the rally tonight, I believe he will. And it strikes terror into my heart. But the sacredness of democracy will have decided that.
Yet I cannot, hand on heart, go on and pretend I have faith in my party after that. Nor its members. I will feel condemned to Boris and to austerity and to the denigration of communities like mine. I will not exit in bitterness, but in despair, the hope that the Labour Party gave me when my dad lost his job stripped away from me. The bulwark finally gone.
If Jeremy must win -and I will campaign to stop it happening by pushing for that soft left candidate- my fate and 9 million fates, will be in your hands. Those fates are not toys.
Please, if Jeremy Corbyn wins, I will urge you to prove me wrong and win the election. I do not want to be proved right. The thought of me being right breaks my heart.
A lot of vocal, determinedly anti-politics people demand two things from their representatives: they want ordinary people not ‘in it for themselves’, and they want people who are honest and speak the truth. Except they don’t want the first. When politicians act human they are considered a walking gaffe and, if vying for the highest office in the land, un-priministerial. And the latter is often a euphemism used by racists demanding politicians speak a universal truth about migrant hordes.
Thus, it seems, our politicians cannot be normal; but by not being a certain definition of normal, and speaking personally and openly, they are hated. And thus a cycle of anti-politics has been in motion.
For me, I have since the election considered this impossible trade-off to be an absolute truth you have to oblige by and somehow master. I have caught myself speaking not for myself, but for the Labour party. Or more specifically, the shadow cabinet member reading focus groups, head in hands, trying to work out how the hell to reconcile Labour to the public’s increasingly rightward shift on issues like welfare and immigration. Instead of offering my opinion on immigration, I offer to be the devil’s advocate so Labour can win. I have caught myself losing my once deeply held principles as I desperately try to ponder where Labour went wrong. Because when Labour lost (and if we vote Brexit), it meant all my values had lost as well. Surely I am wrong, I pondered. The public are always right. The guy telling me about Turks taking over is right, I justify to my Turkish self.
I can’t do it anymore.
I sometimes worry, often feel guilt, when I catch myself changing my own personal positions, particularly on welfare and immigration, two issues I am passionately pro for. Why do I feel this need for devil’s advocacy?
I presume, by being pro-welfare and pro-immigration, I am the metropolitan elite. A few years back, I’d shrug at use of such a phrase, see it as something euphemistic, racist and even a bit classist (because working class people can’t be socially liberal, see*). But in the past year I have used it sincerely and genuinely. To the point I am scaring myself.
(*this is also linked to the patronizing idea that working class expression of patriotism is inherently based in blood and soil, or that social conservatism about queen, flag and country is the same social conservatism that always gives fuel to this bigotry -the first is wrong and the second is overly simplistic.)
I understand in not indulging in certain principles to see your party succeed. I get that. Socialism is the language of priorities. What your priorities are is a value judgement. Though in the case of a Bennite is seems sort of obvious. I still get angry at Jeremy when he talks about Trident or the Falklands or whatever. But on issues like immigration? The line between morals and electoral necessity are beginning to be drawn more deeply in the sand. It feels dichotomous. It feels like our culture has become so aggressively xenophobic, driven by fear and hate, far now beyond pragmatic, rational grievances with immigration and conditions, that it is becoming impossible for a social democrat or socialist to keep up with the rightward shift in debate. I can’t keep up. I don’t want to keep up.
I cannot lend my credence to virulent anti-immigration voices truthfully or sincerely. As I said, I don’t want to. I can’t.
The more I do, the less true to myself I become. It is not my job, and frankly – it shouldn’t be anyone’s job. It is not my job because, while I like to commentate all grown-up on how Labour can win and how it must do XYZ to do so, I am not burdened as a politician and I never intend to be burdened as a politician as it is now. Certainly not like this. I do not aspire to any office if, as I have been warned, my views on here -from welfare to private schools- will be screenshotted and vetted by The Sun and carried in a story decrying them as making me unfit for said office. I cannot function in a world wherein my, for me (this is selfish, for sure, but personal un-aired views are always “for me”, that is individual freedom that knows no constituency), rational and decent views on issues at the core of who I am and that I prioritise as necessary for a just society are used against me and my very election would depend on me keeping my mouth shut when trying to defend the stigmatised.
This is not my being elitist, my being a metropolitan elite not understanding the concerns of immigration. Mine are principles from an ~urban~ place, sure. But it isn’t about that. Our politics has become all or nothing. The mainstream is becoming hardline. Dissent by defending migrants, even refugees, is legitimately met with gasps. You see politicians defend immigration and you fear for the backlash against their respective parties. I can’t keep up. I don’t want to.
I used to want to be an MP.
When I was in secondary school, we had to do this creative writing task. I chose to write an article on how MPs don’t care about the poor and live in mansions outside their (poor) constituencies. Like most of the population today, I thought politicians were ‘in it for themselves’, that they didn’t care for us. You have to know that this was at a particularly awful moment in life where financial realities were dropped on a teenager far too early. I get it. I get the post-crash world. I see the backlash against globalisation and I understand. I took it out on my representatives and the ‘elite’. I had no faith in our politics to change my world. That could have been preyed upon, in another context, by the likes of Farage.
That was until I got involved, only briefly, in Movement for Change, and through that saw the work Stella Creasy, my local MP, was doing regarding payday loans -the very predators that had preyed on my own household at our time of need. A few various good deeds later, And I had a sudden faith in politics beyond scapegoating to irrevocably impact our fates and fortunes. As did my mum, as did my brother. I became involved. Inspired.
Then this happened. This blog post. Everything in it. The growing despair that I would have to become something I am not to become something. British politics’ way of turning you into a machine with an ‘off-switch’ for emotions and empathy.
There are a lot of ‘I’s in this blog, from a blogger all too aware she has preached about the need for compromise of the personal for political gain for the gain of the many. But this isn’t about me. The worst part is the wider effect it has, these culture wars, this rightward shift. There are going to be so fewer normal, outspoken champions of those without voices and with few advocates wanting to stand for office. Not just now. Our culture, one that permits only ever more vitriolic, antagonist, anti-immigrant views and rhetoric is becoming a place where but two sets of people can thrive: One, the racist that genuinely believes and has conviction in what they are saying; and two, those who are trained to say it anyway.
That is why I have so much respect for outspoken (especially female) MPs who continue on, battling for what they believe to be true. They are the last defendants of Britain’s most vulnerable and most hated. Even with consequences as horrific as this.
But this is at the same time I feel belligerence toward the leadership for saying contentious things that jeopardize the party’s chances of winning in this increasingly toxic country. That paradox is impossible to mend.
My fear is that others who should be in Parliament and in Cabinet and Prime Minister, fighting against the grain, will have to make a choice between being true and being effective, and will understandably choose to remain the people they are. The effect will be that fewer and fewer voices will exist for those with none.
I hope British politics can one day be a place where decency can prevail openly and without threat once more. It’ll take a platform of powerful voices to change an entire consensus, to find that balance between the realities of opposition and the infamous shift in the Overton window, a thing I’m not entirely sure is actually a thing in its purest sense. I know something like it has happened before, from suffragettes to civil rights to the LGBT+ movement. I stand with the people with guts carrying that fight to change and challenge Britain’s increasing xenophobia forward, ones that can find a place between being true and being effective, so we can one day win to govern by our truth and build that better world. To change an entire culture to get there. To fight Jo’s fight.
Her fight has certainly reminded me to be true and good and courageous. To be human. And to fight for other humans.