Today I resigned from the Labour Party and breathed a huge sigh of relief because as Tony Benn said when he retired as an MP, I can now devote more time to politics…
The immediate reason for me leaving the party is because I can no longer support a party which claims to be a democratic socialist party and yet suspends and expels good socialists on the grounds they are racists simply because they campaign on behalf of an indigenous, third-world people who were violently expelled from their homeland by European and American colonialists and who are now kept incarcerated in de facto concentration camps at the point of a gun and under a relentless regime of extreme military violence.
In my view anyone who is not prepared to condemn foreign governments who do such things has no right to call themselves a socialist. And a party that allows pressure groups funded by these oppressive foreign governments to set an agenda that leads to the expulsion and persecution of some of the party’s most passionate and hard working anti-racist activists on the Kafkaesque grounds that fighting racism makes them racists, is not a party I wish to have anything to do with.
I also refuse to be silenced by partisan party apparatchiks or live under constant threat of suspension or expulsion by said apparatchiks, simply because I self-identify as a democratic socialist… in a party that says it is a democratic socialist party!
As a democratic socialist I thought perhaps the Labour Party would be a natural home for me. After all when Clause 4 was controversially rewritten in 1994 the opening sentence of Blair’s new Clause 4 said, “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.” It still says that today. But it seems that this was really a politically expedient sop to the by-then almost completely emasculated left, and that no one in the Labour Party really believed it. Indeed, the Chair of a neighbouring CLP, who is well educated in the ways of the party, was astounded when I pointed out to him last year that the party rule book still states that “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.”
As a democratic socialist I publicly argue for a moderate neo-Keynesian, mixed-economy, Scandinavian-style, social democracy. One would think perhaps that this is a fairly uncontroversial position to take in a party that claims to a democratic socialist party, yet these ideas of mine have been described by local colleagues in the Labour Party as ‘dangerous ideas’. It is surely laughable that any party that regards such a policy platform as being ‘dangerous’ or ‘too extreme’ can still call itself a democratic socialist party?
I did not join a political party to help my political enemies get elected and I do not intend to do so anymore. That is the immediate reason for me leaving the Labour Party but of course that is only part of the story…
The Labour Party is the most compromised and corrupted political organisation I’ve ever been involved with… And I’ve been involved in Trade Unions for thirty years so that really is saying something!
I was a Labour Party member briefly in the early 80’s but left in 1984 because of Kinnock’s equivocations over the Miner’s Strike. I re-joined the party on Saturday 12th September 2015 on the day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader for the first time…
And to be honest I wish I hadn’t because the three years since have been an absolute nightmare.
I had of course been aware throughout the 90’s of the Blair Ditch-Socialism Project but I had not understood the extent to which the soul of the party had been corrupted by the likes of Alistair Campbell and the Prince of Darkness himself, Peter Mandelson. When I rejoined I discovered that the Labour Party had become an entirely centrist liberal, electioneering machine, steeped in the dog-eat-dog, greed is good, success-at-all-costs, ends-justify-the-means, culture that had emerged out of the Big Bang, Loads-a-money, City Of London culture of the 80’s and 90’s. I discovered that political principles of any kind were sneered at and that cynical manipulation and bullying by local, regional and national officials was the order of the day.
I had for 4 months been a member of the Communist Party back in 1977 (I joined mainly because I knew it would irritate my Dad) but had left after my first Party Conference in Manchester when the comrade from London’s train was late and we were told we couldn’t discuss anything until he arrived because we didn’t know what ‘the party line was’. Neary 40 years later I discovered that this kind of Soviet style, Democratic Centralism, had also engulfed Blair’s LP with the Leaders Office issuing ‘the line’ and everyone simply parroting it, no thinking required thank you. But then Corbyn was elected and everything changed… except it didn’t.
The first email I received from my local CLP (Stratford Upon Avon) claimed that Corbyn’s election had decimated the membership of the CLP as members were leaving in droves. This was a straightforward lie. The membership of the CLP in the 12 months following Corbyn’s election more than doubled. The next move of the CLP Exec was to exclude all new members from even attending meetings. This decision was supported by the Labour Party Compliance Unit. I then discovered that the CLP was run by one man and his wife and there hadn’t been an AGM for 5 years. This couple were the Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, Organisers and all the Branch Chair’s of the CLP rolled into one… oh, and he was the Parliamentary Candidate for three elections and Conference delegate for many years with no selection process for either position.
After Corbyn was elected this man had ‘unfriended’ anyone who voted for Corbyn from the party Facebook group. When I offered to help organise branch meetings in my town I was told by him in no uncertain terms that my help was not required… despite the fact there hadn’t been a branch meeting for over a year! When I tried to talk to the Labour Party West Midlands Regional Office about all these shenanigans they refused to talk to me. They refused to tell me who the members of the CLP Exec were, who the branch officers were, how many members the CLP had or even what the local CLP and Branch rules and Standing Orders were. It also turned out that during the previous 5 years 4 formal complaints had been submitted to Region and to the NEC about this individual, including serious allegations of bullying and breaking the party rules, but that receipt of these complaints had never even been acknowledged, let alone an investigation mounted. And yet as a Corbynite the Regional Office apparently regarded me as the problem!?
After two years of vitriolic confrontation we eventually managed to get a new Chair, a full Exec and a full compliment of Branch Officers elected according to legitimate Standing Orders. However, within three months of the new Exec being in place the previous Chair submitted a formal complaint that 5 of the Exec had met secretly in a pub to talk about him and Region immediately initiated a full, formal, investigation. This took over six months to conclude that Labour Party members are in fact allowed to meet in pubs and talk about anything and anyone they damn well please! The complaint was dismissed but by then the new Exec had become unworkable largely because of the shadow of this vexatious complaint hanging over it. It appears the Regional Office of the Labour Party was actively seeking to undermine elected CLP officials but only if they were seen as Corbyn supporters… bearing in mind Corbyn had by now been elected leader for a second time and with an increased majority.
During the recent Stratford Upon Avon District Council elections the Labour Candidate in Clopton Ward, Jason Fojtik, a virulent supporter of the corrupt CLP old-guard, resigned from the Labour Party after the deadline for submitting candidates had passed and stood as an independent candidate supporting Change UK. This meant that the voters of Clopton Ward were deliberately denied a Labour candidate by a man claiming to be that very candidate until the moment he resigned. The following week some unknown person rang the Daily Mail accusing me of being an antisemite. In fact, Mr Fojtik with whom I have had perfectly convivial 121 meetings on more than one occasion, told the Daily Mail in an extensive interview that I was so evil he could never even be in a room with me! What a marvellous coincidence for Mr Fojtik that he could launch his election campaign by viciously smearing a bloke who used to be on the telly with accusations of perhaps the worst moral crime in modern times, anti-semitism, and by making the smear in perhaps the most virulently right-wing newspaper in the country, which in the 1930’s had openly supported the Nazis and Mosley’s Blackshirts. I mean this lot seem to have completely misplaced Gordon Brown’s ‘moral compass’… if they ever had one in the first place.
Some will no doubt say that locally the most notorious and morally bankrupt of these people have left the CLP so why should I choose now to resign? Well, firstly because the vile accusations against me in the Daily Mail make me realise how vulnerable all of us members of the LP are to the manipulations of the Party bureaucracy. And secondly because in my view the LP bureaucratic machine has been corrupted beyond reform. It would take a generation before the centrist liberals in place across the party machine could be replaced and Brexit has now made it extremely difficult for the socialist left to triumph in the Party. Corbyn is over 70 and not a natural leader (he’s too nice), and at 62 (I know, I know, it is hard to believe) I don’t have that long to live and I don’t intend to see out my days fighting the right of the Labour Party for control of a morally bankrupt institution. Enough is enough. I’m off fishing. Fuck ’em.
My experiences in the Labour Party over the last three years combined with the political shit-show that is Brexit, have convinced me that our political system is not fit for purpose. I’m not a fan of liberal, representative democracy anyway, believing myself in a more discursive and participatory form of democracy, but even by the standards of those who support liberal, representative democracy, it is failing.
This is partly because the ‘broad church’ Labour and Conservative parties no longer reflect any demographic political reality, if indeed, they ever did. Both parties are now coalitions so broad that they are constantly riven by ideological, sectarian, civil wars because they are fragile coalitions not of political allies with slightly differing emphasis but of political enemies with mutually exclusive political values.
There is certainly no ‘broad church’ in the Labour Party and hasn’t been for 20 years. Blair completely reformulated the LP as a centrist, liberal, electioneering machine, in which moderate, democratic socialists like myself are to be regarded as political enemies… Which of course we are! Because centrist liberals are effectively very wet Tories. They believe in globalisation, the financialisation of the economy and free market capitalism; their only caveat is that they would like to help the deserving poor a bit, just a bit though, and definitely only the deserving poor, not the scroungers and lazy scum of the underclass, and definitely not too much to upset the markets, obviously…
As a democratic socialist I on the other hand, believe capitalism is a veeeeery mixed blessing and that if left to its own devices it will destroy the planet and reduce all but a tiny few of humanity to poverty and serfdom. I believe in a mixed economy where we collectively own key assets and utilities, where progressive taxation is used purposefully to redistribute wealth in line with concepts of economic and social justice and in which business and capital as well as government are democratically accountable.
The Conservative Party is similarly split but between (i) those confirmed monarchists, patriots and unionists who are opposed to the EU and to disruptions to existing (white British) community and tradition – even when those disruptions are due to free markets. And who are opposed in principle to multi-culturalism and the resulting ethnic pluralism and instead pushing for the cultural integration of immigrants into white British culture. (ii) Those free market capitalists and business interests committed to constant change and constant disruption, committed to reducing the size of the state and privatising what remains of the post WW2 welfare state and committed to disrupting the power bases of traditional expert professional elites such as civil servants, lawyers, academics, teachers, doctors etc and replacing all of the above with the ‘power’ of markets.
Both parties only continue to exist as corporate entities because they have stakeholders such as paid officials, elected officers, elected councillors, MP’s and grassroots activists who are so heavily invested in the institutions that they will do anything and make any compromise in order to keep these dying beasts alive.
Thus my profoundest political wish is that coming out of Brexit there is a profound realignment of UK politics leading to at least 4 national parties fighting general elections that more accurately represent the UK electorate:
Nationalist Conservative Party – These would be ‘proper’ conservatives i.e. resisting change. Founded in a respect for social position and inherited privilege. Supporters of the political Union of the United Kingdoms of England, Scotland, Wales & N. Ireland. Proud of the history of the British Empire, nervous about immigration.
Capitalist Tory Party – The Tory party of David Cameron. ‘Small State’ neoliberal capitalists. Rhetorical support for meritocracy (although cynically disingenuous). Pro-EU, socially liberal and committed to ‘progress’ through neoliberal free-markets and the privatisation of everything the state does that can be privatised… and in their view that is everything.
Centrist Liberal Party – New Labour merged with LibDems. Actual belief in meritocracy. Pro-EU. Fiscally conservative and pro-capitalist but socially liberal and with the vestiges of a commitment to a Welfare State… if sometimes provided by private, commercial service providers.
Democratic Socialist Party – Old Labour & The Greens. Belief in equal rights. Belief in reciprocal social responsibility. Critical of capitalism. Environmentalists and socialists committed to a neo-Keynsian challenge to free-market capitalism and to widening democratic accountability.
The ‘far right’ and revolutionary left parties at the fringes would continue.
The efficacy of such a system would be dependent upon the introduction of some sort of electoral proportional representation.
The downside of such a massive political realignment is that it would undoubtedly result in far more hung parliaments and coalitions… and after the ConDem coalition of 2010-2015 the dangers of coalitions are obvious.
However, and perhaps paradoxically, I believe such a realignment would reduce the toxic atmosphere involved in much contemporary political debate in the UK because much of that toxicity arises from the internal struggles within the monoliths of the Conservative and Labour Parties trying to reconcile irreconcilable ideological differences.
To acknowledge these differences and to form parties that more accurately reflect the underlying ideological distinctions could allow political parties to function with less internal acrimony and allow them all to be much more open and honest with the electorate and thus reduce the self-defeating internal political compromises that, for example, led David Cameron to call the Brexit referendum in the first place.
Is it possible that Brexit could result in a political trauma of significant magnitude to bring about such a realignment? I really do hope so but either way I cannot in all conscience remain a member of a political party I actively wish to see dismantled.