I don’t know how to begin writing this. I don’t know how it’s going to end either; I’m kind of hoping that the words will sort themselves out and the thoughts crystallise as I type. But I know I have to say something, express something; I know this cannot pass unremarked.
My heart and head are full of thoughts of final farewells at present. This is par for the course, I guess, when the interral of your mother’s ashes is happening later this week; it’s been a really tough 8 months for me but it is now time to let go, to move on, to reengage with life and discover what awaits me next. Good things, I hope. Fresh challenges and new joys.
One of my favourite sayings is ‘the personal is the political’ and there does seem to be some overlap and resonance for me here; I’m wondering if the time is right now for me to say another farewell. I joined the Labour Party post 2010 GE, when it seemed time to put aside my lifelong resistance to joining things and get involved, as I could see what was coming under the auspices of the coalition and wanted to actively fight against it. However, I have voted Labour all my adult life, and that is now more years than I care to admit. The Labour party has always seemed like my natural home politically, and I have voted Labour irrespective of the leader, or the varying policies favoured over the years. I may have disagreed with some (a fair few, actually) but the differences have ultimately seemed less important than the similarities. We all want the same thing, after all, at heart. Equality, justice and fairness have been among the main values. Chief amongst these for me has always been fairness.
For clarity; I am not a member of Momentum. Although any members I’ve spoken to or met have seemed sound and considered people, I don’t really know what they’re there for. I am not an uncritical supporter of Jeremy Corbyn either. I did vote for him last year, but only after long discussions and careful considerations; I didn’t and don’t doubt his integrity or sincerity, but didn’t see him as a natural leader by any stretch of the imagination. However, he was the only candidate who mentioned austerity at all, saying it was wrong, cruel and unnecessary; he was also the only candidate offering a new approach. All the others, it seemed to me, were offering slightly differing versions of the strategies which had already been rejected by the public in 2010 and 2015. I could not (and still cannot) understand how anyone would believe this would be an effective way forward; it seemed (and still seems) to me that bold actions needed to be taken to offer a real alternative to the Tories, rather than a watered down version of their dogma. Austerity is a lie; austerity also kills.
So, the last year or so has been challenging, enlightening, educational, interesting and infuriating on many different levels. The constant arguing, feuding and disagreements have been draining but I have seen them as evidence of a healthy, forward looking movement. There has to be some grit in the oyster, after all, to form the pearl. If everyone agreed with everyone else all the time, there would or could be no progress at all; the party would just be a static echo chamber, incapable of innovation or improvement. Feelings have run high on both sides of the debate; I have joined in the discussions but my primary aim has always been to unite, to look for similarities, to open and maintain dialogue. No one likes conflict (unless you’re a psychopath, a bully or a Tory, I guess) and my instinct is always to look for common ground, and to remain optimistic that something good will emerge from all this heartache. I have refused to join in with name calling, insults, smears or other intemperate language. I have debated respectfully and politely and I do not agree with talk of purges, traitors or deselections. If that is what you have to do to keep a party together, well, the party’s over, isn’t it? It should be united by common purpose and shared beliefs, not fear of punishment or sanction.
But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?). But the events of last week have made me seriously consider my next move. I no longer feel I belong. There. I said it. I no longer feel as if I belong in the Labour Party. I listened to people at our local husting give woolly but well meaning answers about why Owen believes the same as Jeremy but is somehow more effective, despite having so little grassroots support and seemingly only having discovered the word ‘radical’ last week. I listened to people say they believe Jeremy is right about everything, and has been a positive force for good, but that is not enough to make them agree to support him. I listened to a speaker talk vehemently against entryism and wondered if we belong to the same party, or even live in the same country; where does he think these hundreds of thousands of entryists have been hiding all these years? Am I, in fact, one of them? Is this like insanity or alcoholism, when you are the last to know? Our CLP voted narrowly to back Owen Smith, but the debate was interesting, those in the hall were nice people and, though disappointed, I still figured us to be capable of finding a constructive way forward through this. Years of disunity ahead, granted, a huge festering mass of resentment, for sure, but ultimately a positive outcome at the end.
A Rubicon has been crossed for me, though, with the news of the appeal. To go to court to uphold your right to retrospectively deny 130 000 of your own supporters the right to vote in a leadership election is so perverse, so illogical, so unfair, that I cannot understand the motives behind it at all. I haven’t been able to find a convincing explanation of or justification for this move anywhere; the best I’ve found has been ‘well, it’s the law’, as if that trumps any moral or ethical considerations. Imagine if a big 6 energy company had behaved like this. Or a bank. Or the Tories. We’d rightly be castigating them for bullying tactics. We’d be saying there is nothing transparent about them. We’d be calling them twisted, corrupt, venal. We’d be shouting that this was unfair. I don’t care who the new members were going to vote for; I’d feel the same if they all supported someone I diametrically oppose. Everything I believe in and stand for is predicated on fairness, everything. It is what motivates me as an activist and as a Trades Unionist. I just don’t think I can fit any longer into a party which puts a point of law above fair treatment of its own members.
One of the biggest criticisms I hear about Jeremy Corbyn is that non Labour party members don’t like him and so the party is unelectable with him at the head. This is often said as if they are some strange and exotic breed but I live and work among non Labour party members, and although this is not a sentiment I’ve ever heard, I wouldn’t doubt the sincerity of those who say they have. However, while I would be happy to engage in a discussion with non party members around Corbyn, I have no clue how I can explain the disenfranchisement and its ramifications to others. I can’t justify it to myself; how the hell am I expected to explain this to those fabled floating voters we are supposed to be reaching out to? How can I leaflet and/or canvass for a party with what looks like a gaping moral hole at its centre? How can I put my heart into promoting a party that is working so uncompromisingly hard to break mine?
Many like minded members are telling me to stay put, to hold on, not to walk away, because that is exactly what ‘they’ want me to do. I do understand that argument but also I do have a limit; I don’t like to feel manipulated and can be very stubborn on occasion, but I cannot stay at any cost. I’m not sure I want to remain in a party where there is a ‘they’ so hell bent on engineering my departure ; perhaps I just cannot stay when I feel as if my heart has already left. I cannot stay and get further tainted by this toxicity, this desperate division, these acts of attrition.
So, I said at the beginning that I don’t know how this is going to end. Perhaps now is not the time for me to be making big decisions. Maybe I need to let all of this turmoil flow through and past me, without getting too pulled down by it. Maybe I need to postpone any decision until after the leadership election. Maybe I just need to temporarily disengage from it all. Maybe.