Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
I’ve always supported the Labour party, except briefly the Greens as a student.
I never really thought about it much: Labour would always be the least bad option and that was as far as my thinking went.
I was delighted with Blair’s win in 1997, and I would still praise the social programmes, the NHS investment, Sure Start, the reduction of poverty, the Good Friday Agreement.
I knew things were not entirely right. I recall seeing Tessa Jowell in a photoshoot smiling over a roulette table as the party embraced ‘super-casinos’ as a means of ‘regenerating’ deprived areas, and this made me profoundly uneasy. Other things, Rachel Reeves and her ‘tougher than the Tories on welfare’. Sinister certainly, but I didn’t think too much of it. Better than the alternative. Least worst.
And then Iraq.
There was nowhere else for my vote to go, and our electoral system forces choices on us that are crudely binary — you pick the red one or the blue one (or the orange one if that’s your fancy), and that’s that. I still picked the red one and watched in horror as the party failed to fight the ‘Labour’s mess’ narrative post the 2008 crash. The grim spectacle of Brown. Miliband and the Edstone and the ‘Controls on Immigration’ mugs.
But it was still my party, even then.
Improbably, Corbyn comes along, and I support him as I’ve supported every Labour leader since Kinnock. Corbyn was far closer to my own political beliefs, though I have to confess to never being a fan in the way some others were. But I believed in him, in his sincerity and his principles, and I believed in the manifesto, and I naively expected the party would allow him to lead. Obviously they would, he’s the leader and they’ll respect that.
What comes next is too bitterly familiar to require any further rehearsal. The party, far from respecting his leadership, declared war. They engaged in behaviour I still find it hard to believe actually happened, behaviour that descended into vicious verbal attacks on him personally and on his supporters inside the party. Character assassination. Political assassination. War.
I joined the party as a member, something I’ve never done before. Within 12 months I’d left again as the party attacked me with ridiculous and insulting antisemitism accusations. Then 2017, that strange hinge moment in UK history where two distinct possibilities existed, two possible futures, and it was so close you could touch it. So close.
2019, and — boom — it’s all gone again. The grim comedy of Starmer and his clumsy purging of the left, solemnly dressed up in the same shabby antisemitism rags they’d used to get rid of Corbyn.
The Board of Deputies 10 Point Pledge, the ‘first priority’, the appointment of the Antisemitism Advisory Panel, the suspensions, the clampdown on free speech, the creeping authoritarianism, the refusal to even discuss the previous four years except in terms of condemning Corbyn.
Labour Leaks, and the farce surrounding the Forde Report. The appalling realisation that the ‘moderate centre’ I’d supported my entire political life were in fact a gang of pitiless political thugs and saboteurs, perfectly willing to throw a general election, a once in a generation chance for…
All gone. Smoke and ashes and dust.
Was Corbyn without fault? Of course not. Arguably he was too passive in rebutting the firestorm of hate, arguably he was too collegiate, too reluctant to seize the party and shape it in his image. Too cautious, too quiet: possibly too decent.
But howsoever, it isn’t possible now for me to support the Labour party anymore. Tessa Jowell’s roulette wheel photoshoot was one thing, but this hateful campaign waged against Corbyn and his supporters quite another: it changed how I felt about the party, permanently. I couldn’t now return to my previous position of support because no better alternative existed. I just didn’t feel the same.
Which raises the question: what now? Keep trying to wrest the party back from the Centrists? Keep demanding a leadership challenge? Or abandon the party entirely? Support a socialist start-up party such as TUSC?
I have no idea, none. I feel as if I’m in one of those difficult break-ups, the kind that leaves you numb and bitter and exhausted. Breaking up with Labour truly is hard for me to do, even though I’ve never been an activist (apart from delivering leaflets) and it’s never been a big part of my life.
But it’s a lifetime of emotional investment, in cheering them on in good times and bad, hoping they’ll win, anxiously watching the polls, reading the commentaries.
Hard to let go. Hard not to want to love the Labour party again, to forgive and be forgiven, to make up.
That isn’t going to happen, though. The mask slipped and they revealed themselves for what they are, and, after that, I just don’t love them anymore. It’s over.
‘A sad tale’s best for Winter’, says Shakespeare, and that’s what this is, a sad tale of boy meets party, and how their love got lost.
Hard to do.