A Defector's Tale

I’m not your classic Blairite. I understand, and have argued against, some of the key problems with Blairism. Labour’s right has, for several decades now, been guilty of talking down to people with different ideas. I’m also more liberal: I would never agree to things like mandatory ID cards, no matter who proposed them. This is a story of a tough political choice.

Before the Labour leadership I threw myself wholeheartedly into campaigning for Ed Miliband’s Labour. I didn’t actually agree with everything he said, nor did I think he was the best option for Labour leader, but- as many on the right of the Labour party will still say- I believed that ‘a Labour government will always be better than a Tory one’. An unshaking mantra for many.

Losing the election was no surprise, with the polls the way they were. The Conservatives were winning the popular vote and, no matter what you could say about the SNP, a coalition led by a party that had lost the election, propped up by backroom Westminster deals, would have been entirely undemocratic. Losing by quite so much, so much that the Conservatives had a majority, was a surprise.

Now when the Labour leadership started, everything seemed clear to me. Liz Kendall gave Labour the best chance of winning, and actually wanted to bring about change that would transform people’s lives for the better. Burnham or Cooper would probably win it, who were both decent if safe choices. Jeremy Corbyn would fall at the first hurdle, as Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell had before him.

This is where Blairism succumbed to its usual failure. Corbyn’s popularity snowballed overnight, without anyone noticing. Labour’s right may well have been correct, but that makes no difference. Kendall and the vast majority of her supporters said what they wanted to happen, presented their case, and then thought everyone would naturally agree. The concerns of the Corbynites had no merit: how could they when they were wrong? They weren’t listened to, and the case wasn’t put to them. Exactly the same can be said for Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham and their supporters.

Before long, the writing was on the wall. The campaign that latterly morphed into Momentum had successfully built a small cult whose members were able to bully and lie to anyone. People were told Jeremy Corbyn stood for anything they wanted him to stand for so many times no other argument would get through, even if anyone else were bothering to make one. Threats and abuse were rampant, even if it only came from a dedicated few. Even I received threats, the majority (but not all) of them purely because I was supporting another candidate. Some of them were simply because I once wrote that fiscal responsibility was vital if Labour was ever going to win again.

This was the toxic environment in which many of us started seriously investigating what Corbyn stood for. He is certainly unprecedented in the context of Labour Party history. His famed ‘principles’ seemed simply to mean ‘being as different as he could be’. Many of his dodgiest moments completely contradicted with each other, if it be his virtually colonial anti-British stand on the Falklands or his anti-Israeli stand with Hamas under the guise of anti-Imperialism.

His foreign policy ideas and largely historic (although not entirely historic, noting he was chair of Stop the War until after he was elected) foreign policy ‘activism’ were scary to say the least. They were also largely incomprehensible. Some of them made uncomfortable reading, including some of his ideas about the Middle East and the armed forces.

His economic ideas weren’t much better. Calling them ‘economically illiterate’ seems kind. Their actual effects would undoubtedly be deeply regressive and completely catastrophic. Nothing’s changed there, with Labour currently exploring the idea of a ‘citizen’s income’, where the working poor’s taxes go to giving Richard Branson £70 a week. All of these claims are backed up claims a random number of Nobel Prize winners and academic agree with them, where the majority have only said they disagree with government austerity policies or are somehow either noted radicals or professors in irrelevant subjects.

Where our education system needs help, his National Education Service ignores virtually every problem with it. His free tuition pledge, where a rather good idea, was completely unfunded; it would either require universities to cut places, thus making universities the elitist stalwart of the class system they were when they were last free, or cut standards.

Domestic policy was also not his thing. Renationalising the railways, at great expense to the taxpayer, so middle class rail commuters would have someone else to complain to about the exact same high prices and poor service doesn’t sound like a solution. Nor does abolishing the monarchy (which was only briefly a clear campaign aim, granted), or imposing the same failing rent controls that they have in New York.  

This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Is a Labour government always better than a Tory one? Well, no it isn’t. A Tory government sometimes does good things. Corbyn’s government would always be catastrophic for everyone. Was Labour really the only opposition to the Tories? With that realisation, why would someone that doesn’t agree with the values of Labour’s current leaders and members still be a Labour party member?

The realisation came about a month before the votes were counted. He was going to win, so I started searching for reasons to stay. Staying out of loyalty was certainly tempting but a party is made up of the members and their values; values I no longer shared. I could fight Corbyn from the inside, but that would be as futile as it would be soul destroying knocking on doors and having to smile as you talk up a party and potential manifesto that goes against your every principal. I therefore decided to stay just long enough to cast my vote, out of loyalty to my former comrades, and then leave.

With this decided, I started wondering what I’d do now. I’ve always fought for what I thought was right and I decided that wasn’t going to change. Doing this alone is futile. Alone you’re irrelevant, with others you can be part of an influential platform.

During this period, several other Labour members who planned to leave contacted me with an idea: a new cross party centrist movement. This is an idea I’d like to develop, one I can see having an incredibly positive effect, but is not a campaigning force. We’re still aiming to create such a movement, if you’re interested (get in touch).

Politically unaligned, I naturally gravitated to the last remaining liberal centrist party. I have a lot of Lib Dem friends, so started talking to senior figures in the party and lowly members alike. Before long, Corbyn’s woeful lack of opposition became apparent, with PMQs reduced to questions from ‘Susan from Basingstoke’ delivered by the world’s most boring history lecturer, and the Lib Dems had become the only effective opposition to the Tory government. I was convinced that their voice is the only truly positive one in British politics right now, and they are the only political party that wants to change people’s lives for the better.

Joining would require a compromise at my end. Ever the pragmatist, compromise is ok. There are some aspects of party policy I disagree with, but my values are socially democratic liberal values. Even then, this sneaking feeling of disloyalty to my comrades fighting for rational and pragmatic Labour party held me back. It took a message from Tim Farron to get me to make the jump.

Labour’s current farce is a lot less soul destroying from the other side. An inept shadow cabinet with the one man worse than Corbyn now shadow chancellor, and activists from far left parties mobilising to threaten and abuse pro-intervention or moderate labour MPs. With 200,000 new Labour members and god knows how many leavers for some months yet, fighting against the nonsense is futile.

Any Blairite will tell you that the only way to change the world for the better is to be pragmatic, to affect evidence based changes from the centre, and to aim to make life better for everyone even if progressively. Don’t get me wrong, the Liberal Democrats share few policies with Blair, but they do share these commitments with Labour’s right and offer a real chance for those left behind to fight for what’s right. If you’re a downtrodden Labour moderate, it’s well worth joining us; once again, you can have a political project to be proud of.