Principles intact: why I left the Labour Party

I have only been a member of the Labour Party for a short period of my life. My first stint started when I was about 16 and ended when I failed to renew when I was, I think, 21. I rejoined in 2011 and left yesterday.

Like many members, horrified by a clear growth in inequality since 2010 and an alarming rise of over 1000% in food bank use, I argued for a more left wing agenda for our 2015 election campaign, certain that Labour would help to form the next government. In my mind, there was no way that the Tories could win given that background; if they could not win in 2010, how on earth would they do so now?

I stared open mouthed as the BBC exit poll was revealed on election night and held back tears when this initial prediction proved to be optimistic. Over the following weeks I tried to make sense of this seemingly incomprehensible result and winced as Labour rushed into a leadership election before doing the same.

I confronted my previous belief, reinforced by my Twitter feed, that my views reflected the mood of the majority of the voting nation and read initially unpalatable analysis of the election defeat. Handicapped by a ridiculous voting system (which as the late, lamented Robin Cook had predicted that we would regret not reforming when we had a powerful mandate) how could Labour ever again win power?

Where did Labour need to win in 2015? Who would they need to appeal to?

I found the polling analysis of former Miliband advisor James Morris compelling and the advice on recognising the difference between ‘the people’ and ‘the voter’ by Kevin Meagher to be vital. Fundamentally, Labour must win seats that are currently held by the Conservatives. Winning back Scotland is a red herring – if Labour had held all their seats there we would still have a Tory government.

It was clear to me that the new leader needed to recognise this, have a good chance of being listened to in those key areas and could lead the wider party to formulate and campaign on policies with appeal to those most likely to vote. Underwhelmed by the choice in front of me I nonetheless used this as my guide in selecting my preferences for leader.

As Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy seemed to be to ignore the evidence and target those who have been the least likely to vote, he was the least plausible candidate in my view and, as a long standing Internationalist, I disagreed with his stance on NATO and on the EU and his lack of interest in electoral reform.

As we now know, I was in a very clear minority within the party and the membership have indisputably decided to take what I consider to be the least likely course to power. That is a choice that I must respect but it is not one that I can lend my voice to or to give any of my precious time to actively promote. That is why I chose to end my second stint as a Labour member.

I hope that clarifies my position and helps everyone to understand that I have no hostility towards the party or the new leader. I wish them well and now must ask everyone who voted for him or voiced their support to step up because unless that support is matched by genuine activism it will be worthless.

The thoughtful analysis of the hard road that Labour now needs to travel by Owen Jones should be required reading for all Corbyn supporters. It makes it very clear that engagement with actual voters is going to be key in the face of an (even more) inevitably hostile media. Just expressing your views on social media will not cut it.

Once I took the decision to re-join it was to do it properly. Since 2011 I have been CLP Vice Chair and election agent. I arranged a delegation to meet the shadow schools minister in Westminster. Local campaigning on education issues has achieved notable victories that I will probably never be able to reveal but are not immediately obvious to most casual observers.

Through Educating Brentwood I have made what I hope will be life long friends but our campaigns led to alienation and hostility that continues to affect me and my family to this day.

We did it because we believed it had to be done when it would have been far easier to keep quiet. So forgive me if I get irritated when people question my ‘principles’.

It is clear that Jeremy Corbyn has inspired many to engage with politics and to express their support for his programme. I warmly welcome that but if that vocal support is not matched by deeds, as he himself has stated, then it will be for nought.

I am unconvinced that this is how things will turn out, I don’t believe the strategy can bring about the change in government that we desperately need and so I would rather apply my time and energy to making a difference as a school governor.

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