Why I’m not a member of the Labour Party
Lefty blogger Ellie Mae has just joined the Labour Party. She explains why over at Liberal Conspiracy. So, I thought I’d follow the trend, and write about my membership status in that party: that is, why I am not a member of the Labour Party. Of course, an obvious place to start would be with ideology. As Bright Green’s Gary Dunion puts it “why should politics be more complicated than ‘I’m left wing. I’m not going to join a right wing party’?”.
And, make no mistake – Labour is a right wing party. In her piece, Ellie spits with fury at Labour’s ‘Third Way’. Presumably because she recognises there is no such thing – Blair’s philosophy turned out to be less Giddens and more Friedman, with mass privatisation, stripping of any industrial policy, and an increased reliance on markets. Or we could talk about immigrant bashing. Or a legacy of the most unequal society since the Victorian era. Or increasing carbon emissions, or Afghanistan and Palestine. Or forcing trade deals on developing countries that have locked millions into poverty. Or, you know, Iraq.
I could give the simple argument “I’m not a member of the Labour Party because I am a member of the Green Party. I spend elections knocking on doors asking people to vote for candidates who I know believe in basically the same things as I do.” And for me, that is important.
But that all seems unfair. Because Ellie (and others on the left who have recently joined Labour) happily agrees that she doesn’t believe in many of the policies of the Labour Party. She might even accept that she agrees with more Green Party policies. So let’s look at why she has said she has joined – both because the arguments are worth considering, and because they are the same used by many on the left who have joined Miliband’s Party in the last few months.
The first argument is that her priorities have shifted. Whereas before, she hoped to build a better future, now she just wants to stop the cuts being forced on the country by the coalition government. The only way she sees to do this is through trades unions, as represented by Labour. Now, I agree that stopping these cuts is important. But I don’t see how Labour will do that – they support massive cuts too, and, just as importantly, they have spent the last 13 years pushing through mass privatisation. Sure, they were assaulting the country more slowly than the Tories, and yes, that is important. But it is hardly worth fighting for, and it’s hardly saving something if you then plan to destroy it a little more slowly. Similarly, the unions (or many of them, at least) may still be a constituted part of the Labour Party. But no where in her piece does Ellie explain why the fact that I believe in unions means that I should agree with the decision some of them have made to remain affiliated to Labour after 13 years in which the party did nothing to repeal the laws that make it so hard for shop stewards to lead the fightback against cuts. If it’s the unions you believe in (and I certainly do), then you can join, and become active in, a union. You don’t need to join the Labour Party.
But, beyond that, we can’t accept the idea that the best we can hope for is that things become worse more slowly. Our children deserve better than that.
But again, I am not being entirely fair. Because I have avoided Ellie’s second point, and her most important. She hopes that she can (with others) reform the Labour Party. I can respect that. But I don’t see how. Labour is not a democratic party. New members have very little say over policy. The only way that you can gain any significant influence is through climbing the slippery ladder. And that means supporting people that 1970s Tories would have considered loony right wingers. And all that time, you are pushing candidates who are dragging British politics to the right. I can see a route to reform the Lib Dems. They have democratic policy processes (sort of). But after 2 decades of trying, the left in Labour is weaker than it has ever been – many of their decent MPs stood down at the last election. And no, Ed Miliband is not on the left of the Party. The fact that some think he is is just a sign of how bad things have got. If your strategy is to infiltrate a right wing party and make it less right wing, why not go the whole hog and go for one of the ones which have power at the moment?
But, ultimately, I don’t see how being a member of the Labour Party is the best way to reform it. Surely that is a basic failure to understand how negotiation works? If you want to send a message to Labour that ‘No matter how hard you swing to the right, no matter that you screw over refugees and dismantle the public sector, no matter how much you hand our national economy to a tiny elite, and no matter how much you gloat about it, you can always rely on the support of the left’, then join the Labour Party. If you want to send a clear message ‘keep tacking to the right, because no matter how far you go, we’ll always be right behind you’ then join the Labour Party. And tell them that there is absolutely no point whatsoever in changing any of these policies. Because they can rely on your support anyway. If Labour is going to reform, then they have to understand that moving to the right means losing supporters, members, activists – and voters.
And so, if you want to reform Labour, join the only properly organised party to their left – the Green Party. That isn’t why I’m a member. I’m a member because I want to help build a better world. Because I think that the way that the neo-liberals win is by making us believe that the best we can hope for is that the grit being ground into our faces doesn’t go in our eyes. Because I think that history shows that radical social change isn’t only possible, but happens all the time. But, if your reason for joining a political party is because you want to reform the Labour Party, then why would you think that Labour is the party to join to do that?