17 May 2011

Going Where the Grass is Greener - Why I'm Leaving Labour

Josiah Mortimer

It's been an tough decision to make, but I have decided to join the Green Party. For the past year I've been in the Labour party, and met some fantastic people - principled people, including many on the left. MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have consistently acted upon their socialist beliefs, and been dedicated to fighting for social justice and egalitarianism. The election of Ed Miliband provided some hope for people like me, that is, Young Socialists (sadly just 'Young Labour' now) by offering a split from New Labour. But I have decided to change party for a lot of reasons, which I'll try and explain.

Firstly, the old cliche, which I've just realised to be true. Though there are some socialists in the Labour party, it is fundamentally, and unfortunately, not a left-wing party. That is not to say this won't change in the future (social democratic parties have been wiped out in Europe after the '90s) - but the Labour party doesn't represent all that many progressive views. Cuts are being supported by Labour. Just at a slightly slower rate - not really encouraging for people about to lose their job or having their disability support slashed. And in education, Labour still supports a view of education that sees it as a mere commodity to be sold to students, or 'customers' as we are increasingly called. Education is a public good, a gift from one generation to another. It pays for itself in extra tax revenue from higher earning graduates. It creates well-rounded individuals. And ability to pay shouldn't come into the public sector - whatever part of the public sector that is. On Trident, the war in Afghanistan, on Gaza and NATO, the Green Party is on the side of progressivism when frankly Labour isn't.

I voted for Ed Miliband. He appeared to support a future for Britain that is centre-left on the side of equality. But now he seems keen on reducing the role of trade unions within the party and is cozying up to 'Blue Labour' - effectively a continuation of New Labour but with slightly less free-market obsession and slightly more racism and xenophobia. Again, not all that inspiring.

I come back to the point of socialists in the Labour party. John McDonnell, the beacon of hope within the party, couldn't even get on the ballot for the leadership election. He had to drop out to boost Dianne Abbott's chances of getting on there. And she sent her kids to private school. Caroline Lucas MP is to the left of Abbott - and leads the Greens. I want to be part of a party that not only has strong left element, but that is actually led by the left.

Of course, there are flaws with the Greens. They don't have trade unions at their heart. But unlike Labour, the Green's stand on a platform of removing anti-trade union laws. Something Labour didn't do in their 13 years of power. And the Greens perhaps have a presentation problem of being seen as a bourgeois humus-eating elitist clique. However, all the Green Party members I know are rooted in realism and the working class. Are they a single issue party If so, which single issue Wishing to clamp down on tax dodging Seeking a fairer tax system to stop the cuts. Through their 131 councillors, their MP and MEPs, they have shown that they most definitely are not a single-issue party. Nonetheless, if they were it would be preferable to a party that has no firm beliefs anymore at all.

The Greens are growing. Membership is going up. Their democratic representation is increasing all the time - even under First Past the Post (which, unlike Labour, the Greens oppose) - as they now control Brighton council and have councillors across the country. Their stature and credibility as a party is growing. It took a long time for me to be convinced of that, but it's true.

I don't want, or need, to list what I think the Labour party did wrong over the past thirteen years. Because many good things happened. Sure Start, investment in the NHS, the minimum wage, devolution and so on. And I am filled with a certain sense of guilt for leaving a party that declares on our membership cards it is a 'democratic socialist party'. But then I remember this was only put in as a concession after the tragic removal of the radical Clause 4 in the '90s.

Again, I have to stress, I fully support the left within the Labour party. The Labour Representation Committee has played a fantastic role in keeping it alive within the movement, and I will sorely miss not being able to retain my LRC membership. Even of those not on the left there are some fantastic people locally who I respect and wish all the best. And were the Labour Party to ever (as unlikely as it may seem) shift back to the left, I will be one of the first to rejoin. But this is looking increasingly remote the more disillusioned I become with Ed Miliband and the rest of the leadership.

So. All the best to all the Labour comrades I have met over the past year and hope to remain friends with - and solidarity with all the trade unionists and socialists still sticking with the party. I'm going to make a firm pledge now that if I ever stand as a Green candidate it will never be against a dedicated left-wing Labour member.

And neither am I going to ask anyone to follow suit. I don't want to be a human billboard for ditching the Labour party. But as the saying goes - the Labour party left us, not the other way round.

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