CLARIFICATION – THIS BLOG AND MY DEFECTION FROM LABOUR DO NOT RELATE TO EXETER LABOUR PARTY OR BEN BRADSHAW MP. I HAVE SEEN NOTHING BUT INTEGRITY FROM PEOPLE I CALL FRIENDS IN MY LOCAL LABOUR PARTY. SUGGESTION OTHERWISE IS CATEGORICALLY FALSE.
–Since writing this I have cancelled my Labour membership and joined the Liberal Democrats-
Every time I have ever seen the old opinion-poll question of ‘If there was an election next week who would you vote for?’ my answer has always been a split-second no-brainer; I would vote Labour. There is, however, an election next week and for the first time I do not know into which box I am going to put my cross. For someone who has been chair of a branch of Labour Students, who has stuffed countless envelopes for council, European and Parliamentary elections, who has walked endless miles with a Secretary of State in the last Labour Government campaigning for his re-election and who has attended the count in a Labour rosette, this is rather a jolt.
What it is not, however, is a knee-jerk reaction or a rash moment of disillusionment. Rather, it is the result of eighteen-months of soul searching, of listening to the arguments and evaluating the policies, or absence thereof. I no longer feel that the Labour Party represents me, represents the values I hold or the ideas I believe in nor that represents the best interests of this country as a whole. The Labour Party I joined, the Labour Party I worked tirelessly for and the politicians I sought to elect were Blairites. They were modern, forward thinking and inclusive. New Labour won three General Elections. New Labour, as proclaimed proudly by the new leadership, is dead.
My problems with the Labour Party as an organisation have always been present. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the word ‘Comrade’ being used to greet me on entering a constituency office or reading a local party email. I’m not a massive fan of the word ‘socialist’ being used to describe the party on the back of its membership cards. The number of people within the party who would like to see the reinstating of Clause 4 and a return to the halcyon days of Foot-esque leftism with shouts of ‘We’re not left-wing enough’ deeply concerns me. Sadly it is not them that are in the minority but me.
I’m pro-business, pro-wealth, pro-private sector investment, pro-individual responsibility. I’m in favour of a benefits cap because I don’t believe the State should subsidise someone’s lifestyle, merely enable them to continue with their life. I want to see lower taxes for people in general. I don’t think the tax system should be punitive to the rich and aggressive towards wealth creators. Punitive taxation for the richest is not a necessity to have fairer taxes for the poorest. The Coalition Government, in cutting the top rate of tax and cutting corporation tax and at the same time announcing the increase in the personal allowance, have shown Liberal Democrat drive and Liberal Democrat values. The Labour Party and its membership, bar a few increasingly out-of-place New Labour Blairites, are about more spending, more handouts, more debt, more tax as punishment for prosperity and less individual responsibility. This is not a sentiment which I want to be associated with. It is certainly not one I can defend on the doorsteps.
The Labour Party talks of an anointed cabal at the top of Government. The hypocrisy of this sentiment coming from a party such as Labour is ludicrous. Labour is a party where some members have three votes in a leadership election and some only one, where the front-bench are made up of the same rich intelligentsia as the Government benches, where the Trades Unions can hold the Party to ransom and where the next generation of leaders are brought up through Labour Students, an organisation which is untransparent, undemocratic, unfair and whose leadership is anointed not elected.
The class-warfare that the Labour Party is launching on the Government is shameful. It is not the kind of politics a serious Opposition should be engaging in. Mr Miliband should understand better than many that it is not your background that defines you but your ideas. If he believes that governments should not be run by privileged, sheltered millionaires then he and his Shadow Cabinet should hand in their resignations tomorrow morning.
My problem does not lie solely with Ed Miliband, though. With the exception of his brother (who perfectly demonstrates that a lack of charisma is fraternal), the other leadership candidates were just as bad, just as outdated, just as out-of-touch with reality. What is worrying is that the membership is, generally, more left-wing than the leadership. The old adage that Labourites love being a shouty, left-wing opposition is apparently true.
I think all that is enough to safely enable me to say I no longer feel at home in the Labour Party. So, what next? Well I am not a Tory, although I would be more comfortable being labelled a conservative than a socialist. I think that the Tory focus on big business rather than the small- and medium-sized businesses that must be the backbone of the recovery is too much. The Tory Party membership is generally to the right of its leadership much as Labour’s is to the left. Labour tolerated Blair because he won, the Tories tolerated Cameron because he, just about, does the same.
The Liberal Democrats, I do believe, are different. Taking time to see through the vitriol which I am as guilty as any of spouting I can see a Party that really believes in something. There is Liberal Democrat influence in Government, although this influence is of course relative to its status within the Coalition. I’ve read the Coalition Agreement, I’ve pored over every facet of party policy and I’ve found myself nodding along in wholehearted agreement to the vast majority. The Liberal Democrats elect their leader, one member, one vote unlike Labour. Conference decides party, although of course not government, policy. Liberal Youth is transparent and welcoming, unlike Labour Students. Liberal Democrats believe in what their party stands for, if they don’t, they vote to change it. Conservative and Labour canvassers often disagree with what they’re spouting on the doorsteps. I know, I’ve been asked to lie for Labour.
I’m well aware that a Liberal Democrat majority government is unlikely. I know that people don’t vote Liberal Democrat because the other two spread the fiction that a Liberal Democrat vote is really either a Tory/Labour one. I know, I’ve been told to spread this message too. I also know, however, that I agree with their policies more than others. I know I respect the way they do things. I also know joining the Liberal Democrats will provoke a backlash of abuse from all sides, in fact some Labourites have already started it.
I still believe that there is a place for idealism in politics, that there are arguments that can be won, that a vote does not simply have to be red or blue. Socialist or Tory. Standing in the voting booth on Thursday will be the deciding moment for me. To quote Robert Frost, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood […] and I took the one less travelled by and that made all the difference’.
After all politics is not about doing what is easy but about doing what is right.