So I have my ballot paper for the Labour leadership election and I desperately want to write “neither of these two…..I want to vote for someone who represents neither the Corbyn camp or the parliamentary Labour Party but has the best aspects of the two.”
If there had the chance I would have liked to vote for Yvette Cooper or somebody of that ilk who actually represented where I am coming from. That is I want a candidate who stands a chance of winning votes from middle England and being media friendly whilst at the same time displaying socialist Labour principals.
What I am faced with instead is a choice between Corbyn and Smith. Whilst the former’s policies generally attract me I am unimpressed with the way it seems that he has let John McDonnell manipulate him.
I also believe that there is no way he can deliver us from a series of Tory governments over the next decade. The reason for this is partly because of the way the media are portraying him but it is more than that. He is focused on building a social movement and that is what he has successfully been doing. However, social movements are not political parties. With the system of democracy we have the key role of social movements is to act as lobbyists influencing those in parliament and bring about change outside of the chamber too. Social movements are effectively the way we let Parliament know we want them to act in different ways to those they are proposing or to take notice of issues which have been ignored.
With regard to the latter. I believe he has also allowed himself to become the puppet of others who have ambition to take power in the future and wanted a fall guy to be the interim leader. He is now saying whatever appears to be necessary to gain the leadership and has shown himself not to be a consistent and principled politician.
Whilst considering who to vote for I have also been thinking of the views of those around me. Many of the most principled people I know are supporting Corbyn because he stands for so much of what they have campaigned and worked for over the years. He is the change they want to see.
Then there are those who are in a similar position to myself and are generally going for Smith because there is the feeling we need to rebuild with somebody the PLP will work with.
However, beyond these are the marginal voters I have listened to over the years. These are generally people I have sometimes shared offices with or listened to as they have chatted with their friends on buses and trains. I know the concerns they have for themselves and their families. Concerns which in the last election made many of these people vote Tory when they were clearly undecided. They are often the people UKIP is exploiting the fears of and some of those who have taken us in to Brexit. These are not bad people in fact most of them are very good people, but they are people who have different ways of looking at the world to many of those closest to me and those whose thoughts fill my social media feeds. These are the people who the leader needs to win over with policies which give principled alternatives to the Tories but for which people will vote. What we need is somebody who can offer hope where UKIP are offering fear and scapegoating.
Now I know that Corbyn offers that to some extent and that is what is building his support. However, he is not offering this up in a form which will appeal to those marginal voters I listen to on public transport. Part of the reason for this lies with the media and the way in which they portray Corbyn but it also has to do with the way in which he has portrayed himself too. He has portrayed himself as somebody who is not willing to listen and rather than breaking with past can be seen as a return to it.
So is Smith the answer in getting their votes. No, clearly not. He is a man who appears to have so little charisma and principle that he does not have the power to overcome the damage that has been done here by both the PLP and Corbyn. Additionally, he is seeking to appeal to everybody and I suspect is genuinely appealing to very few.
What also worries me here is the way in which the Labour Party seems to be re-enacting some of the battles of the 1980’s with players who are just a little older now. History tells us that it was that infighting which led to the long years of Tory rule from 1979 onwards and gave Thatcher part of the power she had.
We have already seen how the government has used the publicity around this internal civil war to announce they are intending to replace our signing up to the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. What we are doing here is, I think, giving the government the opportunity (and their future majority) to develop policy that is going to be deeply damaging to the UK.
Additionally, the leadership contest seems to be bringing out the underlying structural sexism which was a larger part of the left in the 1980’s but still lingers in some parts today. Over the last couple of decades there has been real work in the party and trade unions which has overcome this but it seems with the macho posturing and infighting that has been going on by men of a certain age we have gone back to the bad old days.
Why don’t I walk away? Well, that would be the easy thing to do. However, I have a belief that we need a strong opposition to defeat the Tories and that will not ever be rebuilt if we all walk away. Even though I voted for Cooper in last year’s leadership election it was Corbyn who got me to stand up and say “yes, at heart I am really a Labour supporter and I want to do what I can to support the vision for our country I have become a reality now they are post-Blairism.” If we all walk away the Tories will have won without a fight and UKIP will step further into the void.
So why don’t I just abstain? I clearly don’t want to vote for either of the candidates and abstaining is what I would love to do. Yet, standing idly by is not an option. I have to decide I want one or the other because they are the choices I have.
I did hope writing this post would help but all it has done is underline why I think that what has gone on is wrong and why all involved need to shoulder responsibility for what they are doing to our country. When history looks back at what the Tories have done during this period and what, I think, will be the further dangerous rise of UKIP those involved in the PLP and the Corbyn camp will be seen to have been a large part of the reason it happened this way. I feel that both are equally to blame and am really angry about that. The PLP should not have had the vote of no-confidence but Corbyn should have stepped down when the result of that came through. We should have had a leadership contest with a range of contenders to choose from not just Corbyn and “stop Corbyn”.
So how will I vote? Well, I am tempted to in the end effectively give my vote to another and vote how he, (who has been excluded by the system which stopped people who legitimately became members in order to support their principles), wanted to vote. The person I am thinking about has faithfully voted Labour over the years and has held to the principles which mean he believes in the Corbyn vision.
That said, I think if Corbyn wins the situation will just get even worse because we need a fresh start. Yet I don’t believe Smith will or can give us a fresh start and I fear his leadership is one which will give Stephen Kinnock power. This factor is important to me as I have listened to Kinnock and come to the conclusion that he is the next Blair. So I still don’t know…..in the end it may come down to tossing of the coin and the hope that we get a new party rising from the ashes which truly represents what I am looking to vote for.