I have disavowed political parties for some years now. I have said, and I still think, that I can never become a political party member. I know the limits of my patience, and I find that being a member of a political party means that I have to attend lots of meetings and discuss lots of strategies that I have absolutely no interest in. I also have to sign up to opinions that I can’t necessarily hold with integrity. It’s like being in a church but without the freedom of expression, and without the desire to reconcile when we fall out. More than that, I think I can do more good being politically involved in other ways. But I’m going to become a member, for one reason – I have a right, as we all do, to have a choice when I vote. And as long as Jeremy Corbyn is leader, I have no choices left to me.
If you saw the demonstrations outside parliament in favour of Corbyn, there were lots of Momentum posters, but there were also Socialist Worker banners, and many other left-wing folk who are not members of the Labour party. This was a gathering of the extreme, wearing t-shirts which called “Blairite” MPs “vermin”.
To me the worst, the most shocking thing that happened yesterday involved John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Corbyn’s ally. According to several reports, one MP angrily called on McDonnell to call off his “rabble”. The reason for this was that Momentum and SWP members had been campaigning outside constituency offices for some time, calling on MPs who disagreed with Corbyn to resign. And by campaigning I mean threatening.
It is less than a fortnight since one of their number, Jo Cox, was murdered. MPs are frightened, and rightly so. They have a duty of responsibility to their staff, who must also be frightened. It’s still too early to know exactly what happened with Jo Cox’s murder, but my interpretation would be that there were too many dog-whistles in the Brexit campaign – too many things which were too close to racism, and the extreme right wing were excited and motivated. It was enough for one man with mental health issues to break. It was only one man, but one man is enough. You can hardly blame MPs for being worried.
John McDonnell waved off the complaint, and instead of listening, understanding, and trying to help, immediately walked out to the crowds that the MP was afraid of, and started telling tales: telling the crowd calling MPs “scum” “Vermin” and how they needed to be eradicated, telling them how some MPs wanted them to stop, and how he was on the side of the crowd. It was as near incitement as I could imagine. I can only assume this was out of ignorance rather than malice, but the effect is the same. His MPs were frightened for their own safety, and he has magnified that.
I’m sure there will be a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, and I am sure he will continue to stand. Corbyn is a man of great principle, but he values his own principles far more than he values anyone else’s – and that means Labour can no longer be a broad church. Corbyn wants his values and his understanding to hold sway. I’m not even sure he wants Labour as a party to stand together. He wants the Unions and their money to stay with him, but I think he would regard losing 100 or so MPs in the next election as collateral damage. He will go on as long as he can, and the hard left has joined up in droves to ensure that he continues in post.
So I’m going to join the Labour party in order to vote for whoever I think can make the Labour party a possible option again. Not just for Labour, and its values, but for those who voted LibDem, and Conservative, and Green and UKIP in the last election. Whether you have never voted for Labour, or whether you have only ever voted for Labour, the UK needs at least two electable parties. If Scotland becomes independent, it will need Labour too.
So whatever your party allegiances, join in. I don’t know if there will be the same opportunity as before – to become an associate, for a one-off £3.00. This is what got Corbyn elected, and I have mixed feelings a to whether it should happen again. But however it happens, I’m going to make sure I vote. Because I won’t just be voting for moderation instead of extremism, I’ll be voting for the chance of democracy.