My early political memories all relate to the Labour party. My dad was a Labour activist, as was my Granddad. My first involvement in politics was helping them deliver leaflets in the area of north Manchester I grew up in. Even as I began to drift into anarchist politics as a teenager, it was always something that made sense to me against this background. Then came Iraq, a set of events which alongside the experience of campaigning against them, left me with both a sense of grievance against the Labour establishment and a scepticism about the organised far-left. I continued drifting into the space which exists between the two while I was an undergraduate student, but mostly I just drifted and what activism I engaged in was sporadic and constrained by too little sense of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. In the years following that, as I left London and moved on to a very different stage of my life, I got involved in anarchist politics again and co-founded an anti-arms trade campaign, alongside being involved in various other groups. I threw myself into it with an intensity I hadn’t previously managed, though this fell by the wayside as I struggled with the first year or two of my PhD.
When the Coalition government came to power, I instinctively rejoined the party. I had many specific grievances with what the Labour party did after this. But underlying them all was a diffuse sense that the party was run by people who, at best, found the beliefs of people like me to be embarrassing and, at worst, held them in absolute contempt. Eventually I cancelled my membership, no longer sure where to go. Until I joined the Greens, drawn in by the fact that they were the only party coming close to articulating things I believe, belatedly getting involved in the local party and standing as a candidate in the previous council election.
Throughout my activist biography the Labour party, or rather my estrangement from it in its current form, constituted the horizon of experience within which everything else made sense to me. I’ve always been inclined to support it and, for as long as I have thought in these terms, basically felt rejected from it. Hence my enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn, all the more so after going to a rally and being struck by the spectacle of a rather unassuming man drawing huge audiences by standing in front of a crowd and straight forwardly saying things that I have no doubt he passionately believes. The strategic and tactical questions posed by a Corbyn victory are a topic for a different blog post. But what I wanted to get across was my sense of excitement, in spite of the cultivated cynicism that fifteen years of political disappoint has left me with me, at the prospect of a Labour party that doesn’t hold the beliefs of so many of its members in contempt. A Labour party that’s proud to say “this is wrong” and fight against it, rather than instinctively triangulating its message to the point of banality, driven by a self-congrulatory sense of ‘pragmatism’ and a fear of straight forward communication.
It’s for all these reasons that I find it upsetting to be told by someone, clearly scouring Twitter for evidence of ‘entryists’, that I have been “reported to the party”. It’s for all these reasons that I find it frustrating to read story after story where senior Labour figures bemoan the party being “infiltrated” by outsiders and begin to call for a halt to the leadership election. It’s for all these reasons that I find it infuriating to be perpetually told that straight forward moral and political claims I passionately agree with are defined by “their irrelevance to the challenges of the modern world” and that people like me “should get a heart transplant”. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when a party you instinctively support shows nothing but contempt for the things you believe. Perhaps one of the modernisers would like to tell me?