People seem to be leaving Labour in droves at the moment, and who in their moderate-progressive-Labour-hearts can really blame them? Not I. There are lots of posts out there from people saying they can take it no more, the red line has been crossed, they can’t go on being a member of a party whose membership has been so seized by the English Hard Left’s particularly rabid brand of ‘utopianism’. The words, “stay and fight” trigger in many a hollow feeling of, “oh, life’s too short for this nonsense.” Absolutely fair enough. Some are walking away from party politics altogether, some, like Jake Wilde writing on the Gerasites blog, are arguing that the time has come to start a new political party – Labour has been utterly captured and it’s time for moderates and progressives to admit organisational defeat and move on. I have huge sympathy for both impulses, but for me, for now, I’m staying in Labour. It comes down to this: the Hard Left are not the Labour Party, their politics are not Labour politics, the meaning of your Labour membership and mine will not be defined by them but by the history of Labour and the history of Labour governments. In my view, the task for Labour’s moderates and progressives is not to leave and start something new, but to embrace this period of chaos and do the uninhibited intellectual, political and organisational work that means we are ready for whatever comes next.
I can’t deny that when I look at what has become of Labour, particularly the hateful discourse and the glutinous ripping apart the legacy of Labour in government, I feel sad, sometimes angry, sometimes wilfully ambivalent. But what I don’t feel is complicit, because these are not my politics and this is not my Labour Party. Jake is absolutely right when he says, “build a wall” between our politics and theirs. It’s just that I believe this can be done while continuing to be a member of the Labour Party. Draw a giant, flashing, red line between our politics and those of the Hard Left, and keep doing what needs to be done to further the cause of progressive politics in Britain. Think, write, organise, meet, discuss, and develop the Labour policy programme fit for our age. There is almost nothing that needs doing that can’t be done while a Labour member – just don’t compromise your beliefs. Don’t stress about pointless arguments with people whose twain isn’t even on the same planet, don’t try to find common ground – at best it’s not necessary, at worst it undermines the political integrity at the heart of progressive Labour politics.
In a context of what is basically a political farce, Labour people are completely free to approach political ideas free from dogma, free from guilt and with a lot more honesty than in recent years. Let’s ask the questions that need asking. What would an education policy look like in a context where you don’t have to appease the destructive politics of the teacher unions? What does a liberal, left-wing foreign policy look like when you don’t have to indulge the views of those who despise the West? What does an NHS policy look like if your start, middle and end objective is getting the best care, not making an anti-capitalist statement? What does our economy look like? What does welfare look like? What does the future of the centre left look like if you don’t have to worry about offending the champions of perpetual grievance? Right now, there’s no ‘party line’, there’s no discernible policy programme, there’s not even an agreed policy making structure any more. This could be a very liberating time for centre-left politics. The moderate and progressive appeasement of the Hard Left in Labour should be over, let’s make the most of that.