I was working in Athens when the General Election results came through. Walking out to meet my colleagues in the lobby of our hotel, I burst into tears. It wasn’t a great day. And in the inevitable aftermath of accusation and navel gazing, a narrative emerged that just didn’t ring true in terms of the people I had met and talked to during the campaign. The media told me that the electorate didn’t trust the Labour party on the economy or on immigration and welfare. The party needed to move towards the right. And then Labour supporters I knew on twitter retweeted their articles so it felt that everyone believed that this was the reason.
At a party, I endured conversation with one man who spent an interminably long time name dropping all the people he knew in political and media circles, using this to declare as a universal truth the ‘fact’ that “Unless we move to the right, we’re finished. The country has moved to the right and we need to follow.” And I politely sipped my wine, pointed out that only 24% of the electorate had actually voted Tory and perhaps we ought to focus on the vast majority who didn’t vote at all. Or at least I started to say that but he interrupted for the 50th time. I gave the secret wink to my husband that means he has 30 seconds to whisk me away before I thump somebody. Obviously I’ll never be a politician.
During the campaign those I spoke to simply said they didn’t know what the party stood for. They couldn’t tell the difference between them on policy and so better the devil you know. They didn’t have much time for Ed Miliband – not because he was too far left, but because they felt he was insipid and he had a stuffy voice like his nose was blocked. Shallow? Yes, but that was what I heard. And I had some sympathy with the view that politics was more like a celebrity reality show. Witnessing a dearth of regional accents and career experience, people just seemed tired with being told what to do by people who had gone from closeted schooling to closeted higher education to a career so closeted that they have their own door straight into the office from the Tube station. They were bored and politics seemed irrelevant.
When Corbyn entered the leadership contest, I had never heard of him. I was drawn to Andy Burnham – at least the lad has an accent and a state education behind him. But I got caught up in the Corbyn campaign – people I knew who had never even bothered to vote were sharing pictures of him getting the bus home, and his expense account details saying “here is someone worth our attention”. I liked his policies – I’ve never really considered myself very left wing, but I really can’t see the sense in Trident. I thought I was aligned with Michael Portillo on that score. Here was a man who would visit constituents rather than take VIP tickets to national sporting events. I liked him. So did my Mum – he was the first politician she’s liked since Margaret Thatcher. She said she might vote for him.
When the result was announced, I felt a sense of hopefulness and optimism that I hadn’t felt about politics in a while. And I wasn’t alone. My phone started beeping and my social media streams were full of people literally tweeting for joy. Now this isn’t ordinary. I don’t remember ever greeting a leadership result with anything other than mild interest. And I don’t remember social media going so wild. Many of the people feeling so joyful were young – lots of them ex students of mine. They had ‘discovered’ politics and were over the moon. Ok, perhaps there was the underdog effect, but there was also hope for a new beginning – genuinely a new politics. So it’s doubly disappointing to see people so determined to crush that new hope before it’s even had time to find a voice. Not only for me, but for all those young people who were engaging with politics for the first time. I see many of them walking away, angry that their votes are being dismissed and disparaged.
Just before Christmas, I found myself sitting around a dinner table in Manchester after an event I’d taken part in. Most of the people there were Labour supporters – a couple of them had been unsuccessful Labour candidates in the last election. But as we went around the table and introduced ourselves, there emerged that enigmatic creature – the floating voter. He told us he had voted Conservative in the last election, but that he liked Corbyn and would consider voting for him in the next. He thought he had integrity. To my shock, the next hour was spent listening to Labour supporters telling this man, considering switching from Tory to Labour, why he was wrong. Their antipathy to Corbyn was so strong, it seemed, that they would rather lose voters than see him supported. I was stunned.
I’ve followed, with interest, the conversations about Corbyn on twitter and beyond. And the nastiest, sneeriest comments come from people claiming to be Labour supporters. It is a misnomer to me. I didn’t like Tony Blair particularly, nor Ed Miliband, but I loved the party and I supported and campaigned for them both. Now I find myself behind a leader and falling out of love with the party. I don’t think I want to be part of a group of people who can’t get behind a democratically elected leader with a mandate to lead. Or who would rather see the media rub their hands with glee, lining them up for quotes, than show unity: who would rather hand the next general election to the Tories, than roll up their sleeves and fight for greater equality, exposing the shocking impact that Tory policies are having on our poorest and weakest. Why on earth would you rather blog (and I know it’s ironic), about how little chance the leader has of winning an election while at the very same time, reducing his chances of doing so? Because I tell you, if he can win my Mum over by being nice, he can win over all those people who wouldn’t vote for a man with a stuffy nose.
Let’s stop this nonsense now. Because while we all bicker among ourselves, our NHS, education system, safety nets for the poor and vulnerable, mental health services and care services are all being decimated by a government that simply can’t believe its luck.
7 thoughts on “Falling Out of Love”
I couldn’t agree more Debra, I’ve written a couple of pieces on a similar topic.
Thanks for these, I’ll read and share. I’m finding the whole thing incredibly depressing. Why are labour supporters sharing The Telegraph non-story on the reshuffle and tittering rather than pointing out that our media might be better off spending time reporting on news that actually affects and impacts on people outside of London/Westminster?
I don’t understand the antipathy & disdain either. I had no real opinion until I saw Corbyn being interviewed. He answered the questions he was asked! I can’t remember the last time a politician did that. He won me over there & then.
Oh & regarding reasons for voting Tory, the only person I knew who owned up to said they it did so because they were worried about Scottish Nationalists (who didn’t have the UK as their prime concern) would be given leverage.
Totally agree. I think it goes to show how many of those politically cloistered types are still in power in the Labour Party, with no connection to the electorate. To many of them, politics is a strategy game. Meanwhile the Tories are taking apart our civil institutions and we will all be the worse for it. Great post.
Thank you. It’s really quite depressing.
I have been a lifelong labour supporter and have a passionate belief in democracy (as in the voice of the demos – not the kinds we seem to have at the moment where the government is determined by a small group of swing constituencies), in equality, in peace and in justice. I lived in the aftermath of the destruction of the coal communities by Thatcher and this made me a convinced socialist (again I stress the social side of this). I joined the party as a student (thought left when clause 4 was repealed). At one point in my working career I lived in the constituency of Dennis “the beast” Skinner, and was only about 20 miles from Tony Benn – I was the proverbial pig.
I was ecstatic in ’97 and truly believed things were only going to get better though I mourned the loss of John Smith who I had the greatest of hopes for. Then came the Blair years and the party seemed to be morphing into “tory-lite” but at least it was not the tories, Gordon Brown again gave me hope but he turned out to be mortally afraid of the main stream media and in love with the city and it has become more and more apparent who was running the country. Then we had the expenses scandal and like so many I become very jaded about the commitment of politicians to the voters rather than to themselves. Like many disaffected labourites I voted LibDem in 2010 – all those promise – all that disappointment. We had
Five years of the ‘coalition’ made me rejoin the party determined to fight for a labour victory in 2015 – though to be honest most of the policies seemed little different where was the voice for rail nationalisation, for the protection of the heath service as a public service, for the redistribution of wealth, for equality and for ‘jaw-jaw’ rather than ‘war-war’? In my constituency we had had a candidate parachuted in from central office (another legacy of Blair) who has been a councillor in London but when the possibility of the better job came along has abandoned those voters. On the campaign trail I was talking with a fellow campaigner and we were lamenting what we saw as the failure of the party’s values under Blair to be told by the local campaign manager that he loved Blair and in ‘his’ constituency there would be no bad mouthing or dissent – which remind me of the way in which Blair has turned party conference into a love fest rather than a policy debate – remember Wlater Wolfgang? On the doorstep I stubbled when people asked, “what does labour stand for’ and ‘why are your lot any different’ the level of disengagement from people of all ages and many social class was very worrying but we campaigned – and we lost. As a professional educationalist I can only lament what I think is the destruction of the education system in this country and I knew now that this would be accelerated. Of and that candidate who has professed her desire to serve the local people … she left typifying in my eyes the real commitment to the voters of so many MPs.
So, Milliband resigned and a contest was announced – what did we get … well not a lot. For the reasons you outlined above Burnham seemed the best of not a very good bunch, Kendal was offering #torylite, and Cooper and Burnham not much different – then along came Jeremy. Yes, he has been a dissenter and not a team player for much of his life but he was talking about values that founded and sustained the labour party – I bought the rather clichéd t-shirt, “Labour: I preferred their early work” here was a man not afraid to talk bout disarmament, not afraid to say you need to talk to your enemies not bomb them, that the essential services should be in hands of the people, that there was a housing crisis and that the market was not king and untameable and much more that reinvigorated me and the fact like me he was a beardy veggie helped too! I started to believe that we could make the labour party labour again especially as he refused to play the smear and rubbish practices of the other candidates. I was not sure labour could win under him but I was sure it would be labour again and so I voted for him – and he won (no causal link implied). Suddenly I could also also start to believe we could appeal not to “shy tories” but to the disaffected and to the disenfranchised.
The last few months have been a time of frustration and anger and so many non-stories by a main stream media and establishment (including so much of the labour PLP) who are obviously terrified as there is a potential leader who does not pay homage to them just because of who they are. Whilst the newspaper headlines screamed abused and panic stories (anthems, bowing, dress code etc…), whilst other politicians strove to see who could be the vilest he compiled a shadow cabinet that was gender balanced (and as far as I am concerned gave the two most important jobs – health and education – to women), he refused to take part in the Yahoo politics and, shock horror, asked members of the public to suggest Qs. Little reported outside of social media where the comments of the ‘ordinary’ people who met him from the veteran in St Paul’s who commented on his quiet respect rather than the grandstanding of the other politicians, to the news cameraman who commented on his politeness and how JC offered to ‘make him a cup of tea’ whilst Cameron had not even acknowledged him, to the soldiers who commented on how he came over for a chat after the cenotaph rather than go off to the official lunch.
So like you I am now finding myself a member of a party frustrated with a core of its high profile members who seem to be forgetting – or do they not care – that we have one of the most unjust societies and where this division is growing, where the rich are getting much richer on the backs of the poor, where the majority of the media is owned and controlled by a few non-doms, where the public services are being sold, where public money is being given hand over fist to private companies, where we are ignoring the needs of the world’s poor, where ‘war-war’ is dominating over ‘jaw-jaw’.
This reply is now far too long so I will stop – I still think that there is a real possibility of change and I will be fighting for this locally and as much as I am able nationally – but as Owen Jones says in the Guardian today this has to start with a shadow cabinet who put their mouths where they say their money is – and accept the voice of the demos who voted in their leader.
Well said, Debra! To misquote Hilary Benn, the problem is that all recent governments – including New :Labour, Blair and all New Labour MPs left in Parliament – and the present one have held and continue to hold the British people in CONTEMPT!!