The local elections brought few surprises. The Tory vote collapsed. Labour has recovered some of the ground it lost in the ‘Get Brexit Done’ 2019 General Election, and those who cannot stand the Tories but are uninspired by Labour contributed to the revival of the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. On the present showing Labour would be the largest party in a hung parliament after the next general election. But it is hard to draw any significant conclusions from a poll in which turnout was so low. In my ward Labour won 70% of the vote on an 18% turnout!
I did not vote in these council elections and I have voted in every election, national and local, my entire adult life, starting in 1970. Mostly I have voted Labour. I once voted Liberal in a safe Tory seat in a vain attempt at tactical voting. I voted for myself when I was the SWP candidate in a by-election. After the Iraq War I once voted Liberal Democrat in protest at Blair’s lies. Apart from that I have voted Labour every time.
I have never believed that voting Labour would bring about socialism. But I used to think that at least they were better than the Tories. My experience of Labour governments in the 1960s and 70s cured me of that illusion, but I still voted for them. With the Tories it is simple. They are the class enemy. With Labour it is not so simple. You vote for them to keep the Tories out. Even when they win they let you down: immigration controls, anti-union laws, wage freezes, illegal wars!
But the Labour Party has always had this connection to the working class. Labour arose from the trade union movement. It has given us good things like council housing, the NHS and the welfare state. It has always had a left wing that wanted socialism and socialist MPs like Tony Benn, Michael Foot and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn. Socialists used to be able to organise openly within the party and, for those like me who remained outside, it provided a focus for our activity.
Only now Corbyn has been told he will never be a Labour MP again. Workers on strike are told that their demands are unaffordable. Front bench Labour MPs have links to companies who want to privatise the NHS. Left-wing MPs are threatened with Corbyn’s fate if they don’t conform. Local parties are told what they can and cannot discuss. Prominent local left-wingers are being driven out of the party. Jewish members have been expelled for antisemitism because they support the rights of Palestinians against the apartheid Israeli state!
The right wing which has always exercised control over Labour was so shocked by Corbyn’s victory in 2015 that they have worked to undermine him ever since. And it is not just about Corbyn. They used to tolerate the left. It gave credence to the myth of a broad church. It gave them doorknockers during elections and a left that organised inside the Labour party could be managed and contained … until it won.
Now the gloves are off. The left will never again be tolerated within the Labour Party in case we win again. So I see no reason to vote Labour again. We can argue whether the Labour Party ever was a stepping stone or a barrier to socialism. Now it is a self-declared barrier. We are told to like it or lump it, and if we cannot lump it we can leave.
I used to think there were good reasons for voting Labour. I could understand why some socialists might think there were good reasons for being in the Labour Party. I would respect their position as a prerequisite for engaging in fraternal debate about why they should leave and join me in building a genuine socialist alternative.
For a very short time from 2017 to 2020 I was a member of the Labour Party and I served my time on the doorstep during the 2019 general election. Since then, Starmer’s betrayal of the ten pledges he made during his leadership campaign, the revelations of the leaked Labour Report, the award winning Labour Files from Al Jazeera and the suppression of the Forde Report have all persuaded me that the left’s fixation on Labour has to end.
We are starting from scratch. But if we are to build a genuine socialist alternative to Labour how are we to do it? The majority opinion on the left is probably for Jeremy Corbyn to launch a new party which will reignite the enthusiasm and belief that marked his time as Labour leader and challenge Starmer at the polls.
If Corbyn did set up a new party I would join. But I think we need to discuss what the focus should be. Would a Labour Party Mark 2 without the right wing sabotaging it be able to deliver socialism via the ballot box or, failing that, traditional social democratic reformism? Should electoral politics be the priority or is it one part of a strategy in which strikes, demonstrations and direct action are equally important? Although independents fared badly in these elections there were some notable victories for independent socialist councillors defending their seats after being expelled by Labour. In Liverpool three socialists standing as Liverpool Community Independents won their seats and three others came second. Could they become part of a new socialist party?
Perhaps the question of a new party is premature, and we need to focus our efforts on mass campaigns at a national level and deepening our ties in our local communities, like those Liverpool councillors, to create networks based on trust. I honestly do not know. But it is a debate I want to be part of.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.