“There are some of us who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love.” Hugh Gaitskell, 1960
“We recognise that for those people who have given much of their lives to the Labour Party, the choice that lies ahead will be deeply painful. But we believe that the need for a realignment of British politics must now be faced.” Gang of Four (Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen, Bill Rogers), 1981
After a night of contemplation – and a bit of sleep – I’ve decided to stay in the Labour Party, for the moment at least. This is despite my view that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to be prime minister (see http://climateanswers.info/2015/09/12-september-2015-the-labour-party-should-i-stay-or-should-i-go-now/).
I’ve decided to do this not out of party loyalty. I’m not a political tribalist – tribalism belongs in football, not politics. I’m a pro-European, green social democrat. I’ve voted Labour, Lib Dem, Green and independent in the past. In 1983, the first General Election I was old enough to vote in, I canvassed for the SDP. I joined Labour in the mid-80s once Neil Kinnock had made the party pro-European (and I wrote my masters thesis on how he had achieved this, published in the Political Quarterly in July 1992). From 1990 to 2000 I worked directly or indirectly for the party: Fabian Society, Shadow Environment Secretary Chris Smith, IPPR, Environment Minister Michael Meacher.
Then I went to work for Greenpeace. I left the Labour Party in 2001, due to its failure in government to do enough to regulate the market. New Labour delivered some major achievements – the minimum wage, devolution, Sure Start – but was more centre-right christian democrat than centre-left social democrat. I supported all of ‘Blair’s Wars’ up until Iraq. But I’d certainly have left the party over Iraq if I hadn’t already done so.
I rejoined in 2010 when Ed Miliband was elected leader. Between 2010 and 2015 I was active in two constituencies: Ilford North (which Wes Streeting won in May) and Hornsey and Wood Green (which Catherine West won). I also chaired a climate hustings in Holborn and St Pancras (which was a safe Labour seat – note the past tense) at which Labour candidate Keir Starmer discussed climate policy with the Green Party leader and constituency candidate Natalie Bennett, plus the LibDem and Tory candidates. (See http://climateanswers.info/2015/04/climate-hustings-in-holborn-and-st-pancras/)
Last month I moved to a flat in Chalk Farm, in the borough of Camden. So Keir Starmer is now my MP. He is excellent, as are Wes Streeting and Catherine West. But that’s not why I’ve decided to stay Labour. My decision is based on a desire to contribute to what Labour is achieving and could achieve in local government.
Labour has controlled Camden council since 2010. The leader since 2012 has been Sarah Hayward. I haven’t met Sarah (though, being modern, we have of course corresponded via Twitter) but what she has achieved already is impressive. She writes on her own website:
“I have changed national policy on High Speed Two. I made Camden a Living Wage borough and pioneered a minimum income guarantee for council employees.
I championed Camden’s policy of providing 25 hours of free childcare – a policy now adopted by the national Labour Party. I also made Camden the country’s first TimeWise council. This means that all Council jobs are now advertised as fully flexible and no request has been turned down – meaning parents, particularly mums, are able to work around childcare commitments.
I am proud that Camden is the largest builder of council housing in the country. We have also increased council tax on second and empty homes while freezing it for everyone else.”
There is a leader worth supporting.
Camden has ambitious plans on energy efficiency , including extending district heating networks to cover about half of the borough. So for the next few years I’ll get involved in local Labour politics and do what I can to help Sarah and Camden Council. I’ll also try to help other councils on energy and climate policy. Haringey, where I used to live, is very ambitious on these issues.
I’ll work for a Labour victory in the London elections next year (and will do a blog on Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan’s climate policies in the next few weeks). What I will not do is toe the Corbyn Labour line for the sake of party unity. The way to save the Labour Party is not now unity; it is sanity.
Taking Gaitskell’s 1960 quote as my inspiration is, I acknowledge, somewhat ironic. Gaitskell was speaking against a Labour policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I support unilateral nuclear disarmament (see http://climateanswers.info/2015/08/2-august-2015-what-labour-should-do-now/) This is one Corbyn policy that is admirable. But one good policy does not make the rest acceptable. Corbyn’s line on foreign policy – pacifism even if that means allowing dictators to carry out genocide – is unethical. I could not vote for a party wanting to make a person with such views prime minister. But the next general election is four years, eight months away. To misquote Harold Wilson, four years, eight months is a long time in politics.