In my last post, I mentioned that I had joined the Liberal Democrats, after a 40+ year association with the Labour Party. Such a drastic change calls for some discussion, which I will attempt now.
My association with Labour can be dated back to my childhood and early teenage years. My parents both voted Labour, and so it was probably only natural that I chose that political direction. We moved from Ealing to East Anglia when I was 5, and lived in a solid Conservative area, but since moving back to London and then to North Staffordshire, I have always lived in Labour constituencies. The first General Election I voted in was in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher won.
With the current media frenzy over the Labour leadership elections a lot has been said about the 1980s. I remember clearly when Michael Foot was elected leader then. With Thatcher at the height of her powers, there was some euphoria that a left wing leader had been elected, but it all came crashing down when Labour lost the 1983 General Election. It took a long time, until Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997 to see Labour in power again, and I joined the party that year.
I identified with the New Labour movement, which I saw as a successful attempt to make Labour policies appeal to a wider audience than their traditional supporters, a definite prerequisite to winning an election (which is still true now). When Blair stood down and Gordon Brown took over, things started going wrong, as I saw it. Brown didn’t have the charisma to lead the party, and I felt that there were other more suitable candidates, but because of his infamous ‘pact’ with Blair, he became leader and PM. With the banking crisis in 2008, and Brown’s unpopularity, Labour’s defeat in the 2010 General Election seemed inevitable.
After Labour’s 2010 General Election defeat, rather like now, the slow process to elect a new leader began. In my blog posts from the time, I talked about my support for David Miliband, and the election of his brother as leader was, I felt, counterproductive for the future success of the party. But I gave Ed a chance, and only finally resigned my membership over the Syria vote in 2013, although it was probably the last of a number of straws!
Since 2013, until a week ago, I continued to try to be a Labour supporter (if not a party member), and voted for them in the election this year. But my misgivings about the party had been building up for some time by then. The future of the trade union link, for example, seems very tenuous, and it is hard to see how the party will be able to survive in its present form without it. Then there has been the endless speculation about the leadership election, with none of the candidates convincing me that they could lead the party and give it meaning and worth once again. The worrying potential lurch to the left, with Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent popularity, reminds me of 1983 (as mentioned above), and there is no doubt in my mind that if Corbyn is elected leader, Labour will be in the political wilderness for even longer than during the Thatcher-Major years.
My decision to join the Liberal Democrats was partly a result of my total frustration with Labour, but also because I wanted to be able to support the causes that are important to me, rather than listening to continuing bickering and infighting! The Conservative government have a small majority, but one which should enable them to do what they want, and Labour is no opposition at the moment (abstaining over the welfare bill for example). Issues like EU membership and Human Rights are important to me, and these are important for the Lib Dems too, while Labour seem to hardly discuss them.
It’s early times still, and I don’t yet know what contribution I’ll be able to make, beyond my membership, to the revival of the Liberal Democrats. But for now it is good to be a member of a party which has elected a strong leader and knows where it is going. I’m sorry for Labour, but it’s a relief that it is no longer my concern!