Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Labour Party is more than its leadership
I have been a socialist all my adult life, but have never felt particularly close to the Labour leadership. I joined the party in Orpington in 1982, aged 17, inspired by Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone more than Kinnock, Foot et al, who were cravenly supporting Maggie's Falklands War at the time. We fought the 1983 election on an excellent manifesto, much of which (control of the banks, for example) has been subsequently vindicated by the recent financial collapse. We lost, largely because of the moronic patriotic fervour that followed the Falklands conflict and the disruptive influence of the new SDP, but also because senior Labour figures (including former PM Jim Callaghan) betrayed the party by speaking out against conference policy on disarmament. Subsequent leaders have been no better than Callaghan when it came to betraying the party's ideals, but the fact remains that the Labour Party was established by the unions to be the political voice of working people. It was the parliamentary wing of the labour movement, and, in theory at least, still is. It is a democratic socialist party with a massive membership of (mostly) very nice people who care about others. It still deserves our support.
I don't trust the Liberals
My first real experience with Liberals came during the Peter Tatchell by-election campaign in Bermondsey in 1983. Despicably, they fought a deeply personal and openly homophobic campaign: it was clear to me that they would do and say anything, no matter how hypocritical, to win. Over the years I have seen the same thing many times, in local and national campaigns. They are simply opportunists. They have no real ideology, and will support whichever party or policies will give them the best hope of power. They can be very effective in opposition but their performance in councils they control is less than impressive, and for all their progressive rhetoric, they will happily work with Tories if it helps keep them in office. If Clegg wakes up with a large number of seats on Friday, nobody knows what he will do with them. I suspect even he hasn't much of a clue. In other words, if you vote Liberal, you have no idea what kind of Government you might get. This is not democracy!
I don't like tactical voting
By 1987 I was living in Leeds NE. This was a safe-ish Tory seat where the Liberals thought they were in with a good shout of an upset. Labour's hopes were third at best, and many in the local party were in favour of a tactical campaign: send activists off to work in more winnable areas, and vote LibDem to keep the Tories out. I absolutely hated this kind of surrender. I always felt that Leeds NE was winnable in the long run, given the strength of the local Labour party, and sure enough we managed to get big swings to Labour in both 1987 and 1992, bucking the national trend and turning the seat into a Labour marginal which was duly won by the party in 1997.
Another reason to hate tactical voting is that it reinforces the cult of the leader. To my mind, it is a serious mistake to think you are voting for Brown, Cameron or Clegg, unless you actually live in one of their constituencies. You are voting for your local MP, a person to represent you, and should should do your damnedest to make sure you get the best representative you can.
Labour is the only option in Ribble South
In the run-up to the 1997 election, I was suspended and eventually expelled from the "New" Labour party, along with a number of good comrades, for reasons I won't go into now (though it is a cool story, and I am very proud of my part in it). I also moved to Preston. Since then I have voted green or socialist whenever there has been a suitable candidate, and spoilt my ballot papers when there were only the three main parties to choose from. What's different now, that I should return to the Labour fold? I think this is the first election since 1992 in which I am genuinely fearful of a Tory win. The idea of PM Cameron cutting public services and screwing the environment while giving tax breaks to the rich makes me feel as sick as I used to feel about Thatcher in the long, losing 80s. So I think it is time to swallow my pride.
Even if I wanted to vote tactically, in Ribble South I have no option. It is a two horse race: the bookies have the libs at 100-1 here, the same as the deranged Little Englanders (UKIP) and the nazis. My Labour candidate, David Borrow, seems a pleasant enough chap considering he strongly supported Blair's illegal war. So I will put on a metaphorical clothes peg and vote for him, and I would urge you to do likewise.
Posted by Mike Eslea at 5:35 PM