We are all the product of our formation, to a greater or lesser extent, and mine is the traditional catholic Labour family. Being a catholic meant one was aligned to the Labour Party and I was brought up with a commitment to social justice. I was taught about the “sins crying to heaven for vengeance”: defrauding workers of their just wages and oppression of the poor. My dad also taught me that voting Tory was a mortal sin and (as all Catholics know) “mortal sins destroy the soul and deserve hell.” Yes – well over the top, and there is much more nonsense I was taught, but my point is this – for an awful lot of Labour Party members our party membership is so deeply embedded in who we are and what our moral and cultural background is, the idea of resigning membership is not as easy as changing job, moving house or ending a romantic relationship. The Labour Party is part of our identity and being bullied out or allowing our party to be stolen from us is just completely unacceptable.
When I started teaching it was 1984 and Sir Keith Joseph was Education Secretary. You’ve all heard the anecdotes about what it was like in the ’80s and ’90s and I can tell you they are all true. For many years the Labour Party engaged in internecine warfare and it took 4 general election defeats for sense to set in. I was part of that; I lived through it, and like a lot of others I woke up (and grew up) in the 1990s. We realised that enough was enough and that ideological purity was moral irresponsibility as we saw that the state of public services worsen and the divisions in society intensify. Making our party electable was a long hard struggle: it required huge resilience and strong managerial competence at all levels of the party. We still have the scars on our back, but we were rewarded with the huge achievements of the Labour Govts: for many years we saw few homeless on the streets, our schools and hospitals were rebuilt and received unprecedented investment, basic minimum wage etc. etc.
And here we are again. Every time I go into town there are more homeless, our public services are in crisis, families are reliant on foodbanks, and the Labour Party response is internecine warfare.
We know that principles without power is useless; the “Corbynistas” tell us power without principles is equally useless. I don’t disagree with them about that, but I know that we have to get people we wouldn’t give houseroom to to vote Labour or we have no chance of winning an election. I also know it is morally irresponsible to do without power in order to remain ideologically pure: that is a luxury which condemns the vulnerable.
I am despairing of these people who are in control of our party, who are happy to turn us into a protest group, who are naïf enough to believe that the electorate are wrong, who are so arrogant to not learn the lessons of history, who are dismissive of the achievements of our Labour governments and who are talking to themselves and bullying us. But I know these people; I know how they work and I understand their tactics. They are a ragbag of Communist Party, Socialist Worker Party, anarchists, ex-Labour members and single issue pressure groups popping up speaking about OUR PARTY, pretending they are the “voice of Labour”. Quite simply they are not. The people who most need a labour government are not within their midst.
It seems to me the choice is quite clear: leave them to it and let the party implode or stay and fight for our party in order to win power to serve the powerless. For me the moral imperative is clear: we fight, but more than that, the lesson of history is we should not let it take so long this time. I will not be bullied out but neither will I be silenced within.