Tonight I voted in the Labour leadership election. I voted for Owen Smith. I haven’t been particularly vocal on social media about the contest (although I have in person) partly because I have worried about the possible reactions that revealing my choice might attract. I also have many friends and family who joined as Labour supporters last summer in order to back Corbyn. I didn’t vote for Corbyn last year either.
I have watched in dismay over the past 15 months, since our election failure in May 2015, at what has happened to our party. I knew Ed Miliband wouldn’t lead us to victory, but I didn’t foresee the annihilation of Labour in my beloved Scotland to the SNP – no one did. I watched my then Lib Dem husband MP increase his vote to over 18,000 in his former constituency of Edinburgh West, but still lose that seat to the SNP’s Michelle Thompson. She is of course now an independent MP, having been forced to resign the SNP Whip while she remains under police investigation for alleged multiple counts of mortgage fraud. For our family, with both of us involved in politics in one way or another, it has not been an easy year watching the current state of affairs evolve. It was very hard for Mike to lose his seat and watch his party reduced from 57 to 8 seats in Westminster and of course to lose his job (and have to make his staff redundant). For me, it’s been painful to watch his disappointment at losing and then finding it hard to find new employment, having given everything to the job of MP for those five year and to previous election campaigns. It’s been at times soul destroying to witness a UK Conservative majority government and a Labour Party reduced to one seat in Scotland; followed by a divisive leadership election that saw Corbyn elected. Now watching my party implode means there have been quite a few tears shed in this household.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected, I felt a huge sense of foreboding. None of the candidates inspired me massively at the start of the campaign and I was undecided until the last couple of weeks. In the end I voted for Yvette Cooper MP. I had begun by thinking that I couldn’t vote for her; that she was probably too tainted by her husband, Ed Balls, whose demeanour and politics I knew grated with many voters (I’m not looking forward to watching him on ‘Strictly’ this season!). But by the end of the contest, having watched her in debate and interviews, I believed she was our best hope to turn around Labour’s fortunes; winning back some lost voters; and hopefully convincing some new ones that our party could be trusted enough to be voted back into power, sooner rather than later. I was dismayed and in disbelief when Jeremy Corbyn emerged victorious and frankly staggered that so many people believed that he was the man to take us into power again. But, I felt that this was party democracy at work, even though I hadn’t supported the decision taken by the party to allow people to join as supporters for £3 to vote. I felt it had been a huge mistake on Ed Miliband’s part, who pushed for this change in party rules. But this was the result and we now had to make it work.
I am most definitely from the left of my party. As I student in Glasgow I didn’t join the Labour Party as I didn’t believe they were left wing enough. I flirted with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and even the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. I was young, idealistic and pretty naïve! I am not ashamed of that. I was exploring my beliefs and also probably rebelling against a solidly middle class, albeit a Labour supporting upbringing. I wanted a fairer world, one where people weren’t slaves to capitalism and making profits for a minority of wealthy share owners. I talked about the ‘means of production’ and attended Maoist classes at The Star Club in Glasgow. I had a very left wing boyfriend! I was easily led back then…..
Thankfully, my experimentation didn’t end up with me joining any of those parties. I didn’t believe an international revolution was the way to achieve those things and I could see that it simply wasn’t ever going to happen. Most people just wanted the chance for a better life and better standard of living. They wanted the best for their kids and families; nice homes; and they also wanted ‘stuff’! And in the 1980s, there was suddenly more and more ‘stuff’ in the shops. Working and middle class families could see that it wasn’t only the rich who could have nice homes and cars. New methods of getting credit allowed more people to buy more. I didn’t like this, but I realised that people didn’t want a revolution at all (damn it!). They wanted to be able to have nice things and nice homes; good, free schools; free health care at the point of treatment; jobs and money to spend. A workers revolution was the last thing on their minds. Who was I to preach to people what they should want? My knowledge and understanding about people, politics and economics grew and I learned to listen to people and ideas more and become open to different views. I went from standing on my soap box arguing every last point, at every opportunity, especially after a few drinks, to wanting to understand what made people tune into politics. I was quite firmly a political and current affairs geek.
I went into the public sector after studying politics at university because I wanted a career that was more about serving people and making some kind of a difference, than making money. Old fashioned I know. My husband was the same – I didn’t know him then but he went into the police force at the same time I went to work for Central Regional Council . I worked in local government for 8 years, firstly supporting councillors and committees and then in public and social policy. I spent nearly 5 years in the further education sector, helping develop national policy on life-long learning and lobbying first the Tory Government, then the Labour Government elected in 1997 and finally the new devolved Scottish Labour/Lib Dem Coalition Government for more funding to help more people get the education they needed and deserved. I felt I was making a difference, no matter how small.
So, I am no ‘wet Tory’ or blind Blairite. I did support Blair – how could I not support the most successful Labour leader in modern history? I didn’t support all of his decisions but I believe he made them in good faith. I believe that he didn’t take the decision to go to war in Iraq lightly. I disagreed strongly with that decision, but I refuse to see him and that Labour Government only in light of those actions. Working in the public sector at the time, I saw the real benefits and positives of our being in office.
The point of me writing any of this is to say to those fervent Jeremy Corbyn supporters, that there are those of us in the Labour movement who don’t support him, not because we are “Blairite scum” or “war mongers” or “red Tories” or whatever other insults are thrown at us. I can’t support Jeremy Corbyn because I know he can’t lead us to a Labour victory. I have followed, studied and been involved in politics all my life – since my young teens when my Dad and I would stay up late and talk politics; often arguing. I have chosen a career which means I read about and research politics and policy most working days, and often non working ones too. With everything I have read, seen and learned, from studies and from working, I don’t believe the UK population see him as a future Prime Minister. He is not electable for that role and of course if that is the case, and all polls seem to point to that conclusion, then he can’t be our leader. A party leader must be a credible future Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn isn’t that and I don’t think he ever thought he was. He has never sought to be anything other than a good constituency MP and a campaigner for certain issues, about which he is passionate. That isn’t a negative. That is a noble calling and one which I wish a more MPs would focus on – as contributors, not careerists. But he has never presented himself as a future PM, not 30 years ago and certainly not now. His politics are not the politics of most UK voters. And if he doesn’t represent enough of the people of the UK, then he will never be elected.
No matter which side of the party we are on; left, far left; right; centre, whatever – we surely have one cause which unites us – to elect a Labour Government. We can only be the instigators of change and do good if we are in power. We can only continue to strive to make our society more fair and just if we are in power. We have to listen to what millions of voters told us last in May 2015 – they didn’t want a more left wing party. I wish that they had, I truly do. I’m still an old lefty with a dream of a nationalised railway (only because I feel that it’s the only way to make public transport better and a genuine option for people as a mode of travel). I want absolute equality for men; women; LGBT; those with disabilities etc. I want social; racial and religious tolerance. I want more investment in affordable housing and more and better social housing. I wanted more regulation of the financial services sector ‘back in the day’ and a cap on bonuses and I still do. I think there has to be a rethink of housing in some of our cities, where people on average as well as low incomes can barely afford to rent a decent home, let alone buy one. I believe we need to look at our industrial sectors and consider whether it is right to imagine a UK without a steel industry or without the bedrock of manufacturing that we used to be famed for. We need the right support for businesses; as well as better skills and training to make the most of the innovative nation we so obviously are. And perhaps more than anything else, we must find new and better ways for earlier intervention, so that every child and young adult in the UK has real equality of access to the opportunities that they all deserve; that all children have the chance of success; to ensure that children aren’t living in poverty, surely the most shameful reality of modern day living.
Jeremy Corbyn has voted against successive Labour Governments and Labour leaders in Opposition over and over, yet he now calls for party unity and loyalty. The new members and supporters who want to see him as leader don’t represent the millions of voters and families who simply don’t see him as their future Prime Minister. I have read with dismay the accounts of former shadow cabinet members who describe his leadership as at best ineffective and shambolic and at worst hopeless, authoritarian and dismissive. He and those closest to him do not operate with the new, kinder, gentler politics that he promised. I have seen no evidence of that and heard of too many instances where in fact, quite the opposite has been happening inside our party. He is not leading from the front and setting an example as he should be, making it clear that our party will not tolerate the online abuse and personal threats that some of our MPs and non Corbyn supporters have been subjected too. He doesn’t seem able to work with people who hold different views to his own or to take advice from those with experience and a track record. If he can’t command the trust, loyalty and even the basic support of his team in Westminster, then I don’t believe he can command the support and trust of millions of voters. I don’t believe that all those MPs who either voted against him in the vote of no confidence and those who have stood down since are all ‘Blairite careerists’ only thinking of their own pay packets. I know that they are, in the main, hard working MPs trying to do their jobs while their leader ignores them and seems unable to even communicate with them.
I wish I had influence over even some of the Labour members who will now start voting in what is the most important leadership election certainly in my lifetime (I’m nearly 50!) but sadly I don’t. But I say to all Labour members who don’t want to see our party become a party of protest for generations to come, talk to your friends who are members and ask them questions about what they want for the future of our party. I don’t believe that Jeremy Corbyn can unite our party. I know he is able to generate massive attendance at rallies and events, but rallies don’t and never have converted those who don’t believe in your cause, they serve only to offer comfort and solidarity to the already converted.
Jeremy Corbyn can’t hope to convince the rest of the UK population, who aren’t Labour voters or supporters, never mind Labour members, that they made a mistake voting Tory or SNP last year. Owen Smith has a fighting chance to do this and I urge all Labour members who are eligible, to vote for him.