The UK will never get a credible, electable opposition unless the centre-left commits to the Labour party, argues Joff Wild
Has there been a more depressing time to be on the centre-left of British politics than now? The Labour party’s descent into institutionalised anti-Semitism is no huge surprise to those of us who have been watching the far-left for years, but the speed with which it has happened, the extent to which has occurred and the willingness of so many to ignore it have been shocking.
As Saturday’s Guardian makes clear, loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn will buy anti-Semites a free pass from many in leadership positions and elsewhere in Labour today. For a party that was built on anti-racism and solidarity, it does not get more shameful than that.
Of course, one of the main reasons why so many of us on the centre-left have always had a major problem with Corbyn and others on the far-left is their total failure to challenge or condemn the anti-Semitism of people they have shared platforms with for decades. It is not opportunism now that drives us, it is principle – just as it always has been.
The simple fact is that implacable, uncompromising opponents of racism do not stay silent in the face of those who speak of Jewish blood libels, conspiracies and driving Jews into the sea; they do not talk of them as friends or invite them for tea in Parliament. Instead, they say loudly and unequivocally: “Your views are disgusting, you are wrong, and I want nothing to do with you.” Jeremy and the rest of the far-left have never done this.
It is this silence, as well as a proclivity to back any cause or regime, no matter how tyrannical, murderous or cruel – just so long as it is anti-UK, anti-US and/or anti-Israel – that has meant so many on the centre-left have been opposed to the far-left for years – not just since Corbyn became Labour leader. The far-left’s world view is not the world view we have. This is not a life or death struggle about renationalising the railways or tax and spend; it is a deep-seated, long-running philosophical difference firmly rooted in principle.
So what are we to do? I left the Labour party last year as the anti-Semitism I saw and heard became too much to live with. How could I stick with a party that tolerated it? But over the last week or so, I have been thinking again.
The fact is that under the current electoral system, the only alternative to the Conservative party is the Labour party. If this miserable, half-cocked, desperately mediocre, clueless government is to be replaced, it can only be replaced by a Labour one. The problem, though, is that the British electorate is smart enough never to put into power a party led by the far-left. This means a stark choice: either accept permanent Tory rule or try to change the Labour Party. After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided in favour of the latter.
That’s why I have rejoined Labour. I am sickened by its institutional anti-Semitism, I disagree vehemently with the leadership on foreign policy and have major reservations about its economic policies; but, having benefited from it, I also believe passionately in wealth redistribution to deliver equality of opportunity, am convinced the state is a force for good and put great store by solidarity and internationalism. If I want to see a government that shares these values, I need to see Labour become electable again. And that will not happen if I sit on the side lines.
By rejoining Labour I get a vote. The next general election may be four years away, but the next NEC election is in June. When the time comes, I will have a say in who becomes the next Labour leader. I can influence who chairs my constituency party and who fills other local roles. I can help to choose candidates, I can take part in debates. If enough others with similar views to my own do the same, in time we might have an impact. The price is just over £5 a month. For me, the opportunity that gives to join with others in groups like Progress to make a difference somewhere down the line makes it money well spent.
Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions here. The far left has a vice-like grip on the Labour party from the top down and is not going to release it any time soon. For as long as Jeremy Corbyn remains leader, it will hold sway. I go into this knowing I will be on the losing side more often than not, perhaps almost always at the start.
As far as I can see, though, the alternative is to do nothing except to howl into the void on Twitter. A new party is a non-starter for as long as we have first-past-the-post. Some will say that by joining I am helping to push Jeremy Corbyn closer to becoming Prime Minister. My response to that is that I am signing up because I do not believe a Labour party controlled by the far-left can ever win power – and I want a Labour government.
The UK needs a strong, credible, electable opposition just as much as it needs a competent, united government. We have neither at the moment. I will leave it to those on the centre-right to drag the Conservative party back to some semblance of sense, but I invite all patriots on the centre-left to join me in trying to build a Labour party that is fit to take office once more. For £5 a month it’s not a vast amount and the obligation is not huge. Out in the real world, there are more of us than there are of them. Together we can – eventually – prevail.
Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW