Why I tore up my Labour Party membership

In a general election, I struggle to know who I would vote for

Anne McHardy
Sunday 04 December 2022 13:13 GMT
Ian Blackford accuses Keir Starmer of 'desperately trying to out-Brexit the Tories'

I have torn up my Labour Party membership, having joined in 1964 when I came to London to university. I decided to leave in August after Sir Keir Starmer, as party leader, announced what I think are destructive Brexit policies. I thought I would rejoin after the party conference. However, that conference, with Sir Keir wrapping himself in the union flag, was so offensive to everything I believe Labour should stand for that I was determined to stay out.

The weekly attempts now, detailed on Labour List, to control constituency selections to prevent election candidates deemed left wing being chosen, as well as the refusal to build constructive relations with the unions, confirms my decision.

Why should Sir Keir give my resignation a moment’s thought? Well, as Labour’s 2021 financial report published in August shows, 90,000 members have already left since he became leader. I am aware of others, including myself, who have left this year, so the number is now 90,000 and rising.

In my constituency, Islington North, where the MP and former leader Jeremy Corbyn is foremost among those Sir Keir would like to impose a candidate against, I know more who will leave if that happens.

To be clear on the Starmer-Corbyn row, I think they are equally to blame for their obstinacy in this feud, which was embedded in 2020 after Sir Keir succeeded as leader, when Corbyn failed to make the apology Sir Keir believed they had agreed when the critical Equalities and Human Rights Commission report on party antisemitism was published. Starmer expelled Corbyn from Labour. When the party NEC restored Corbyn’s membership, Starmer refused to return the parliamentary whip. Indeed, Sir Keir is reportedly again intent on expelling Corbyn.

If Starmer finds a candidate to impose, the constituency executive – which supports Corbyn – is poised to either be sacked or resign. Active attempts to find a candidate are causing despair to the leaders in Islington North and South, both constituencies within Islington Council.

Corbyn says he is considering standing and is already effectively electioneering. The CLP will not campaign for anyone else. So far, Starmer has failed to find a candidate. None among the several Islington councillors senior enough to seek parliamentary seats would stand against Corbyn. This would be far too poisoned a chalice.

That Corbyn will stand – and may title himself what he repeatedly says he is, Labour not Independent – is clear from constituency events, but also notably from his seeking a national platform, as he did on the Sunday the party conference opened. He agreed to be interviewed for the BBC’s Nick Robinson podcast. Robinson asked why now, since he has consistently refused. Corbyn gave a slight smile and said it was an appropriate time.

When I decided in August to leave, I thought I would rejoin, largely to continue to go to the pub after ward meetings. Now, so many others have left that ward attendees come to the pub to meet us after what are increasingly sparsely attended meetings.

I did not leave, as a number did, because of the treatment of Corbyn, although I think it is destructive and stupid. I am not poised to campaign for Corbyn, good local MP though he remains. When Corbyn stood as leader, I voted for him on his policies.

On Brexit, he lost my support. I also voted for Sir Keir for leader, again with my reasons being Brexit and my belief that he would seek to rebuild a working relationship with the European Union, and because he was respected among Irish politicians. I, as a political journalist writing about Ireland, know this to be true.

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I left because of Sir Keir’s policies. Based on the by-elections last December in the area I grew up in, North Shropshire, and Tiverton and Honiton in June, where the Conservative government’s failure to rebuild an EU trading relationship pushed farmers to vote LibDem, they are not the vote winners Sir Keir believes.

He may take hope from Chester City this week, but that was a Labour seat retained. The others were Tory losses. Many friends – and we are of course the much-derided north London chattering classes, but also core Labour activists – in August urged me to stay to press for change from inside. I stayed when Tony Blair, whom I knew personally and professionally and believed too right-wing, became leader. I have already taken that route.

In a general election, I struggle to know who I would vote for. Probably not an imposed candidate, depending on their calibre. Not Corbyn because of Brexit. Maybe the Greens.

Meanwhile, I think Sir Keir needs to end the battle with Corbyn – something I am sure certain right-wing newspapers are poised to cover in ways destructive to  Labour – and rethink what I believe to be ill-considered policies.

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