Of all the tragedies to befall politics on this island, one of the worst is to see Labour reduced to its shocking state of infighting and blood-letting.
As a Scot I’m pleased to have an alternative I can vote for that allows me to retain what’s in my stomach; English voters are stuck with the Liberal Democrats, the political equivalent of a choice between strychnine and cyanide.
Both will make you sick; the choice is in deciding which will kill you quicker.
As regular readers will know (and apologies for being away from a while) I was a former Labour activist before getting thoroughly sickened by the Iraq War and how the lurch to the right had become just too much to bear. I quit political activity entirely and vowed never to go back until the independence referendum renewed my faith in the process.
I never joined the SNP or any other party. I didn’t want to, in part because that’s a commitment above and beyond what I want in my life and I would never want to go back to that and give less than 100%. I would hate it, and sooner or later I’d be consumed by it all and I can’t do that and keep perspective and distance and my sanity.
Nevertheless, I have no problem telling people, freely, that I’ve voted for the SNP in three successive Scottish elections and one General Election. Next year I fully intend to vote for them in council elections, and hopefully see Glasgow turn yellow instead of red for the first time in my life, a choice that’s about the easiest I’ve ever had to make in the political sphere. Because if any city in Scotland needs turned upside down and inside out it’s this one; Labour has been running Glasgow too long, and lately certainly not for the benefit of its electorate.
I am not a tribalist by nature; although deeply, crazily in love with Celtic my whole life it’s the exception rather than the rule. I don’t feel like I “belong” to any political organisation or movement, and I never actually have, except for being a passionate trade unionist and socialist. But I spent my teens and twenties in Labour, and so every vote I’ve ever cast against them has felt a little like an act of betrayal; not of them, but of myself.
I know better, of course, but it’s always there.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader forced me to the first major shift in my thinking on this matter in well over a decade. I always saw the left in Labour as fighting the long defeat; now they are ascendant and I can barely believe it, or that I am somehow content to be standing outside of it, looking in, like a stranger, as if it’s not what I’d always hoped for.
But I said in a piece on this site, last year, when he was elected, that I no longer feel part of the struggle going on in Labour, that if I got involved in it now it would be as some kind of outsider, going back to get involved in the civil war more than for the greater battle to come, the one against the real enemy, the Tory Party.
In short, I don’t really trust what motivates this nagging urge I have and I’m grateful it’s not one I can’t resist.
Yet even if I wanted to, the rend in Labour is now so great that I probably couldn’t go home even if I wanted to, and there is literally nothing that encapsulates the attitudes of the right-wingers in that party better than that simple fact.
Even as I sit and write this, the day after voting ended and with Corbyn set to be re-elected, perhaps in an even bigger landslide than before, the party’s Procedures Committee is busily going through Twitter feeds, blog posts and other social media sources for “evidence” they can use to expel their own members, and to weed out membership applicants with the “wrong” backgrounds.
That means people like me, people who’ve voted for other parties and been highly critical of the way Labour has behaved not just in recent years but in the last decade or more.
It also means supporters of Scottish independence, and in particular those former voters and members of Labour – like my good friend Allan Grogan of Labour for Independence – who were part of it, or those who were just honestly disgusted at the behaviour of the party during that campaign and expressed that view online.
It will also swallow up those members and voters who stayed in spite of that but who’s stomachs weren’t strong enough for the moment Ed Miliband wrote off this country and said he’d rather condemn it to Tory rule than rely on the support of Scottish MP’s of other parties; I know for a fact that those comments were too much even for many die-hard Labourites and they didn’t hide that fact.
None of these people will be allowed back in the fold, no matter how much they might want to go home or what energy, drive, passion and commitment they would bring with them. The Labour Party has taken a conscious decision to lock its doors in the faces of those who would help it be all it can be and work tirelessly for the challenge ahead.
Allan is one of those guys; he’s already had his letter rejecting his membership application.
It reeks of revenge and spite, and it’s not the act of a party that can honestly be serious about reaching out and expanding beyond its ever narrowing horizons.
As much as I want Corbyn to win, and realise he’s not in charge of this part of the process – it’s his likely supporters who are being purged and kept outside – I see this as a symptom of Labour’s wider disease; the party hierarchy has become grossly intolerant and closed off to any real discourse.
Corbyn may well be able to change that, but I would bet on his enemies lasting a lot longer than he does, and I think his decision to support the creation of some kind of social media “charter” for members is stupid politically because it’s clearly intended for a future after him, as a creeping method of silencing dissent and debate that will be used to beat the left at every opportunity.
That’s something I wouldn’t sign up for, even if someone stuck a gun in my mouth.
You can’t read David Miliband’s appalling article today, or the words of John Mann, and still kid yourself that the parliamentary Labour Party and its assorted allies even pretend to care about left-wing causes or the folk who’ve been left behind any longer.
Amongst the reasons for denying people membership of Labour, in various parts of the country, includes tweeting support for protecting public services, supporting left wing initiatives by other parties (some of which, on the surface of it, don’t even run counter to Labour policy), standing up for striking workers and even promoting food banks and other socially responsible, but people centred, programs which criticise an entire political class that’s left millions behind.
None of that matters to Labour any longer.
Instead, Miliband thinks the focus of their politics should be on “supporting wealth creation” and Mann thinks it should be centred on “getting people to take responsibility for themselves” in a country “where markets are free and open.”
If you think that sounds like something that could have come from the Adam Smith Institute or the Centre For Policy Studies you’re not far wrong.
And, of course, Scottish independence is the idea that dare not speak its in name inside the party on this side of the border; it’s the expulsion and denial of membership issue that tops the lot of them, even though it is the compass point on which all politics here revolves.
It was Groucho Marx who once quipped “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”
As self-deprecating jokes go, it’s one of the best.
But it’s increasingly difficult to look kindly at the actions of a political party “of the left” that would go out of its way to exclude members who care about social justice, the inner cities, free education, nationalisation, eliminating weapons of mass destruction and which sneers at self-determination and would impose “Western values” on the world by dropping bombs.
And it’s worse than that, of course, because to paraphrase Marx, why would I vote for a party that wouldn’t even have me as a member? A party who thinks the things I care about are issues that belong not on the fringes but who’s “grandees” have said are from the lunatic fringe instead?
The more you see Labour now the more you see an organisation Hell bent on its own self destruction.
Westminster politics has become the province of the careerist and the charlatan, and Jeremy Corbyn and his revolution can fight the good fight but the poison is coursing through Labour’s system now. This patient is terminal.
What we’re seeing is the last great battle between the right wing of Labour and the left, and it will last years, years we don’t have, so as far as the future goes my determination to see Scotland cut loose from the whole shabby mess has never been stronger or that goal more important to achieve.
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