One of the major reasons a ‘leftie’ like me can’t support the Labour Party is because it’s fundamentally a class based party. A party which encompasses such a broad range of political opinion is bound to be riven with sects perpetually at war with each other; that’s Labour’s burden which has bedeviled it and held it back from being a truly progressive party for as long as it has existed.
Yes Labour’s so called middle class supporters are often progressives who’re for example anti-Brexit and they’re predominately of the left/left of centre. However, many of the party’s core working class (you could even say their white working class) supporters drag on the party like an anchor. They’re often far from being progressive with racist/antisemitic views and with a reluctance (or damn right objection) towards real social reform.
Karl Popper’s ‘paradox of tolerance’ comes to mind: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
To my mind Labour tries to manage and suppress the intolerance within its core vote but it must be like squeezing a balloon in that for every part you push in an equal part pops out. Indeed, if you look at Labour’s political sects they’re seemingly set up to be intolerant of other political sects and I don’t just mean sects outside of Labour here!
I became an active trade unionist in 1975 when I started work some 5 years before I became a Liberal Party member, or you could say until I realised my views were ones of a leftie, radical and Liberal nature. In my early days as a trade unionist I often scratched my head when hearing some folks in the TU movement who said they were socialists and/or members of the Labour Party but who seemed to hold views of a right wing nature. It took me a while to realise that they were invariably white and they would often refer to themselves as working class*. The Penny dropped when it dawned on me that anyone within a social class could hold any kind of view within the political spectrum and they certainly did! So to base a political party on a class of people means that some very intolerant and racist folk belong to the same political movement as folks with progressive and left wing views. That the right wingers are clearly tolerated within Labour despite their views has long troubled me; the rule of thumb seems to be if you say you’re working class you’re one of us, if you’re not you’re a Tory.
So I rejected Labour as a party for me and I signed up with the Liberal Party which seemed to be a better fit for my leftie, radical and progressive views. And anyway I had difficulty (and still do) with seeing the world or our UK society via the prism of social class. Us and them politics has never done much for me yet I realise that it can be a hugely motivating factor in the Labour and Tory Parties who seem to thrive on it. I find it most odd when someone from a self proclaimed working class background makes a few bob and then becomes a Tory or even a champagne socialist. It’s a world I simply can’t relate to.
I found that the collectivism of the trade union movement fitted well with my Liberal views although others in the TU movement found it hard to understand my politics. However, when Labour lurched towards the centre ground of politics under Blair and the majority of my fellow TU officers (those with left wing views I mean) had left it in disgust they seemed to look upon me as a genuine leftie. The paradox for me as a Lib Dem councillor though was hearing Labour councillors shouting out ‘we’re old Labour’ whenever Blair got a mention at council meetings. You see I saw the Lib Dems as being more to the left than most of the Labour councillors who were shouting it! Where each of them really stood on the political spectrum always baffled me as they seemed to me to cover the whole political range from left to right whilst uniting under the working class banner of Labour which they felt, at the time, had been hijacked by moderate/centrists. Yet the those same moderate/centrists who were so despised within Labour were probably more to the left of politics than some of the shouters of ‘we are old Labour’. Get your head around that if you can…….
I’m certainly not a political moderate or centrist. My happiest political times were during Charles Kennedy’s period as Lib Dem Leader when often our policy positioning, particularly with regard to social issues, was significantly more progressive than those of Labour. My fervent hope is that Layla Moran becomes the next Lib Dem Leader as to me she seems to show the progressive instincts which are very much required in UK politics particularly since Labour is seemingly moving back to the moderate/centrist ground again.
That the Lib Dems lost their way after Kennedy is a statement of the blindingly obvious to me. Saying we’d oppose Labour’s imposed Tuition Fees, for example, and then not doing so was a massive political miscalculation by Clegg. It precipitated a big decline in the Party from which it has only recently started to recover.
For me the Lib Dems need to be politically radical, be a voice for the poorest in our society, be unashamedly socially/environmentally progressive and willing to take risks by taking on all those issues which the Daily Mail will hate us for. Being timid and centrist, no thank you, I’ll leave that to Starmer. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work with the likes of Starmer, indeed we should work with them where we have common policy interests and that goes for the Greens too. What I like about Moran is her willingness to work with others to try to forge common politically progressive goals…….
* And in far more recent times I’ve come across so called socialists who’ve backed parties such as UKIP and the Brexit Party at the ballot box! When they tell you they usually vote Labour, because they’re working class, but then trot out to vote for right wing candidates makes my point. Clearly, this happened by the spadeful in the 2019 General Election.