‘The longest suicide vote in history’: Why I have left the Labour Party

BRITAIN-EU-BREXIT-POLITICSIn 1983 Michael Foot was leader of the Labour Party at the General Election when the Conservatives, under Margaret Thatcher, won a landslide victory.

The recent victory in the Falklands War undoubtedly helped, but despite the harsh economic policies, massive unemployment and civil unrest of the early 80s, Labour’s opposition simply could not compete with the Conservatives.

Labour were seen by most as too left wing and led by a leader who no one could see as a potential Prime Minister. The Labour election manifesto was later described by Gerald Kaufman, a Labour MP, as ‘the longest suicide note in history.’

Today, Labour is in an even more disastrous situation. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader with a larger mandate than this time last year. The grassroots activists and members of Labour clearly want him leading the party.  They hold out a hope, like the Labour Party of the early 80s, that the rightful place for the party is the radical left.

Electoral oblivion

But they are deluded. Labour, despite the half million people who voted, are heading for electoral oblivion at the next election.  They have become the party of protest – of demos, rallies and shouting in the streets.  The myriad of left-wing causes who cluster together in loose alliance at marches and festivals will be delighted by Corbyn’s victory. But in terms of electoral politics, this socialist utopia will not come to anything, except wallowing in terminal debates about its own purity.

The Labour Party does not exist to be a protest movement on the margins of society. It exists to exercise power. To gain election victories to bring about changes in how the country is run.  When it becomes unelectable it is completely failing to do its job.

Impact on real people

I joined the Labour Party in 1993 when I was a student.  At the time I was volunteering in a drop-in centre for homeless people in Hull. It was in places like this that I learnt my politics – seeing the carnage caused by the economic policies of the Tory government and the impact it had on real people. But I had little time for the Marxists and Socialist Workers who shouted loudly on campus within the unrealistic bubble of student politics.

It was from this time that Labour became credible and went on to win three General Elections.   Their blend of social justice and sound economic management resonated with the country.  Of course, there were problems, most notably, the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. But domestically, the Labour years saw huge investment in local communities which made the country a better and more just place.

Reducing homelessness

Take my area of work, homelessness, as an example. Upon election, Labour established a Social Exclusion Unit with the specific target of reducing street homelessness in London by two-thirds. Through significantly increased funding, strong leadership and coordination, this target was achieved.  Numbers of rough sleepers fell to the lowest point in decades. I was on the front line at the time, managing a hostel for young homeless people in Soho. I saw first-hand how good politics changes people’s lives. These were the fruits of a Labour government.

But now, rough sleeping has shot up by over 50% in the last 5 years. Tory politics is again leading to massive increases in homelessness and poverty.  And yet there is no credible opposition to the Tories’ austerity and cuts.  They can do what they want for the foreseeable future.

Labour’s impasse

In the leadership election between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, I did not even vote as I don’t believe in either of them as leaders of the party.  I therefore don’t feel I can remain a member of a party which cannot even put up a candidate I can believe in.

Corbyn may be a decent person but his refusal to lead the party from anywhere near it’s centre means that Labour will continue to be stuck in an impasse between the elected MPs and the membership.  Only the Tories will benefit from this. He will have to crash and burn at a General Election before Labour can move on.  But in the meantime, I can’t support or promote him as a possible Prime Minister.  So for me, the Party is over.

Hope

This does not mean I am any less committed to social justice. I will remain a member of Christians on the Left and continue to work every day, practically and politically, for a better future for people who are homeless and marginalised.

And I hope that one day I can join, or possibly re-join, a party who can credibly fight for this too.

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About Jon Kuhrt

Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions at the West London Mission. He, his wife and three children are part of Streatham Baptist Church and he is a member of the Christians on the Left. He likes football...but loves cricket.
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22 Responses to ‘The longest suicide vote in history’: Why I have left the Labour Party

  1. Agent X says:

    I live in the USA, and I don’t vote. It’s a crock. I am blown away by how the democratic process fails creation. I am blown away by how crappy the choice is. Really? Out of all the people in this nation, we have these two to choose from???

    I am going with Jesus, and his name is not on the ballot. I will pray for our leaders, whoever that turns out to be, and yes… it feels more scary now than ever before. But I live for the Creator God and will put my trust there. He risks everything in our hands; I risk everything in his.

    X

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Hi Agent X – thanks for the comment. Man – I don’t know where to start with the US election – but this may well feature in future blogs. If you want to send a guest US post then please do!

  2. John Clark says:

    Good to have you back blogging again John. But a really sad way to have to re-start. Jeremy Corbyn is not PM material. But where do Christians on the left go now. Britain faces Conservative domination for the next decade.

  3. Steven says:

    Hi John it’s great to have you back….and I agree wholeheartedly with your post. Corbyn, like Michael Foot, is a great politician, but also like Foot he is not a leader. If we want a credible opposition, one basing it’s manifesto on outdated policies is not going to appeal to the masses. I left the Labour Party a while ago and joined the Green Party, because I believe they advocate a more caring society and address some of the issues that mean something to me. And indirectly they have reaffirmed my Faith….

  4. Ben Niblett says:

    I’m sorry to hear it Jon. I’d love you to come back. If you must go, the Greens have a lot going for them, particularly both their leaders, but if you’re leaving Labour in search of somewhere more electable to beat austerity, I’m not sure England has anything to offer you.

    I can see three things in Corbyn’s favour that will help at the ballot box:
    a) Authenticity. He’s much more authentic than most politicians. Many people say they don’t think politicians mean what they say, but they’re less likely to say it of Corbyn.
    b) The Bubble. He’s not part of the Westminster bubble. Many people say they don’t think politicians have a clue about ordinary people’s lives and they want a change. This was certainly one part of the support for Brexit, and the feeling of remoteness from Westminster is one part of how the SNP took over from Labour in Scotland even though Scotland voted against independence.
    c) The Crash. He’s not going to cause a major crash by under-regulating the banks. He understands economics better than Blair and Brown in that regard, and he’s going to offer a Keynsian economics that’s clearly different from the Conservatives’ austerity economics (if May continues Cameron’s path, which remains to be seen but seems likely) instead of offering a diet version of it.

    Are those enough? Very possibly not, but maybe. Don’t give up, stay in and at the very least, have a vote for the next leader.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Thanks Ben for your thoughtful comments. All those things may be true – but he is not a leader who can actually lead the party. And furthermore, he is unwilling to ‘play the game’ in terms of bringing people together. Just imagine if you worked somewhere which had an CEO who was authentic, not part of a clique/bubble and was not responsible for previous financial mis-management but could not actually lead the organisation. It would be a nightmare and I think this is where Labour are heading.

      • BenNiblett says:

        That may also be true, but if I thought the organisation was the best one for the work it was doing, I’d stay and work to improve it.

  5. simplyshirah says:

    I am saddened beyond belief by your post. Truly. Join the Greens if you feel Labour leadership has disappointed you. Sadly, many I feel, have not really understood the historical landscape during Mr Foot’s leadership. Attempting to understand it from what has been written by Gerald Kaufman is not, in my view, the right way to attempt an assessment of that period either. So much is tainted – as is all history. People who were not around during that period often only viewed through commentators who either hated it or completely distort it for their own ends. Trying to join up two completely different political time periods to make sense of the Now, doesn’t work. When studying theology we were taught “a text out of context is a pretext!’ I was there in 60s, 70s & 80s and still here. 60s when Hard Left really were Hard Left. International Socialist Movement members controlled most of the really big industries. I met a lot of them. Corbyn is a million miles away from the Hard Left of that period. In a period of “consensus” politics whereby Tory & Labour may well have differed with what cuts and/or increases to make in certain areas of national life the idea of selling off Welfare State was not seen as a place to go. Curbing power of the Unions was something to be tackled. Wilson was seen as a Left winger then, where as Callaghan was seen as right winger in the party. Foot was a real Left – I used to see him most days on underground train going to Westminster. He was one of the most popular leaders and made mincemeat of Thatcher. Her politics were seen as extreme right wing. One person on TV called her a Fascist., Different time. Crushing the Unions was, for many, “a good thing!” Privatisation was as Heath quoted MacMillan: “tantamount to selling off the family silver!” Thatcher however would only go so far. Hayek (her hero) said: He was disappointed that Mrs Thatcher didn’t go much further in dismantling the Welfare State, for instance. Mr Foot was well ahead in the polls of the day and much respected and in line to win the forthcoming election. Falklands!!! By the time Blair took over the landscape had changed so dramatically that he carried on in same vein. Yes he did make changes for the better but as he freely admits now he saw his job as “carrying on where MrsThatcher left off!” Labour’s shift to the right was evident to all who followed this political period. Whereas during 70’s Labour were indeed a party of many parts, by the time Blair resigned, those still around & considered lefties were rag, tag & bobtail of party. Mrs Thatcher shifted the whole debate to the right and Labour followed suit.
    We are now in a period of such hypocrisy within Westminster, where far too many MPs consider themselves as leaders & movers & shakers rather than servants of the public, there to do their own bidding and not necessarily for the good of the poorest. Expenses fiddling; Corporation take over; Banks playing “roulette” with the nation’s money. Austerity policies where “We’re all innit together,” euphemism for poor paying the price for the folly of the rich and powerful. The absolute con of austerity measures to sell off absolutely anything and everything to crony paymasters who pay no tax; debt higher now than when Labour left office, etc etc. Labour carrying on in its own sweet way abstaining on Welfare bill with Harriet Harman saying the Tory bill was right way forward!!! Election and to everyone’s astonishment Corbyn starts talking right into the very heart of the disenfranchised. Had Harriet Harman allowed the Welfare Bill to be a free vote instead of forcing Andy Burnham (and others) to abstain, thus making Burnham et al look weak and totally ineffective, I believe Burnham would have been leader by now. Andy did listen to people but the Labour Party didn’t listen only to themselves as they have done for far too long. Corbyn never expected to be leader. But he caught imagination of people right across the board. Like him or loath him. Labour hierarchy have only themselves to blame. Labour were “seen” to be agreeing with Tory policy. Abstaining on Welfare Bill for many was last straw.
    We are in a post Thatcher, Post Blair, Post international banking crisis, into a period of such uncertainty on just every level imaginable; We’re in a period where, I believe, we are controlled from without rather than from within. Multinational corporations running our institutions, offshore. MPs/Peers tied in and compromised.
    Labour right has to face the big question: Why Corbyn? Why did it happen? We will never ever see unity again. It is not Corbyn that causes so much fear in the right wing but the membership and the growing membership. Can Corbyn win an election? Who knows. It was said that Mrs Thatcher & John Major would never, ever be elected to office!!! One thing of hope I believe is that the political landscape has changed dramatically. Whether it is sustainable is something else. Leaving a losing hope is personal matter for you. But I do ask you to look at the sociopolitical history from 1950s to present day through research of all views and not just accept what MSM or one politician’s view. Ask those who have voted for Corbyn the question I asked: “Why?”

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Thanks for your detailed and passionate comments – I am sorry you feel so sad at my departure from the party. I think you are right that the political landscape is changing – who knows what will happen? I think democracy itself is in crisis. To a degree, I can understand people’s affection for someone like Corbyn who seems to authentic compared to the falseness of so much politics. But in the end, this will only be a protest vote – it has always been the middle ground that needs to be won in UK politics. This is what successful politicians have to do – to read the times and articulate change that resonates with the majority.

      My real concern is that in voting for Corbyn, Labour have forsaken the opportunity to be an effective opposition – and this is a disaster for the country.

  6. Andrew Drury says:

    Jon, I am truly sorry that you felt that you had to leave the Labour party. Although our politics differ (yes, I am from Tory Surrey, but I too have a concern for those who are left behind in our society), I do not consider a lack of a thinking and realistic opposition to be a good thing.
    I agree with a previous post that perhaps Andy Burnham would made a better leader, but that is now water under the bridge and I wish him well if he succeeds in his vote to become the new Mayor of Greater Manchester.
    In a way, it is an exciting time with the Greens and Lib Dems now thinking that they can make a difference.
    I pray that Christians of all political persuasions or none will want to share God’s good news to those who are poor, imprisoned and/or disabled in a practical and life-changing way.

  7. Sam says:

    HI Jon, I understand your despair at Labour’s current situation, and your reasons for leaving the party. I certainly share your frustration with Corbyn and predictions about the next general election. However, I’ve decided to remain a member of the party for the time being.

    The reasons for me is that I don’t want to abandon what is a great political party to this takeover by the hard left and entryists within Momentum. The huge political bubble that Corbyn and his puppet master John McDonnell have erected around themselves will burst at some point. I’m just sad that it will take a horrendous general election loss for the collective insanity to begin to dissipate.

    But nonetheless, this is my party, and I’m going to stay and help fight the corner of those who listen to the wider electorate rather than just a much smaller cohort of self-selected fanboys and fangirls at rallies.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Good on you Sam – and thanks for reading and for the comment. Go well brother.

      • Bene says:

        “I don’t want to abandon what is a great political party to this takeover by the hard left and entryists within Momentum. The huge political bubble that Corbyn and his puppet master John McDonnell have erected around themselves will burst at some point.” This is the point where I feel the real tension. We are looking at Corbyn as a thoroughly nice man – but that is his sole reason for being where he is…a frontman for some genuinely dangerous people. Seamus Milne, John McDonell, they are biding their time; no one should believe they are are Corbynista, they use him to achieve their own objectives, and *that* Labour Party will horrify the middle ground.
        By driving out the moderates, like you Jon, the first real McDonell goal is achieved: there is no resistance, nothing for the moderates to rally round. Now watch, and see what happens next.
        If we think the USA has a horrible choice for President, I fear we shall see the Labour Party – with its enormously wide popular ‘signed-up’ support – become something truly hideous.

      • “I don’t want to abandon what is a great political party to this takeover by the hard left and entryists within Momentum. The huge political bubble that Corbyn and his puppet master John McDonnell have erected around themselves will burst at some point.” This is the point where I feel the real tension. We are looking at Corbyn as a thoroughly nice man – but that is his sole reason for being where he is…a frontman for some genuinely dangerous people. Seamus Milne, John McDonell, they are biding their time; no one should believe they are are Corbynista, they use him to achieve their own objectives, and *that* Labour Party will horrify the middle ground.
        By driving out the moderates, like you Jon, the first real McDonell goal is achieved: there is no resistance, nothing for the moderates to rally round. Now watch, and see what happens next.
        If we think the USA has a horrible choice for President, I fear we shall see the Labour Party – with its enormously wide popular ‘signed-up’ support – become something truly hideous.

  8. Well done for sticking your head above the parapet and saying how you feel. I have many thoughts but two will do for now. One is that I agree with Jonathan Freedland’s reflection in The Guardian last week on the Blair government that the disaster of the Iraq war and Blair’s self-enrichment since leaving office has prevented good reflection on the many achievements of the government that he led. That needs to change.
    My other thought is that sadly it will not be until the next election that it will become clear that support for the Corbyn version of Labour does not extend very far beyond those enthusiasts who voted for him as leader. When that time comes the fight for the party will be on once more. The biggest challenge will be to articulate a progressive politics that connects to the growing number of the casualties of globalisation and gives them hope. These people voted for Brexit and at the moment see figures of the populist right as the expression of their fears. I was about to add, “aspirations” there but I do not think that the populist right offer much more than a solution based upon leaving the EU and keeping foreigners out. We need a politics that really offers hope.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Thanks Stephen. Jonny Freedland often writes great stuff and I completely agree with this analysis. Blair made a massive, career defining mistake in invading Iraq and then has further sullied his reputation with his astonishing greed. But he was a political genius as no one has intrinsically understood the UK electorate like him.

      I completely agreed that we need a politics of hope – and I want to be part of this movement. Maybe after the next election I can re-join Labour – but who knows what will have happened by then?

      • Ah… whether the sun shines in my garden or it is a dismal day

      • The Send button on this page can be a great nuisance! I hit it inadvertently. What I intended to say was that I won’t know what will happen at the next election whether the weather is good or bad today. And I can’t quite believe that Theresa May has not called a post-Brexit election yet. Perhaps all is not well within her party?

  9. Steve Pownall says:

    Clement Freud once said that he decided which way to vote in the House by looking over at Cyril Smith and following him through the lobbies. I’ve found your reflections on political questions very helpful, Jon, but now I’m not quite sure if I should follow you out of the Labour Party!

    I’ve just read some essays by Clement Attlee to put in mind a great leader who would be unlikely to be elected today: bald! and not quick to speak. There were questions about Lansbury: (great man and) pacifist – unelectable? Should they encourage us to think there is a time to go along with ‘unelectable’ in search of wisdom? (but bearing in mind worries about who might be movers and shakers behind Corbyn)

    And I wonder – if you’re saying that the Party needs to attend (in effect?) to politics as the ‘art of the possible’, I’m not sure how that squares with you opting out. There were only two candidates in the end and I decided to vote for the other one for not much better reason than that.

    I’ll ‘stick’ for now.

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