Voting Labour hurts; it shouldn’t

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Ed Milibandwe

Yesterday, along with millions of others, I voted in the European elections. Like many others I’m sure, I looked at my ballot paper with little enthusiasm, before voting Labour half-heartedly knowing that they were the only party that had any real chance of finishing with more MEPs than UKIP. This, in itself, might not concern the Labour leadership too much, except perhaps that I have been a committed Labour member for 4 years and co-chair our university’s Labour society.

Maybe some clarification is needed. Those who know me well can testify that my political ideals are a long way from those that Labour has ever held, let alone those they hold now. But here’s the thing; however much some believe that tribal politics is dead, it’s not, and Labour are my tribe. They are the party that created the NHS and I am the child of two nurses. Trade unionism is a key part of my politics and Labour was created to fight on their behalf. My hometown was the first in the country to elect a Labour MP. This list goes on.

I joined the Labour Party as a 16 year old Marxist, angry and concerned about the future under a Conservative-led government. I was welcomed with open arms into what has always felt a safe political environment, one in which I have learnt a great deal about my politics, be it on the importance of liberation or how I view my own socialist beliefs. I have been fortunate since, that both Labour MPs who have represented me in parliament, are figures I greatly admire. And while “vote match” websites may say otherwise, politics isn’t just about policies, it is representation too. Labour are overwhelmingly the best supported party with the most vulnerable in our society and that is why I struggle to imagine myself supporting anyone else.

But, of late, it has become harder and harder to defend the leadership of a movement whose grassroots activists I value so much. I do not expect the Labour Party to become a socialist movement overnight. But I do expect it to show that it cares about those that it supposedly exists to fight for. Under Ed Miliband it is true that the party has said fewer things that I find actively objectionable. But this is largely because it has generally failed to say anything of meaning at all.

Going into the European elections, the Labour Party’s strategy has largely been focused on negatively campaigning against the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the hope that those who dislike UKIP will vote for them by default. At a time when savage cuts are being made at a national level and the infrastructure of our public services are in serious danger, Labour are failing to challenge the rhetoric of austerity or propose any alternative. This is not only disastrous for the party, but more importantly, for the ordinary people of this country.

If the strong local election showings by UKIP in traditional Labour strongholds like Rotherham, Grimsby and even parts of Sheffield display anything, it is that Labour has failed to make an offer that inspires people to go out and vote for them. In its place, xenophobia and immigration scaremongering have won through.

While I voted with pride for my local Labour candidate, my ballot for the European elections was cast with embarrassment from supporting a party that, at national level, has voted for a cap on welfare and failed to convince that it can really deliver for the people of this country in government. Come next May, I will be voting Labour, but if the current party rhetoric continues, I am convinced that we will be condemned to another 5 years of Conservative government. As the indomitable Barbara Castle put it, “in politics, guts is all”, and right now, Labour have none.

I sincerely hope that Labour win the election next year and that we are the largest UK party in EU parliament come Sunday but I also hope that the Labour leadership will start talking about policies that can really make this country a better place, be it a statutory living wage, nationalisation of the railways or the creation of jobs in renewable energy. But until then, they will continue to struggle. Harold Wilson, Labour’s only leader to win 4 elections, famously declared that “the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.” It is currently the latter, and if that does not change, then many who, like me, are deeply committed to the movement, will decide that it is a place they no longer belong. My party would be a worse place for it.

Written by Christy Mc Morrow