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Why are people joining the Labour Party?

During the Blair and Brown eras, the number of people with a Labour Party card in their pockets plummeted to levels not seen since the 1930s. Whether it be Iraq, the continued lack of trade union rights, Ken Livingstone’s expulsion from the party in 2000, privatisation, the assault on civil liberties, the failure to tackle the disastrous legacy of Thatcherism, or the general perceived kowtowing to big business and the wealthy – thousands of socialists no longer felt they could stomach being on Labour’s membership rolls.

But since May 2010, there has been a sea change. People are joining even faster than they quit: tens of thousands since the general election. In my own ward, the membership has doubled. The Coalition’s shock and awe neo-liberal policies have certainly provoked fear and anger among large swathes of the country. But I wanted to ask a few new members why they’ve carded up.

You can also see Daniel Frost and Ellie Mae O’Hagan‘s reasons online.

Kelly-Louise Hargreaves, Fine Art student at Nottingham Trent University, 23: @KellyLuiseBlog

I was brought up in a mining village in Nottingham. I’m the grandaughter and daughter of miners and I live at home with my parents.

For the second time in my life I’m seeing the Tory party systematically destroying the lives of normal, working class folk. Margaret Thatcher killed not only the industry in our village but a lot of our hopes and aspirations.

I come from somewhere the Tories ripped the soul out of during the 1980′s and 1990′s, it’s only just getting back on it’s feet. I don’t want to see the whole country having to suffer the same fate we did.

I don’t have a reason before I suppose. Not to join the Labour party I mean. I’ve always supported them. But I think it’s time to align myself with them officially because I cannot stand to see the Conservatives destroy our education and health systems. I see the NHS and education as a right, not a privilege for those with money in their wallets. I know that by joining the Labour party doesn’t automatically mean that the coalition government will dissolve infront of my eyes, but it’s my stance against them.

Jon Lintern, Cardiff University student, 21: @mycrippledeagle

Before last May’s election, I was actively suggesting trades unions disaffiliate from the Labour Party, mainly because of the Party’s abandonment of the public sector and dodgy record on civil liberties.

I was supportive of the Liberal Democrats, and the pre-election line they peddled, which suggested a broad centre-left consensus within the party, but since the coalition was formed that mask has slipped away to expose the party’s economic right wing.

I joined Labour in the wake of Ed Miliband’s election because I genuinely believe that under the right leadership, the Party can be pulled back to the “left proper”, as long as grassroots pressure is brought to bear. I have to believe that Labour can ‘come home’ to the left. I’m not happy for people to vote for Labour in the absence of anything better, I want people to be inspired by our policies, motivated by our local and national leaders and to become positively involved in politics. I don’t agree with everything the Party’s ever done, nor all it plans to do, but ousting this destructive government has to be my priority at a time when I see other young people and family members having their future jeopardised by economic fundamentalism.

James Tanner, works for a public sector union, 34: @Tanners77

Although I have always voted Labour (except for a few dalliances with Plaid Cymru for various reasons – Iraq, civil liberties, and the then Labour candidate in my area being the main ones), and a decade working for the trade union movement I never joined as I never felt comfortable with the New Labour ethos.

After the election I joined mainly because I realised the huge dangers of the new government and believed that joining would be a positive step in the fight against it. I also hoped that the party would take a more left-leaning course away from Blairism, and that I could contribute to that. For that reason, I also voted for Ed Miliband as the only viable candidate against his brother.

However, as a caveat to that I must add that I have been seriously considering whether or not to renew my membership this year. I have serious doubts whether the party will ever be the Labour Party that I want. I have been disappointed in Labour’s opposition thus far, none more so than when countering the ConDem’s propaganda regarding the deficit. On the other side of the argument, I still find much to encourage me on the left of the party, especially with the LRC (keep up the good work!). Also, I still believe that the party did a lot of good during it’s period in government, and believe that a Labour victory at the next election is paramount. Therefore, at this present time, I think I will probably decide that is a better option to remain in the party, at least until it returns to power.

Vincent Carroll, 24: @VincentN15

I grew up in Hackney, between Hackney Central and Dalston. My family was staunchly Labour, and I remember the elation of 1997. It soon turned sour, then worse. When I entered 6th form, Iraq was kicking off. By my university years I was totally disenchanted with parliamentary democracy. But on election night 2010, I stayed up all night, and as the “Con gain”s starting flashing up, I got emotional. Took a while to get over the loss. Fact is I hate Tories. Always have. I’ve always known the effects of those 18 years even though I don’t remember them. I know the investment that went in under Labour. The difference is clear. Our values are just different. I joined shortly after the election to stop the Tories. I’m on the doorstep every weekend now.

Oliver Rivers, strategy consultant, 44: @maxrothbath

I’ve voted Labour all my life, but I only finally joined the Party (for the first time) in 2007. Although that tardiness was mainly because I’m temperamentally not much of a joiner-inner, there was also the fact that, once post-97 euphoria had dissipated, I’d come to find New Labour glib, philistine and surprisingly incompetent. It bothered me a lot that a group of people who put so much faith in the private sector and market forces seemed to have so little practical or theoretical understanding of how these actually worked (in particular, so little understanding of market failure–but that’s a subject worth several other paragraphs in its own right).

Come 2007 I hoped Brown was going to do a much better-informed job of re-imagining social democracy for a de-industrialising globalised economy, and it was in anticipation of his success that I joined up. With hindsight my decision sounds so naive and ill-informed that I’ll cite two pieces of evidence in my defence: I still think giving independence to the Bank of England is one of the smartest things any Chancellor has done since WW2; and Brown’s stewardship of the economy from 1997 to 2001 was impressive. There were some reasons for me to be optimistic at the start of Brown’s term, and Brown operating in technocrat mode did indeed turn out to be an impressive figure during the financial crisis. But otherwise, rather than the visionary I’d hoped for, we got someone who in ideological terms wasn’t that different from Blair, and with none of the latter’s compensating political skill. I let my membership lapse in the course of 2008.

Scroll forward to a few days after the Oldham East by-election, and I rejoined, for largely negative reasons. In terms of income inequality, disparity between the regions, social mobility, the industrial make-up of the economy, and the quality and independence of our institutions of higher education enormous harm is going to be done to the country over the next five years, and Labour is the only effective means of opposing the Coalition–which isn’t to say that it’s actually going to succeed in doing so. Partly that’s because the top of the Party, still in thrall to neoliberalism, doesn’t have a fully (or even partly) worked-out alternative to articulate. Then there’s the credibility problem: you can’t deal with the shopping list of things which the Coalition are about to make much worse without acknowledging the need for a much bigger role for the state. And if Labour tried to make that case at the moment, the electorate would just point and laugh. I don’t think I’m going to be quitting this time round though–there’s too much at stake.

2 Comments

  1. Terry Crow says:

    I rejoined Labour after a 20 year break. For me, this is Labour’s last chance. Ed has already wobbled (got it wrong) on Libya. He says he is a socialist but in practice I see no real evidence for this. If he panders to the so-called middle ground and the LibDems, frankly, he is lost – he can only win them over with radical policies for change that support the public sector and our involvement in taking it forward.

  2. Robert says:

    Well sadly I will not rejoin after listening to Ed changing one minute he is a socialist the next he is a Blairite, now we hear he is after a DNA data base, next it will be back onto ID cards I suspect Blair is somewhere behind Miliband.

    I have no time for the party which see’s welfare cheats behind every street door, not with a bunch of expenses scroungers in the party,

    labours not my party any more.

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