Political Party Membership as an Identity

Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself on ideas and philosophies and current events that I had views on, but only passing understanding of. I have been guilty of opinionizing without truly understanding what I am talking about, I have had strong ideas on events and social programmes without really doing much research. I was, and in many respects still am, guilty of reading a headline and not the article. In this time, I have found that my views on certain things have solidified. I believe even more venomously that the Conservative Party are a behemoth of intolerance, xenophobia and stroking the flames of these issues for personal gain. I am even more convinced that Brexit had some sort of foreign influence. (Why the media were happy to accept Farage saying that he forgot why he went to visit the Ecuadorian embassy on the morning of Brexit I will never know.) 

However, there are issues that I have less understanding of by reading into them more. The Arab-Israeli conflict I had always taken as something that was primarily the fault of Israel and that movements such as the BDS were a wholly good thing. But after reading about and around this subject it seems so much more complicated than leftist rhetoric would have had me believe. This is not an article on this issue for the reason that I personally do not feel like I have a stance on this conflict. In spite of reading thousands of pages on the past and present debates around Israel and Palestine I cannot for the life of me figure where I stand on the issue. But this is an article on reassessing and re-evaluating. At looking at my own views and the parties that I feel reflect them. 

The rise of identity politics is something that has been extrapolated through social media. Increasingly there seems to be a tribalism, an unequivocal need to align yourself with issues and ideals as part of your identity or self. The idea of being unsure or confused is assimilated with passivity, with the idea that in not outwardly or vocally opposing something that you are in favour of the opposite. I don’t know where I stand on many issues, my personal perceived complexity of the sex/gender debate is one that I have particular issue with, but in not opposing certain points of view I can be accused of facilitating or even believing points of view which I find confusing, if not something I completely object to. This need to categorise wholeheartedly on a side of a debate has resulted in a politics that is increasingly extreme. Brexit gave the country a polarised question and created a polarised society. There is no space in the debate for any form of middle ground, it is as simple as ‘In’ or ‘Out’ with extremities in these camps, but even the most moderate and consensual on both sides are still opposites, they still both want opposite things with similar consequences. 

Anecdotal though it may be, I went to an event with Owen Jones immediately after the antisemitism row first appeared in mainstream media. (Read Deborah Lipstadt’s Antisemitism for an explanation about the differences in spellings and their meanings of antisemitism, absolutely fascinating.) Members of the party, some of whom I recognised, used the Q+A session to air grievances about their feelings that this was yet more smearing of Corbyn and was the work of ‘the Jewish Lobby’ who were scared of a Corbyn government. Although this in itself is antisemitic it was harrowing for these issues to all be seen as conspiracies against the leadership rather than legitimate concerns. I quote Lipstadt again in her view that Corbyn is not necessarily an antisemite himself but does enable these issues within his party. Links with Hamas and appearances in media that has outwardly both hardcore and softcore denied the Holocaust may not have much of a resonance with those who sympathise to the Palestinian cause. But to those Jews who are both Jewish in their identity and critical of Palestine, Corbyn comes across not as an ally but someone who is allying with radical extremists who call for the destruction of the Jewish race. Although Corbyn himself may be merely anti-Zionist or critical of the Israeli government the same cannot be said for the originator of the BDS movement who in their guidelines calls for the dissolving of the Jewish race or leaders of Hamas who are not only critical of Israel but have a long and complex history of their own attacks on civilians. 

No-one I ever talk to about Labour would try and convince me that they are a perfect party, just that they are just better than the Tories and that we should be pushing them because it will be better for almost everyone. I have no doubt that is the case, however tis self-righteousness comes with its own issues. In the current Labour party, in spite of the actual worst government that the UK has ever seen, there is still an uphill battle against almost everyone. The party seems to find opposition within the media, its own moderates and people who have previously been in support of the party. But half of the issue here is the inability, or at least unwillingness, to critique the left’s own radicals. The cult like following by some aspects of the party is almost Mao like, with people seemingly believing that Corbyn is the only path to socialism and that any attempt to oust him is an attempt to oust Socialism. Issues with his inability to lead, his divisive nature within his own party are similarly dismissed as smears. Obviously, this is all anecdotal as giving hard evidence would involve delving into the toxic twitter conversations that take place on a daily basis. But through my experiences I have seen that to some Corbyn is beyond critique and that any concerns or criticisms are seen as attacks on the concept of socialism itself. This is not to say that there are not those who harness this to try and rebuild Labour as the Blairite party it once was and return it to the centre. But dismissing all criticism as Blairite or Red Tory is both dangerous and counterproductive. 

The point I am trying to make I guess is that polarisation of politics is coming from both sides. I maintain that there are truly evil people and regimes in place at the moment that need protesting and rallying against. Trump is doing is utmost to split and divide the world like never before, creating a level of partisanship that I have never seen in my lifetime. But the fact that these evils are so evil does not make use that oppose them some sort of benevolent good. The UK Labour party has issues that are rooted in its own inability to self-reflect. There is a tendency for campaigns to lose their meaning, for an anti-austerity campaign to simultaneously become one that is linked with the BDS movement, campaigns against other foreign governments and a multitude of other issues. The idea of solidarity is one that Labour embraces as part of its identity. However, the issue with this is that it offers such a complete view of what the party stands for that it can be alienating to those on the fringes of the party who would like to get involved more, like me. I believe in certain aspects of the party and most of the core principles, but there are a lot of things about the party that worry me but are on the fringes yet embraced by the leadership. 

Of course, I will still vote Labour, I think my local MP is exceptional and that in a FPTP system they are the only logical and reasonable choice. I still will campaign against a party that has caused deaths through its cuts to services and continues to follow a financial plan that is devastating almost every aspect of society. However, I do so less for the current state of the Labour party and instead against the Conservative party. Labour is more like the party that I wish it had been for years, but the toxicity and disturbing history that has come along with its current leadership is something which makes my support waver. 

The tribalism that has plagued the country since Brexit is creating further divisions and debates with seemingly no end. Many will argue that I am projecting, that the tribalism I am arguing is because I personally am seeing vocal minorities. But with a media that puts emphasis on vocal minorities constantly, on both sides of the spectrum I must add, it increases the argument of totalised society. In Labour I feel the increasing need that if you are not left enough you are not welcome. The attempt to dilute Tom Watson’s role as Deputy Leader by instating a second deputy leader was argued as a way of increasing diversity as the new leader would be female. Projecting I may be, but the current efforts of changes to selection policies and such make me worry that this shift to the left is continuous and without end. That this tribalism is being enforced by both sides, that you are either with the party wholeheartedly, or against it completely and a voice that needs to go. Hatred of politicians such as David Miliband may be based on fears of a return to a Blairite government, but they are ultimately allying against Conservative governments and voices worth enabling. They may be critical but the ability to be self-critical is crucial to a healthy and working democracy. Tribalism from all sides of the political spectrum is what is the biggest threat to democracy as a whole. In order for the left to thrive, we need to be able to criticise ourselves and look at what is working and what isn’t within our own beliefs and structures. We need not criticise and demonise because someone is not left enough and feel they are a threat. Rather than ideological purity and fringe issues with incredibly complex histories we should be uniting, rather than accusing those who criticise as undermining. Because just being for or against something is worthless without understanding why you are but also why others might not be. Sometimes it is better to just try and understand why there is opposition without projecting your own easy answer.

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Apologising for how much I have dismissed Jeremy Corbyn

I will be the first to admit that were it not for a snap General Election being called I would not be apologising. However, in these uncertain and constantly changing times it is only fair that when my mind changes I admit to it and apologise.

I am not apologising for what I consider to be bad leadership. I am still uncertain of Corbyn’s credibility as a Prime Minister. But what I do apologise for is buying into the media narrative of him being a bad leader. Rather than focusing on the faults in the leadership of the opposition I bought into their own scapegoat of his leadership failing’s rather than May’s. It has become apparent through Theresa May’s refusal to debate you on television that neither of the party leaders are classically brilliant leaders. A leader should be willing and ready to debate at any opportunity. They should not have to selectively filter the questions they are asked at their own press events. Corbyn has not done either of these things, unlike the incumbent Prime Minister and, to me at least, that shows better leadership than we are led to believe we currently have.

I must also commend Corbyn and the Labour Party for the policy decisions which you and your party have put forth. For the first time in my living memory the public are being a given a real choice. It is not a choice between austerity and austerity-lite but a truly different alternative. There is nationalising the railways and royal mail, policies that the public are heavily in favour when polled purely on standalone issues. The Labour manifesto sets out real and tangible ways of saving the NHS and the failing school system. As an aside I must add that I find it comical that so many people who hold the NHS dear are the ones that oppose the principles of socialism on which it was based. Corbyn’s policies may be socialistic and in an incredibly right wing political climate may be too much for the public to stomach after years of increasingly right wing government, but the whole idea that there is a credible and real alternative makes me more excited to vote than I have been before in my adult life time.

I am cautiously optimistic about this election. I am not expecting a win, but any shift of the Overton Window would be a step in the right direction. Part of me would be happy to see the Tories win this election, to watch them struggle with the mess that they have created of Brexit. To watch as the people who have turned to the Tories in the wake of Brexit realise that they have nothing in common with the party other than a commitment to reducing immigration realise they have voted to destroy the NHS and schooling they hold dear. (I do have to point out here that immigration targets by the Tories have never been met.) However, I realise that this election is important to win as five more years of Tory rule could ultimately destroy the NHS as we know it

Although you have the option of voting you do not have to use this. I say this as if you believe both leaders to be equally bad and are not inspired to vote for either or do not feel involved in politics enough to the point of being able to decide then why do so. Ultimately if you are unsure but voting based on the strong and stable mantra without looking at policies or anything else that matters then you could be voting for something that you don’t believe in, that has just been spun in a way to make you agreeable to it. Elections are crucial and people should vote, but if you don’t know what you are voting for then you could be a turkey voting for Christmas.

Brexit may mean Brexit, but Brexit doesn’t mean May’s Brexit

It has been a week where what the public actually voted for in the EU referendum was finally, albeit slightly, revealed through Theresa May’s 12 point Brexit plan. Finally, we have some level of understanding of what a ‘Red, White and Blue Brexit’ signifies. These twelve points, which I will not discuss in detail here as it is not the purpose of my writing, are the backbone of what May hopes to achieve through her enacting of article 50 and the leaving of the European Union. But in summary, it makes Britain defy all laws of economics and sociology and become a centre of free trade.

However, what caught my eye was that, in spite of her pathetic attempts to stop it, May has agreed to let parliament vote on this issue. Democratically elected representatives will actually get a say on what constitutes such issues such as national sovereignty and will be allowed to debate the Brexit strategy. Despite the wishes of at least 48% of the nation there will be, and probably should not be, a repeal of the plebiscite that pushed the UK into Brexit, but a debate in parliament has the benefit of vetting the leaving plan and strategy. It allows parliament to check that this strategy does work in the UK’s favour, to the best of its ability.

With this in mind, what strikes me as odd is the complete nonchalance shown by Jeremy Corbyn by enacting the party whip in making sure his MPs vote in favour of the Article 50 trigger. By saying this Corbyn is essentially saying that what the Conservative government wants to happen in regards to Brexit will happen. Corbyn is making his MPs neglect their own constituents, the members of his party who mainly voted in favour of Remain and those people who may not oppose Brexit as an idea, but reject Theresa May’s vision of Brexit.

But to me, this is synonymous of the problems that embody Corbyn as the leader of the opposition. In the wake of Brexit, the Conservative party was in disarray, the Prime Minister had to step down and there was chaos. As much as the coup within the Labour Party did not help (and no it was not just the work of ‘Blairites’ and ‘Red Tories’ there are legitimate reasons from socialists such as myself why they had lost faith in Corbyn) absolutely no effort was made to try and make political gains from the self-destruction of the Conservatives, instead Labour self-destructed too and has not rebuilt at all in the same way the Conservatives have managed to. Corbyn cemented himself as the leader, but he has done little to actually oppose.

The media are partly to blame, as always, it is hard for Corbyn to get good press when he levels himself as someone who opposes the press. But press is not the issue, as we inhabit the world in which people are increasingly accessing news that only agrees with their opinion, not once have I seen Corbyn actually pressure the Government. Brexit would be a perfect time to state what he would do differently, how a Labour Government would handle Brexit. To oppose Article 50 in the commons, not because he wants to vote against the people, but to show the people that he does not agree with May’s Brexit. That he wants a Brexit that works for the people, rather than letting Phillip Hammond speculate that Britain may become a tax haven for the wealthy.

If Corbyn so drastically wants a rebrand to a more populist image, a man of the people for the people, then he should start listening to the people because at the moment people are rejecting him. If he wants to ‘respect the decision of the British People’ then he should also start respecting the opinion polls of the British people that put him behind Theresa May. That show a growing Liberal Democrat party whose leader is actually making and pushing the point of opposing Brexit.

There is cause for hope, as much as the dreaded rise of the far right is occurring through candidates such as Trump and Le Pen, the success of Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic primaries and Benoit Hamon recently surging in the polls in France shows that maybe it is dramatic change that people want rather than Fascism and Right Wing intolerance. Corbyn surged to Labour Party leadership because of these reasons. But unlike the aforementioned candidates, Corbyn has not been able to get his message out to outside of his own party. The issue is not so much what he stands for, but getting his message across.

Opposing Article 50 being triggered would show his leadership skills. It would send a message the Media could not ignore and one that would appeal to about 48% of the nation. In a world that is looking for alternatives, it is time that Labour, and by extension Corbyn, show the UK that Brexit can mean Brexit, but it does not mean May’s Brexit.