I fought hard for Labour - but now they’ve lost my vote
PUBLISHED: 18:52 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:11 03 May 2019
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A former Labour candidate and activist on why the latest Brexit fudge has left him unable to stomach voting Labour at the ballot box.
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After painfully considering how I would vote in the latest set of elections for weeks, if not months, I have come out of the polling booth not voting Labour.
I had been an activist for many years with the Labour Party, appeared on stage with Ed Miliband at conference, and standing as a candidate in my hometown in Norfolk a number of times. I telephone canvassed, doorknocked, leafleted, and ran campaigns for them. You name it, I'd done it.
But while I did not support Jeremy Corbyn as leader, I remained loyal, recognising that he was elected under party democracy. During the EU referendum I campaigned every weekend back home for Remain while many of his enthusiastic supporters avoided getting involved.
Despite my frustrations with the party's message, Remainers like me still voted in support of Labour in the 2017 general election, believing Labour's six tests would lead to them rejecting any Brexit deal. I even stayed hopeful that, in accordance with the conference policy passed last year, it would eventually unequivocally back a People's Vote after one of the biggest marches in London we had seen this century. Like others, we stomached the party going through the notion of attempting to find support for its own Brexit plan, before it moved to try to secure a general election, and failed on that too.
But my patience has particularly changed in recent weeks as we headed towards the intended departure date of March 29th. It was at the People's Vote march that it became apparent the biggest political force in Europe was no longer with Labour, but with the overall anti-Brexit movement made up of voices from across the political spectrum. Despite the best efforts of Labour MPs like Tom Watson and David Lammy to tell us otherwise, it is clear the Labour movement has lost touch with the party's wishes.
My last glimmer of hope was with the campaigning that took place ahead of the meeting of the National Executive Committee. With the noises coming out of different corners of the Labour Party so clear in support of a People's Vote, and the polling suggesting this was the best way to stop a Nigel Farage surge, it surely would have no choice but to be clearer now about support for a fresh referendum?
It would appear not.
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The reaction to another pro-Brexit manifesto for the EU elections - which only puts a public vote as a last resort - was a kick in the teeth for Remainers who had held their nose to vote for the last manifesto, and stuck by the party as it followed conference policy. It still offers no clarity on whether it would put any Brexit deal to a public vote, and leaves them chasing unicorns when it comes to finding a Brexit plan that works for the people Labour is meant to represent.
As I headed to the polling station for the local elections, I antagonised over my decision.
I understood the argument made by Andrew Adonis that Labour needs to be on side to deliver a People's Vote, but a similar line has been trotted out for so long. Moreover, what difference could the local elections or European elections make to the workings in Westminster? As some have already suggested, if anything, voting a different way may send a wake-up call that it will not tolerate the party toeing the line on Brexit.
Owen Jones' latest comments - which appears to scorn Remainers for their reaction to the NEC meeting and suggest they are handing victory to Nigel Farage – rightly has been criticised by many.
How can Remainers take the blame for not voting for a manifesto that goes against the wishes of 80% of the party's own members? And how can Corbyn supporters shrug off the backlash, when they are now helping to achieve what the Tories and Nigel Farage all want?
I vividly remember in 2015 being told by left-wing activists that they couldn't vote Labour because they were appearing “Tory light” for still pushing a softer form of austerity. They may have had a point, but those voices, who quickly joined Labour to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, now fail to see the irony that they too are now a form of “Tory light” for backing a form of Brexit.
Meanwhile, Barry Gardiner – who just weeks ago was saying the party is no longer Remain – is now claiming that he is “very worried” that Labour Remainers are leaving the party. Jess Phillips said that she could not see why Remainers who supported Labour would vote for the party again. The People's Vote campaign appeared frustrated when it said Labour were doing the “bare minimum”.
It is quite clear Labour cannot go on trying to please both sides of the electorate any longer, and that it needs to rapidly review where it is headed on Brexit.
As I cast my vote in the ballot box I think to the social media commenters who claimed under each story that the leader – well-known for his rants against the EU - was taking Remainers for a ride in order to win power.
The latest “fudge” now has me thinking that they were right.
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter