This post may come out as something of a political autobiography. In some ways my life around and sometimes, briefly, in, politics represents the journey taken by so many people of my age (I am now 64) in post-war Britain.
I was born and lived in a working class part of London (Stoke Newington, Hackney). My family (on my father’s side) was very political and had made the journey from Communism to a solid support for the Labour Party.
I joined the Labour Party in my part of Hackney when I was just 16 years of age and remember sitting outside St. Paul’s Church in Stoke Newington High Street giving out Labour leaflets accompanied by a school friend who was giving out leaflets for the Conservatives!
In those days (as now) Stoke Newington and Hackney North constituency was a safe Labour seat. I was 17 years of age when the Conservatives managed to oust Harold Wilson’s Labour Party from office where it had been since 1964. It did not seem to be much of a turning point for British politics but the next few years saw huge industrial unrest, constant pressure on sterling and a major change for our country as we entered the European Economic Community.
The experience of those years for the battered Tories would lead to them turning their back on the post-war consensus which I had grown up in. There had been a comfortable agreement on public spending and on the need to have social housing, the National Health System was fully supported by both the main governing parties.
After the two 1974 elections, the country faced a Labour Government with a majority of just 3 seats and a Conservative Party that wanted radical change and managed to get it by the election in 1975 of Margaret Thatcher as Leader of the party.
This marked the end of the cosy post-war consensus that I had grown up with. The election of Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1979 would see a raft of anti-trade union laws and a brutal conflict with the miners in the 1984-5 strike, the selling off of huge numbers of council homes and an economic policy that was deliberately about redistribution of income from the poor to the rich.
This government went through initial turbulent times but was saved by the rattling of a sword and a military adventure in deepest South America. It managed to regain popularity and the legend of Mrs Thatcher as “The Iron Lady” was born. It led to a period of Conservative election victories that lasted up until 1997.
The result of these events for the Labour Party was that it went through a long period of soul-searching in opposition and eventually decided that if it couldn’t beat the Tories it would have to emulate them and did so under the leadership of Tony Blair, the bright, media-loving new generation of politician that was unafraid to ditch many of the ideas of the “old” Labour Party (such as nationalisation of major industries and social housing commitment).
During all of these changes, (1974 to 1997) I continued to support the Labour Party. I despaired at the in-fighting and the frustrations of trying to get a message across that the new property owners did not want to listen to. Thatcher had introduced a social as well as an economic revolution and I saw constituencies that had once been rock-solid Labour (like Basildon) go over to the Conservatives.
I was now a teacher in Essex (having qualified in 1979) and I saw the beginnings of many changes in education with the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 and the growing influence of testing under the increasingly powerful Ofsted. I had hopes that the new Blair Government would reverse many of the changes that I had hated so much
Despite my hopes, the new Blair Government reversed precious little. “New Labour” was not about change, it was about management of the revolution, not reversal. Blair wanted to be a more efficient Thatcher and the Murdoch press loved him.
It was during the Blair years that I became disenchanted with Labour and stopped voting for them. I went through a period of looking for an alternative that I briefly found in the Liberal-Democrats and even distributed Lib-Dem leaflets in Southend-on-Sea, where I lived at the time.
The 2010 Lib-Dem/Tory Coalition put an end to all that. I was never a member of the Liberal Democrats but was tempted to join briefly so as I could resign in protest! The Labour Party was divided between the Blairites who wanted a Blair Mark 2 to get them back to managing the economy and the people who called for a return to the old ways that successive electorates had spurned.
I went through a period of non-party support and, indeed, although I so much appreciate the right to vote and how people in the past had suffered so as I had the chance to have a vote, I abstained from voting for a number of years.
In the last three years, I have supported the Green Party, as they seemed to represent the core values that I have always tried to keep, belief in internationalism as against a narrow nationalism, state support for the needy, money for a decent education and support to the hilt for our amazing National Health System.
Yesterday I read a really interesting article from the New Statesman entitled
Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians call for a progressive alliance
I couldn’t agree with this more. Indeed I had already become a member of “More United” an online organisation that has attempted to support whichever candidate of any of the “Progressive” parties could win in any particular constituency. For example, we voted to support the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election. We supported the Labour candidate Gareth Snell in the 2016 Stoke-On-Trent Central by-election.
It seems to me that there is no way, in the current political situation of a right-wing, neoliberal, Brexit chasing Conservative Party that a Labour Party that has been decimated in its old stronghold of Scotland, can ever gain power on its own. It can though agree to ally itself with other parties who collectively can defeat the Conservatives who manage to rule the country (and gerrymander the constituencies of a future parliament) on just over one-third of the popular vote.
The problem, of course, is that change is hard and people hold on to their cherished beliefs. Co-operation is not easy but, as the More United examples mentioned above show, it can be done.
As someone who was born into the Labour Party, drifted away under Blair, briefly flirted with the Lib-Dems and now has a home in the Greens, I feel I can speak in saying that there is a radical alternative and it is more important to unite and rule than bicker amongst ourselves in opposition to the Tories destroying all the things that we hold dear.
I fear that we will continue to bicker for a long time yet but hope that eventually, we will see the need for a truly progressive alliance.