Thursday, 20 January 2022

I'm not the type of person to take comments from the Labour right-wing to heart because they're really not worth my attention. Don't get me wrong, I often find that lot irritating or frustrating, but they don't usually impact me on an emotional level, and yet recent comments from Rachel Reeves have somehow done just that.

Now, if you're unfamiliar with Rachel Reeves, she is the Labour Shadow Chancellor who once proudly boasted of being "tougher on benefits claimants than the Tories" which should immediately tell you she is in the wrong party. But to remove any doubt, read the following post on Twitter from Aaron Bastani about Reeves' recent comments:

Rachel Reeves is saying quite clearly that the Labour members, who joined the party under Jeremy Corbyn, not only never shared the party's values, but are antisemites and were never welcome. These words are horrendously insulting and quite frankly unhinged.

Reeves completely overlooks that Jeremy Corbyn won two leadership contests by a landslide and won his first contest based on votes from the existing membership in 2015. Clearly, the Labour members of the time absolutely did share Jeremy Corbyn's values, as did the unions, so it's strange that Reeves thinks 150,000 others who were inspired by Corbyn did not. Plus, political parties are supposed to attract the public to their ranks, not drive them away. It seems utterly bizarre that Jeremy Corbyn's ability to inspire the downtrodden could be portrayed as a bad thing.

Labour is supposed to represent the downtrodden, but alas, Rachel wants to be tougher on us than the Tories are. Let's not forget that in towns like mine, pretty much every family is in receipt of Universal Credit, and Rachel thinks being tough on our kind is a Labour value.

One of the most galling things about this whole farce is how Labour is welcoming Tory MP Christian Wakeford into the Labour Party. This is a man who voted against the £20 Universal Credit uplift and against meaningful action on climate change. A Tory through and through. If you're excited about conservatives joining your party and you're excited about socialists leaving your party, you're a conservative. It really is that simple.

Something tells me the man who founded the NHS would not have been so welcoming to Mr Wakeford:

"That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation." Nye Bevan

You don't get to lecture people on Labour values when you're alienating the unions who helped found your party and welcoming an MP who last year called that same party a "bunch of cunts". Imagine being a member of Bury South CLP and finding your new Labour MP is a Tory who believes in all the things you've been campaigning against. What a slap in the face.

This kind of nonsense is exactly why I left the party - not because I didn't have Labour values but because the party no longer did - and what's worse is neoliberals rigged internal party democracy to ensure the left never reclaim their party again. The vision of Keir Hardie is dead.

I may no longer be a member, but I am proud to be one of the people who joined Labour after Jeremy Corbyn became leader. I would therefore like to explain exactly why I did and exactly why the comments of Rachel Reeves were so hurtful.

If we rewind back to 2015, I did not know a huge amount about Jeremy Corbyn, but I was casually interested in the Labour leadership contest. I was not particularly enthused by Labour after the disaster of Tony Blair but still very much of the mindset the Labour Party was the only option for the working class. I was going to vote for Labour at the next general election or I was going to vote for no one.

Now, as I've written many times on this blog, I've lived a fairly tough life. I grew up during the Thatcher years in a council estate in a forgotten northeast town. We had close to nothing and every child was consciously aware of the damage Thatcherism had done to our communities. All the parents would bemoan that there was "nothing for the kids to do". Anyone who wanted a better life had to move away and those that could move away, did. We had few constructive ways to occupy ourselves, and as we grew up, crime and drugs were just part of our lives. Our town had over 90% youth unemployment and there was no sign of things improving any time soon. It's worth pointing out these difficulties continued during the leadership of Tony Blair.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I was in stable employment, and even then, working full time and earning promotions at work, I would run out of food days before the end of the month and I was scared to switch the heating on because of the extortionate bills. This way of living is normal where I'm from, of course, and it's bullshit.

This is precisely why, if you speak to people from towns like mine, they are so desperate for systemic change - we've been left behind. Indeed, this is why Brexit happened.

People hate the establishment because it provides us with little or no opportunity. If you browse the JobCentre, you'll be hard pressed to find a single job offering £20k that doesn't want a Master's Degree and a string of qualifications and years of experience. And this situation absolutely is not just a product of Tory rule, it's also the legacy of Blair and Brown who privatised more of our economy than Thatcher, stopped building council houses and destroyed the housing market.

Now I'd never been party political, but from 2010 onwards, mostly thanks to the internet, I was becoming politically aware. I was seeing videos from the US from politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who were speaking up for the working class in a way Tony Blair never did, and I wondered why we didn't have the equivalent voices over here. Where was our Bernie Sanders?

Then I saw the guy called Jeremy Corbyn running for the Labour leadership and he felt like a breath of fresh air. "Thank God there is someone talking about the issues that matter to us!" I said at the time. And the more I listened to Jeremy, the more his message resonated with me.

Now I've no idea what Rachel Reeves thinks people like me were looking for when we decided to join Labour after 2015, but the absurd Jew-hating caricature in her mind has no basis in reality.

From my perspective, issues like Israel/Palestine and antisemitism just weren't conversations I was ever part of. These things were not on my mind when I joined Labour. My only thoughts on Israel and Palestine were that I wanted both sides to co-exist peacefully, so it's extremely offensive to be lumped in with a tiny minority of antisemites who represented 0.05% of the Labour membership. The rest of us who joined Labour in the Corbyn years abhorred those antisemites too.

I joined the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn because I was tired of my region being left behind by neoliberalism. I was tired of the stagnating wages, the unaffordable rents and mortgages, the lack of job and education opportunities, and I was so incredibly angry that as one of the most gifted kids in my school, I was never given a fair shot in life. My potential was wasted.

I just wanted a leader who was prepared to discuss these regional inequalities, someone who was willing to listen to working class concerns and come up with a plan to address the problems that we faced. In particular, I wanted a better future for my children, not least because we are living on a dying planet which so badly needs radical change to save it. Anyone who doubts that simply doesn't understand science.

Jeremy Corbyn was prepared to offer leadership on issues that centrists rarely even want to discuss. One thing I realised as I was developing a class consciousness is that is what they are referring to when they call us "hard left". They simply mean a working class person who is becoming politically aware and understands we need to dismantle the structures which are causing so much harm in our society.

I grew to understand those structures are built on capitalism and those who don't want to dismantle them hope to financially benefit from them. Just look no further than Sir Keir Starmer sending out begging letters to corporations now that the membership money is drying up. He has left the Labour Party on the verge of bankruptcy because neither ordinary people nor unions want to financially support his neoliberal project. This is because it would take the country in the exact wrong direction - it would exacerbate problems that have destroyed our communities for 43 years to enrich billionaires.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour was able to move away from corporate donors and take on the Murdoch empire - these are unquestionably good things. A Labour Party should never be beholden to capital interests which are at direct odds with the interests of the working class.

I had naively assumed Jeremy Corbyn would receive praise from his party for bringing in so much revenue and a huge surge in support - the biggest surge of any leader since Attlee in 1946. Instead, the Parliamentary Labour Party were horrified by Corbyn's initial successes and it became clear whose side they were really on. This was not simply about them having different ideological views on how best to run society. This was about them consciously favouring the needs of corporations and billionaires over the needs of the working class while pretending more neoliberalism is what the working class really wants. We all know this nonsense is what the Tories are about, but it turns out this is what Labour is about too.

And before anyone screeches that the public does not want socialism (they mean social democracy), it's worth pointing out that poll after poll shows about 2/3 of the electorate want our public services to be nationalised. They're not idiots. They know that privatisation has led to rip-off prices, shoddy services and one private contractor after another going bankrupt after taking huge tax-payer subsidies. Neoliberalism is a scam.

Yet today we have a Labour Party where anyone left of centre, anyone who suggests a shift from the blatant failures of neoliberalism is marginalised, and anyone who self-identifies as socialist inevitably receives a suspension letter, often for the most spurious of reasons. Imagine a Labour Party that wouldn't even have room for someone who shares the politics of its founder Keir Hardie. That is Starmer's Labour - a neoliberal capitalist party that will continue injecting the market into every part of our lives, including, quite horrifyingly, the NHS. 

Is that a true Labour value, Rachel Reeves? When Attlee and Bevan were founding the NHS, did they want US corporations to run it for us and cream off profits? Was that part of their grand plan? Or were they socialists who understood the market should never be allowed anywhere near certain parts of our economy? Who understood that some things are sacred and should prioritise human need, not human greed?

When Keir Hardie founded Labour, was his goal to rig the economy so corporations could extract profits and tax-payer subsidies from every section of it? Or was his goal to reclaim the means of production for the working class and abolish capitalism and landlordism? Because if you read about that guy, or indeed Attlee or Bevan, you will quickly find they are exactly the kind of people you call "hard left".

"By inherited instinct we are all Communists at heart" James Keir Hardie

The irony, of course, is that there was nothing "hard left" about what Jeremy Corbyn was offering and it was so very far from communism. It was simply bog standard Nordic-style social democracy. We wanted to move away from the neoliberal capitalism that has given the UK the worst regional inequality in the developed world and move towards an economic system that has given Scandinavia the best living standards on Earth. We simply wanted a better country for everyone and a sustainable planet to live on. We wanted hope.

Like I said at the start of this article, not much upsets me, but Rachel Reeves comments really stuck in my throat. And I suspect this is because we were willing to give so much to the Labour cause with the noblest of intentions, only to effectively be spat on. I would like Reeves to look me in the eye and explain exactly why she thinks its okay to talk about people like me like we're the scum of the Earth for wanting better lives.