When I quit the Labour Party aged 17 I did so for two reasons. One was my growing appreciation of the conservative values of free enterprise, patriotism, and community. These developing values meant that, regardless of my experience within the Labour Party, I would have departed anyway, albeit later.
But when I left I also did so for another reason. I realised that the Labour Party which I had believed myself to be a member of did not exist any more. The Labour party which had formerly tried to stand up for the interests of everyone in this country was now trapped in the extremes of politics by a small number of highly committed activists who had forced the party to embrace an ultra left-wing agenda, both on economics and culture.
These activists are not bad people per se. They are in most cases deeply principled and committed to their vision for the Labour Party. But their vision for the Labour Party ignores the vast majority of the country. A majority who do not believe in an economy where the state is the most important actor, do not believe in an open-door immigration policy and who see Britain, not as a source of shame, but as a source of pride.
Activists who dominate the Labour Party do not realise that most people do not share their beliefs. When they find someone whose opinions differ from their own they dismiss them, either as stupid or bigoted or as I was called, a red tory. Let me be clear, many Labour members are tolerant of those they disagree with, and recognise that the party has to broaden its appeal. But now they are in the minority.
At a local Labour Party meeting in 2018, I was shocked to hear the secretary of the local party refer to the 52% of people who voted leave in 2016 as “xenophobes and bigots.” I was even more shocked to hear that no-one challenged him, in fact when I looked around the room the majority of people were nodding in agreement. At another meeting, this time discussing crime, I remember one member proposing that the Labour Party support the abolition of prisons. As usual, no thought was given to how exactly people, who unlike us, actually lived in high crime areas, would take the news that hardened criminals would be released onto their streets.
Of course, every political party and every movement has those with extreme and absurd views. But such views have become so endemic in the Labour Party that they now reflect the leadership of the party. The “mind the values gap” survey conducted by several leading pollsters showed that Labour Party candidates and councillors now have roughly the same opinions on social and economic issues as ordinary members (far to the left of the typical voter, who tends to be centre-left on economic issues and centre right on socio-cultural issues).
It is true that Labour is undergoing a period of reform to once again make the party a moderate mainstream party in British politics. The new leader Keir Starmer has been keen to emphasize his patriotism and his support for Britain’s veterans. He has told his party that they cannot keep banging on about Brexit. In the Conservative Party, we should welcome this change. While it is often over-stressed, our country indeed needs a strong opposition. But we should only welcome the change if it is genuine.
Sadly the evidence suggests that it is merely a paint job, designed to cover up the hard-left socialist, anti-patriotic, paternalistic machine underneath. Despite stressing his patriotism and support for veterans Starmer urged his backbenchers to abstain on a bill that would have protected veterans from frivolous prosecutions, and 30 Labour MP’s even voted against it.
Despite stressing the need to move on and accept Brexit, Starmer has appointed David Lammy to the shadow cabinet, a man who described leading Brexiteers as Nazis. And despite his apparent desire to move the party on from Corbynism, he could not name a single Jeremy Corbyn policy he would drop.
The Labour Party has a history it can be proud of, from Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee to Tony Blair. Labour has made an enormous contribution to Britain and in fact to the world in its 120 years of history. Its legacy includes the National Health Service, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, the equal pay act, keeping Britain out of the Vietnam War, the minimum wage, gay equality legislation, and so on. But today’s Labour Party has moved so far to the extremes on both a policy and a structural level that it is no longer the same party that helped build modern Britain.
As I stated at the beginning, I would have left the Labour party regardless, but its transformation from a patriotic centre-left party to a socialist pressure group made that process a great deal easier.