As soon as Ed Miliband stood down, I warned against the party having a long leadership contest. Fearing it would result in a lengthy period of boring platitudes without much of value being said, leaving the public disinterested in us while the Tories were able to set the agenda. More than that, I feared that social media would allow bad blood to fester between Labour’s camps, with not only rank-and-file members but MPs and grandees able to air their discontent in public. Sadly I feel I have been more than vindicated.
The ensuing pandemonium has been so absurd that we have seen figures long-regarded as pillars of the soft left under Ed Miliband’s leadership, such as Jon Cruddas, as well as Ed himself being labelled ‘Blairites’ and ‘neoliberals’ by hard left keyboard warriors. Such accusations show the pitiful lack of political awareness these people possess, and these labels would certainly come as a surprise to the parties involved, let alone to Friedrich Hayek. On the other extreme, figures on the right of the party have implied Burnham and Cooper risk being seen as ‘Corbyn-lite’, an equally ridiculous accusation, leading to condemnation from other figures on the right as well as the left.
The debate is so polarised that throughout the contest I have been asked if I will leave the party if (a) doesn’t win or if (b) does. To this I answer simply: no. Firstly, there is no credible alternative. For all their talk of radical social justice, the Green Party have no grasp of basic economics and I feel a Green administration would spend their time focusing on counter-productive and frequently immaterial niceties about speech codes and the politics of identity which the left has so readily embraced since it abandoned the idea of class empowerment. The Liberal Democrats will take years to regain their former strength, if they ever do, and remain too focused on the individual to ever bring real societal change.
But there is a far bigger reason for my remaining in the Labour Party. We have always been a broad church, and that is the way political parties should be. When I joined at 20 years old, I considered myself a far-left firebrand who’d give Tony Benn some serious pause for thought. I have changed my views countless times since, both due to wider reading and events in the political and world arenas. As such my politics currently betrays a grotesque blend of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism. I am for the legalisation of drugs and prostitution, have nothing against border controls, am for the renationalisation of rail and a 50p top rate of tax, yet, shock horror, believe business has a big role in creating wealth and alleviating poverty. I still hold we should never have invaded Iraq, and am happy to scrap Trident, yet I loathe apologists for dictatorship and proselytisers for fascism when it comes masked by religion or ‘cultural differences’. No one would pretend that the above views can fall into an easily defined category, yet I have never felt out of place in the Labour Party in holding them.
For almost all I remain certain of is that the person who believes they have the truth is a fool. Perhaps I am wrong, and Labour’s coalition really is untenable, and one side does possess the key to both election in 2020 and a New Jerusalem, but I doubt it. Experience has shown me that when people sink into the trap of believing they are infallible they fall into a terrible, irrational solitude, only speaking with those who agree with them while falling further and further into their vast illusion. After a while the world stops mocking them, and they face the even worse fate of being ignored. This is not the end I want to befall Labour, a party which has achieved so much for so many people. The ability to disagree and debate in an adult manner is vital for the health of any institution, and in a left that has an ever-increasing desire to hound and string-up those who refuse to toe the line, it is vital that we remain a party that welcomes both our Blairs and our Benns.
Samuel Fawcett is a Young Fabian member and Deputy Editor of Anticipations