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18 February 2019

Chris Bryant MP: Why I am not leaving the Labour Party

You need a team to win a match, a crowd to move a mountain and a movement to change the political weather.

By Chris Bryant

I’d be lying if I said my phone has been ringing off the hook, but I’ve certainly had a fair few texts, emails and WhatsApp messages asking whether I’m joining the seven who left the Labour Party today.

Some of the more tedious ones have come with a nasty dollop of homophobic abuse in a barely-concealed attempt to force me out. I’ve enjoyed telling them, “Stop flirting!”

Others have come from friends who want this to be a moment of great political realignment because they feel politically homeless. They hope that the Brexit ruptures in the Conservative Party will lead to an even more profound recasting of the political landscape. They’ve been disappointed – in a couple of cases, angrily disappointed – when I’ve said I’m going nowhere.

But that’s the truth. I joined the Labour Party in 1987 (well, I tried in December 1986, but Wycombe Labour Party said they’d run out of 1986 membership forms so I had to wait till the new year). I’ve been a councillor and an MP, I was an organiser for the party and I’ve raised money for the party under several leaders, including Jeremy.

I’ve also been infuriated by someone or other in the party nearly every month I’ve been a member. But this is my party. I am determined to be part of making it work better as the vehicle for people’s hopes and aspirations and I will fight for it to tackle the great injustices of poverty, racism, inequality and prejudice.

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Most of the messages have been from journalists, constituents and local party members asking where it is all going. And the truth is, I haven’t the foggiest. It has to be said, I’m not a great political prognosticator at the best of times. I thought Cameron would win a majority in 2010, that David would beat his brother Ed, that Hilary would be president and Yvette would be leader. So I’m no Mystic Meg, and it’s just as well I’ve never been a betting man.

But then, I’m not a commentator, I’m an MP. It’s not my job to guess the future, but to try and frame it. I’m there to bend the arc of history, not describe it.

In the end politics is about three interlocking things: your fundamental values and beliefs; the way you articulate them and turn them into policies; and the alliances you build to deliver them. The thing is, that last bit about alliances matters just as much as your fundamental values. Unless politics is just about listening to the sound of your own voice or getting something of your chest, you have to work with others to get results. We achieve far more, as they say, by our common endeavour, than by going it alone.

Sometimes that means not just putting up with strange bedfellows for a while, but shacking up long-term with people you don’t always agree with or even like. In order to get my new law protecting emergency workers through parliament I had to recruit Tory support, including from Philip Davies.

That’s why I prefer big tents when it comes to politics. You need a team to win a match, a crowd to move a mountain and a movement to change the political weather.

But politics has become so vituperative of late that alliances, even the great alliances that have shaped our two main parties, have been fractured by distrust. Everything’s a “betrayal”, MPs and judges are “traitors”, mild criticism is attacked as “open warfare” and social media are full of wild allegations, horrific personal abuse and endless misspelt threats.

Labour has a special role to play at this moment in our nation’s history. We need to make a superhuman effort to be generous, warm and magnanimous, because it’s only if we can widen our appeal, and strengthen our bonds to those outside our party, that we can ever hope to win votes in the Commons at this critical juncture, let alone win a general election. So I’m going to continue seeing Luciana, Chris, Chuka and the rest as allies.

Above all, I feel sad today. It’s not just that we will miss the late Paul Flynn, possibly the most pro-European lefty in the party or in parliament, though we will. It’s not just that it’s never good to lose old comrades. It’s just that I fear chaos on the left always plays into the hands of the right – and the far-right are just waiting to mount their takeover of the Conservatives.

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