Five years ago, two months after my nineteenth birthday, I voted for the very first time – something I’d long looked forward to – in the EU elections. My decision at the polling station was a given; Labour had held my vote long before I was eligible to cast it.
I would go on to vote for the party for a second time the following year, this time in a general election. In the aftermath, when Ed Miliband resigned, I became a member of the Labour Party and supported Jeremy Corbyn in the ensuing leadership race. Nine months later, I voted Remain in the EU elections, and then three months later, completely at odds with that decision, I backed Corbyn yet again. Finally, in 2017, I voted for the Labour Party for a third time, in my second general election.
Up until last week, that was my voting history in full. But last Thursday, in my second EU election, I voted not for the Labour Party, as I had assumed I would always do, but for the Greens. And, honestly, if the Labour Party wants to kick me out for doing so, it’s only saving me the trouble of cancelling my membership.
This has been the case for Tony Blair’s former adviser, Alastair Campbell, who announced on Tuesday that he’d been expelled from the Labour Party after revealing on the radio on Sunday night, long after the polls had closed, that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats.
It is true that Campbell broke Labour’s rules, which expressly forbid the supporting of any other political party. It is also true, however, that should the party apply its rules consistently, it will find itself kicking out over 200,000 people – almost half its membership. That’s according to the findings of a YouGov poll, which revealed yesterday that 41 per cent of Labour Party members, the people it should be able to rely on for support, could not bring themselves to vote for it in the European elections.
Aside from any questions over how a Labour member in a Tory-Lib Dem swing seat should be expected to vote, to expel a party member for refusing to vote for you seems bizarre. If a person has joined a party, it is because they feel so passionately about it that they want to give it their money. I gain very little from being a member of the Labour Party: it benefits financially from me. I should be the one being able to hold it to account, and what better way to vocalise my disappointment in it than by voting for another party?
I voted in this way for a number of reasons. I’m not, although I am sure that Twitter will tell me otherwise when this article is published, a Blairite. I voted for Corbyn twice because I agreed with many of his policies. I still do.
But I no longer support his leadership. The past few years have seen Labour dogged with allegation after allegation of anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, the Sunday Times reported that, of the 863 complaints made over anti-Semitism within the party, only 30 had led to expulsion, with 191 members facing no further action as a result of the investigation against them, and a further 145 receiving only a warning. Most damningly, 454 cases were unresolved, with 249 yet to be investigated.
Corbyn has himself insisted repeatedly that he is not an anti-Semite. But he has been revealed to have defended an anti-Semitic mural and attended a ceremony said to honour the terrorists behind an attack that killed 11 Israeli Olympians, and to have been caught on camera saying that “British Zionists” do not understand British humour, even when they’ve lived here their whole lives. These are not the actions of a party that claims to be “built on the values of social justice, internationalism and human rights”.
Many more will have chosen not to vote for the party over its stance on Brexit. Labour has spent the past three years straddling the divide between Leave and Remain, refusing to pick a side for fear of alienating voters. But with at least a third of its members having jumped ship to back a pro-Remain party, it is clear this plan is no longer working.
And yet, though so many have clearly grown tired of the party’s leadership, there seems to be no prospect of it changing anytime soon. It pains me to see so many people, particularly young people, who despite having voted Remain, and despite being vocal supporters of equality, repeatedly rush to Corbyn’s defence. When you are unable to accept any criticisms of your leader, are you a member of political party, or a cult?
I’ll vote Labour again, I’m sure. We have a terrible first-past-the-post electoral system and I live in a swing seat, where the incumbent Labour MP lost to the Conservatives in 2015 by just 165 votes. The Labour Party’s flaws are many, but another decade of austerity would be far worse. But if and when I do so, it will, until the leadership changes, be with a heavy heart.