For the young politics enthusiast, joining a political party for the first time is like buying you first album – only you hope that it’s the only album you ever need to buy. Voting for the same party once every four or five years is one thing, but making the cognisant decision to commit to one party means something more tangible. It is saying quite clearly “this is what I believe in”; it is, to some extent, part of your identity. As such, it is not a decision to be taken lightly, and as a 16-year-old just a few months into my first year at sixth-form college in Winchester (perhaps one of the most self-consciously middle class places in the country) I was certain that, in joining the Labour Party, I would be in the minority to say the least.
So, what on Earth possessed me to join? The reasons were manifold. Firstly, in the early days of my AS Politics classes I realised pretty quickly that I am, instinctively, a social democrat. I’m certainly no socialist, but injustice and inequality have always rankled with me and I struggle to identify with many of the values espoused by those on the right. Clearly, then, I was no Tory. The Liberal Democrats didn’t do it for me, either; perhaps prophetically, Nick Clegg struck me as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Labour, however, seemed to broadly encompass the values closest to my heart – a clear commitment to greater equality, with less focus on rampant individualism and more emphasis on the importance of community. Secondly, I was frustrated by the fact that many of my peers knew absolutely nothing of politics beyond the fact that their parents voted Conservative, usually because the Tories would tax Daddy less than those mean-spirited Lefties. It may seem crazy now but the final reason is that, in late 2007, Labour were enjoying something of a renaissance under newly-appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Our leader was full of exciting policy ideas, all of which would ultimately be shelved when the financial crisis hit with the full force of its’ fury just a year later.
Throughout even the most testing days of the Brown government, which we now know heralded the decline of New Labour, I remained steadfast in my loyalty to the party. I genuinely believed – and continue to believe – that the country would have been better off had Labour won the general election in May 2010. I would have voted Labour, but unfortunately I live in a constituency where there is more chance of Elvis turning up than there is of Labour ever winning the seat, and as such the only rational choice was to vote Lib Dem for tactical reasons.
So why, just over one year on, is my love affair with Labour over? To say that I have limited confidence in the ability of our hapless leader Ed Miliband is true, but it is also too simplistic an explanation. Labour itself has lost a sense of what it stands for. The party has failed to move on from the Blair-Brown era, and there is now a vacuum at the very highest level which was, until recently, occupied by some of the greatest political operators of any generation. Where there was once a definitive ideology underpinning every policy formulated by the Labour government, the current leadership seems to lack clarity and direction. Perhaps most worryingly, the younger Miliband has failed to inspire the confidence of the vast majority of the electorate and, although we are less than halfway through this Parliament, I simply cannot imagine him being elected to the very highest office. According to the latest YouGov poll, less than 10% of people believe that he is a natural leader, good in a crisis or decisive. That makes for grim reading.
For all of the in-fighting, backstabbing and vitriol, the last 12 months have left me hankering for the vision and optimism that was so pervasive when Tony Blair swaggered into 10 Downing Street in 1997. There has been little in the way of concrete policy in recent times, and the few announcements that were made at last week’s party conference were woefully inadequate. I suspect that I am not the only Labour Party member who feels that he can no longer identify with the lacklustre assortment of soundbites that we have to settle for instead.
I certainly won’t be joining another party, but when my membership comes up for renewal in November I intend to politely decline the invitation. The love affair is over – for now.
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