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Opinion Leaving Labour is a legitimate choice

In an open letter to the Socialist Campaign Group CHELLEY RYAN asks that the movement respect those now quitting their Labour Party membership

A FEW days ago I made the gut-wrenching decision to resign my membership of the Labour Party after 11 years. 

I had wrestled with this decision for 13 months. Even longer actually, because I came very close to resigning in the summer of 2019, after the party had adopted a more full-throated Remain policy, a policy I was both morally and politically opposed to. 

It was only my strong support of Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of our policy platform that kept me from leaving. 

However, I don’t have Corbyn to keep me inside the tent any more. Nor do we have the policies to drive me to stomach staying.

I’m not saying here that I have done the right thing politically. I fully understand why you are asking members to stay and I’m sorry if I’m disappointing you, however I am just another human being who cannot bring herself to hand over money to a party that despises me. 

Some people have local government roles they can get their teeth into or even political ambition to drive them to stay. 

Some people are more tolerant and can attend meetings with fellow members who they know deep down were willing the Corbyn project to fail. 

Some love the socialising and the friendships the party has brought them. 

But for some of us, it’s just about the politics and the hope — and paying money to have neither is a very bitter pill indeed. 

You often talk with great sympathy about voters who might choose to abstain at a general election by not voting Labour because Labour is not giving them a strong enough reason to vote. 

Yet you don’t vocalise that sympathy for members who feel like they can’t give Labour their hard-earned money when they actually despise almost all the MPs who represent the party in Parliament. 

If you told voters “you must vote Labour, or you’ll let the Tories in” — you’d be told to do one. 

Hopefully you won’t do that because it is patronising and would only serve to alienate the voters you want to persuade. 

Well, hello? That’s what's happening with members. You are talking to distressed people who have in some cases, fought tirelessly for the party for years, even decades in some cases, and you glibly say, stay in the party, you can’t kick them from the outside, expecting members who are overwrought, filled with despair and rage to say, “Ah, of course I should stay.”

Thanks for steering me in the right direction. Other members are not old sweats. They joined only because of the groundswell of hope that sprung from Corbyn’s leadership and are now angry, lost and without hope. 

What we are dealing with here is reality. Labour is haemorrhaging members because they have been driven out.

Maybe they should all stay, in the same way maybe all voters should just compliantly vote Labour because Labour is arguably always slightly better than the Tories. 

But they won’t. They are leaving because they don’t have hope. In fact in many cases, their only hope is the Socialist Campaign Group, and they don’t feel encouraged enough by it to stay. 

Only the other night, on Novara Media, Clive Lewis openly admitted the group has not got its act together. 

He spoke of divisions that still exist over Brexit, for instance. He said it was too much to expect you to have resolved your issues after only 13 months. 

But during that 13 months members have been insulted, purged, ignored and blamed for the general election defeat of 2019, as well as seeing the MP they most respect and admire kicked unceremoniously out of the Labour Party simply for speaking the truth, all to the backdrop of a global pandemic where they’ve been anxious, ill, or had family who’ve been ill or even died, who’ve lost their jobs, been isolated, home educated their kids and struggled to get by. 

And they’ve felt unsupported by you during that time. So naturally thousands have left. Many speak about their hope that you will leave the party, a party filled with MPs and staffers that did so must to deliver a Tory government in 2019 and stand as independents to threaten the status quo in Labour — but you won’t. 

And I’m sure you get irritated when ex members ask you to do that as if its the most simple request in the world. Just like members get irritated when you ask them to stay without validating those who might want to leave. 

What I’m getting at here is members are human beings just like voters. If voters abandon the party, its the party’s fault. If members quit the party, it is also the party’s fault. 

At the end of the day, you are coping with this situation as best you can. So are the members and ex members. Don't drive a wedge between us by dividing us into fighters and quitters. 

One day we might all join forces again. The battle for socialism can be fought on many fields. And sometimes people just need to stop fighting for a while to preserve their mental and emotional health. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be honest and say you’d prefer members to stay, but please don’t invalidate those who can’t or won’t. 

Suggest they join an affiliated union or maybe get involved in local campaigns against cuts. Go on marches. Have discussions with work colleagues and friends. But don’t imply they are not able to contribute to the battle for socialist values simply because they don’t want to pay to be shat on from a very great height.

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