I joined the Labour party in 2006, 12 years after I wrote a modern studies project on the abandonment of True Labour Values by Tony Blair. You do a lot of growing up between 14 and 25. But despite learning to drink sensibly (ish), going to and dropping out of university, getting married (and separated) and experiencing a Labour government for the first time in my life with all the great things it had done I was still conflicted about it.
It wasn’t the changes to Clause IV and it wasn’t just Iraq that made me hesitant or even the way that Blair slightly reminded me of Will Carling’s highly punchable face. Partly it was the deeply authoritarian attitude of the Labour government and it’s increasingly reactionary and unthoughtful attitude towards domestic and international terrorism. Partly, I think, it was a lingering frustration that the Green approach to politics and the SNP’s conception of Scottish independence were (and are) objectively unhelpful to achieving the kind of changes I want to see in the world.
In retrospect I guess it was Charles Kennedy’s ugly defenestration by the Liberal Democracts which pushed me into the Labour party.
So being in the Labour party is a big compromise for me. It’s the least worst of available options. I didn’t join it because I was enamoured with one person, one policy or one moment. I joined despite the leader, despite a large part of the policy platform and absolutely despite the zeitgeist. Joining the Labour party in 2006 was not a fashionable thing to do amongst my social group. Hard to believe now but, back then, joining any political party wasn’t a fashionable thing to do1.
I did it anyway, and I had a terrible experience as a new member. I got some stuff in the post and, a few months later, went along to a meeting in a cold room on a dark wet night which was sparsely attended by people who conformed to (and confirmed my) the worst prejudices I held about the Glasgow Labour party.
But I stayed for the same reasons I joined: I think the Labour party is the best electoral vehicle for the changes I want to see in the world. I thought that when Tony Blair was leader, I thought that when he was succeeded by Gordon Brown and I definitely thought that when Ed Miliband was elected leader. I still think that now Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded him.
I’d still think that if Liz Kendall had won.
The leader of the party is important, they have a lot (too much?) power and set the tone. But they aren’t the party. The party is much broader than that. It’s people who have been in it for longer than I’ve been alive, people who joined because their parents and grandparents were and people who joined because they got drunk with the right people at freshers week three days ago.
The party consists of a broad range of trade unionists, communists (the CPGB being one of the other parties along with the Coop that you can be in and still be in the Labour party), Guardian readers, feminists and a panoply of other really interesting people. The thing that we all have in common is a belief that, as someone who I can’t quite remember put it, we achieve more together than we do alone.
We all believe that there is such a thing as society and that society can be shaped through the power of the state to make life better for everyone. We disagree on the details of this in lots of ways: on the balance between individual rights and collective responsibility; where to draw the line between liberty and security; how to deliver public services efficiently. Some of us disagree on whether Scotland should be an independent country.
That’s a healthy part of being a political party. We can probably do better about working through those disagreements and making sure we get better policy at the end of it. It will definitely mean that sometimes the party gets it wrong. Correcting that means the party is occasionally inconsistent. That doesn’t mean we’re unprincipled.
I’m not in the Labour party because of 1 leader, and I’m not leaving it because of 1 leader. I haven’t agreed with everything the party does and I don’t expect to. Sometimes the party position will be wrong. Sometimes my position will be wrong. Sometimes both I and the party will be wrong about the same thing at the same time.
I support the party regardless not because I’m blinded by tribal loyalty into thinking that whatever the party position is must be ok but because I know the party is (at it’s best) an ongoing discussion between smart, committed, caring, informed people. People who I can learn from. People who can challenge my world view and my prejudices. People who I can disagree profoundly with on some topics while cheerfully bounding up flights of tenement stairs soaked in rain because we want a better world and think this is one way to get it.
 This has obviously changed a bit although I must admit I find being accused of unprincipled inconsistency by people who recently joined 1 party having voted for 2 or more others over last 5 years a little hard to take.