Emma Dent Coad speaking at a Stop the War rally. Emma Dent Coad speaking at a Stop the War rally. Photo: Steve Easton on Flickr

Emma Dent Coad spoke to Chris Nineham about Starmer, the strikes, why she resigned, and where she sees hope for the left

What was it that made you decide to leave the Party?

There have been many things over the last months and years that I have found difficult to deal with. I have been in the Labour Party for a very long time and there have always been things I didn’t agree with. You can go along with it if you agree with the general values of the party, even if they are not being exercised as you would like.

This situation today is different. One of the terrible issues for me has been the silencing of debate. We were told in our local party that we weren’t allowed to speak about particular things, including Palestine. When we had our AGM, we were told that we weren’t allowed to affiliate to groups that we have backed for years, including the Stop the War Coalition, PSC, CND, Republic and various others.

I found it very difficult to hear that we are not allowed to discuss these things. We should obviously be talking about the future of the monarchy now. It is being discussed in the Guardian, one in three people aren’t happy about the monarchy, yet it is frowned upon inside the party to even discuss it.

Then there are the ten pledges that Starmer made to get elected as leader. They have now all fallen by the wayside. Some of those things are basic, like nationalising energy and water. The mess we are in with energy and the water industry is a disgrace. We have regular floods in my borough because of the dreadful state of the sewers in London. This is happening even in the posh parts of Kensington, and it is getting worse and worse because money is trickling upwards and is not being invested.

We have people coming into the surgery who are beyond making the choice between heating and eating, way beyond it, they are in massive debt and can’t get out of it. Because we don’t have radical policies to address their problems, we are failing them.

Then there is the attitude to the Forde report and the way anti-black racism has been ignored. There is also what happened to Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott recently. The pile on against Diane Abbott was shameful. She used wrong words and admitted they were wrong, but the way she has been treated compared to others was unfair.

So there are many issues. But the particular thing this week was that, as we approached the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell fire, we found out that the Labour leader accepted one thousand pounds worth of hospitality from Mulalley & Co, a company that had been fined ten million pounds for providing defective cladding.

We were absolutely outraged: we have made the council agree to not use these materials, and now this happened. So I put up a statement criticising Starmer, and was told by my Labour group to take it down, I was told we can’t criticise the leader. Well I think we can actually, a million people marched against Tony Blair over the Iraq War. Our MP at the time, Karen Buck had an argument with Tony Blair about the war, and voted against it, and she carried on as the MP.

The fear was that the whole of the Labour group would be suspended for criticising Starmer. This really could have happened. I thought ‘this is it, I have to be able to speak, I will not be silenced’. This is an issue that desperately upset and traumatised Grenfell residents. There were many last straws, but this was the final one for me. It made me feel as if all principles are being eradicated.

What was the response to your resignation and how do you see the future for the left?

I have had over a million views of my resignation video from my kitchen, which is extraordinary. I am normally pleased if 20,000 people watch something I put out. And the response has been hugely positive. So that is quite something, what I have said obviously touched a nerve. This reflects the fact that there is a huge amount of activity going on at the moment. Lots of groups are putting on meetings and protests and talks every week and there are lots of alliances developing. People are trying to educate themselves and others as to what is going on and what can be done about it.

One example is the alliance between trade unionists and the peace movement, which is very important. The trade-union conference organised by Stop the War and CND was very inspiring. These are the kind of principles that we need. By silencing debate, the Labour Party is excluding these kinds of movements. Where will their ideas come from? How can the party progress if it is closing down debate? To be honest I feel very relieved to have left.

Where do you see hope coming from?

The strikes that are happening are an absolutely huge development and they are changing people’s attitudes. I know from my family that a whole generation of nurses and doctors have been radicalised by what is going on in the NHS, and the way the government is treating them.

But the attitude of the party to the strikes is very problematic. People are angry by the lack of support from the party. Some of them have left because of this attitude and because the Labour Party is working hand in hand with companies involved in private health care. It is shocking that shadow ministers are not allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers who put them there. The Labour Party was set up to represent working people and these people simply won’t do that. They have lost the plot, and this is radicalising people that you would never have believed would become politically active.

The hope is coming from outside the party. There is a movement out there that could coalesce in the future into something that can be a challenge to a future labour government. We need that vision. We can’t survive the climate crisis unless we completely restructure transport, energy supply, water. People are dying already, there will be huge increases in the flow of refugees. And the Labour Party is talking about a tweak here and a tweak there. We need a radical restructuring and radical thinking and a radical vision of change, and there are lots of groups and movements out there discussing these things.

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Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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