Jeremy Corbyn rally in Bristol Jeremy Corbyn rally in Bristol. Photo: Jeremy Corbyn / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Natalie Strecker describes her political journey, why she joined Labour under Corbyn and has since left, and what she thinks are the next steps for the left

I am a proud working-class woman, brought up on a council estate, who spent several years in care as a child. I am a human rights and Palestinian solidarity activist and campaigner, a committed anti-racist, and I would argue that all these strands logically knit together to make me a strong socialist.

Around 4 years ago, I made a decision I could never have imagined previously; I became a card-carrying member of a political party – I joined Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Prior to this, having been brought up in the era of unbridled capitalism, the era of community and environment destroying neoliberalism, I had absolutely no faith in politicians, assuming them all to be self-serving individuals who never kept promises made during their election campaigns.

Indeed, I paid little attention to what was happening in the main parties as there seemed to be only marginal differences between the Conservatives, Labour and even the Liberal Democrats, just parties wearing different coloured rosettes, but all committed to maintaining the status quo, no matter the impact on their constituencies and society as a whole. 

Although I had no faith in politicians, that did not mean I was not interested in politics; quite the contrary, I just never saw parliamentary politics as an adequate vehicle for bringing about the desperately needed change. However, as I listened and read more about Jeremy Corbyn, his politics, which unlike others, has remained consistent; his 40 year record of fighting for the oppressed and marginalised, both locally and internationally; his commitment to addressing the causes of war and instability and coming across the photo of him being arrested at an anti-apartheid rally, I was intrigued and a tiny flicker of hope lit in me.

That flicker was fanned when, through associates who had met Jeremy, I learned that Jeremy really engaged with his community, did not abuse the expenses budget, genuinely cared about the environment, rode a bike and I was sold when I heard that he had an allotment and made jam! Okay, I am only joking about the jam.

That day 4 years ago, I could never have foreseen the emotional rollercoaster I would go on, like ‘Oblivion’ at Alton Towers, but with few thrills and no sense of relief when it ended – the day I quit the party. Instead I was left with the feeling of having been completely betrayed.

I am sure that I don’t need to recount the journey of the last 5 years of Labour: the relentless and vicious attacks by the media not just on Jeremy, but on his associates and on us, his supporters. The highs of the 2017 election night, a night I never went to bed, although I could cry now knowing that that election was robbed from us by right-wing members of a party I and 100s of 1000s of others had been donating hard earned time and money to. The grief experienced on election night 2019, when I almost became hysterical realising what the poorest and most marginalised groups in our society were now going to face, people who had experienced so much already.

In truth, I imagine it was not just me who woke up on Friday 13 December 2019 with swollen eyes and a feeling of utter despair that we could not shake off. We can of course shout at the north for voting blue, when they had the chance to vote for real change that would finally see the rebuilding of their communities, but we can’t judge them for feeling betrayed on Brexit and no longer trusting a system that had screwed them over and over again under blue and red!  It is important for us to recognise that none of us ordinary folk came out as winners in that election no matter where we put our cross.

Why did I quit Labour?

Why did I not continue fighting and supporting the left within the party? Before I answer this, I want to really underscore something. I believe it is absolutely right and proper that people make their own decision, without judgement, about leaving or staying in the party, with one important caveat: IF they fight. I believe it is for each individual to determine where their red line is.

Mine was when the ‘Labour Leaks’ came out and I was forced to recognise that the Labour Party was rotten to the core and that if we could not reform it when the left were in control, we have no hope now it has resumed business as usual. I realised that there is institutional racism that isn’t and wasn’t being addressed, but not the kind we had been told about, a racism that saw a black female MP not even being able to find solace and dignity as she cried in the toilets.

Unbeknown to us, we were constantly fighting and campaigning with one hand tied behind our backs as the extreme centrists and/or supporters of Israeli apartheid used every means at their disposal to throw the 2017 election. Real, despicable examples of antisemitism were sat on and then released to the media in order to destroy the reputation of a decent man.

Once this was all revealed to me in the report and that the perpetrators of this treachery, this racism, this misogyny, were to suffer no real consequence (instead a hunt commenced for the whistle blowers), it became obvious that the new leader definitely was not ‘for the many’. I asked myself, how could I in good conscience continue to support financially or indeed in any way such a party.

I hate the Tories and everything they stand for, but I also hate hypocrisy and dishonesty. Certainly there have been many incidents since then that have only served to reinforce my decision, including the abstention on the ‘Spy Cops’ bill, and more recently, the suspension of Jeremy for a comment in response to the EHRC report. This was a comment that no reasonable person could possibly believe justified such an act, a comment that the EHRC itself permitted.

Jeremy, I imagine under extreme pressure and probably in his mind, for the best of reasons, retracted to at least some extent his comment, but as we have witnessed time and time again, capitulation against bad faith actors DOES NOT work. Starmer did not reinstall the whip, going against not just the EHRC report itself, but also against Labour policy and its own NEC. The irony when you consider that it was Jeremy who the media tried to portray as some kind of Stalin-like figure!

What now?

On Wednesday evening, I was enraged by the refusal of Starmer to reinstall the whip and frustrated by the frankly – and I hate to seem harsh, but we need to be honest – half-hearted response by the left PLP. And not just them, but also by what I understand is now classified as the ‘optics left’: the Owen Joneses and to a lesser degree, Novara Media.

I decided to use the agency I have, as I have before when I referred myself to Labour’s ‘Compliance Unit’ for antisemitism to prove a point, and I made a video explaining my thoughts. I expressed directly from my heart what I feel we now need to do and I implore you all to use the agency you do have to do the same.

Comrades, we are long past the time for petitions and “firmly worded” letters. We are long past time watering down our values and stances rooted in international law so we can beg for a few scraps. We need to understand where we are in the stream of time and the very real dangers that we are currently facing in terms of the rise of the far-right enabled by extreme centrists.

Now is the time to take our gloves off and fight, and fight with all we have.

How do we fight?

1We start by not conceding anymore ground on ANYTHING! Be confident in your moral stances rooted in socialist principles and supported by international law

2To the left PLP, I say now is the time to find your backbone. Tell Starmer if he does not reinstall the whip to Corbyn, you will leave: no ifs, no buts, no apologies. If you cannot find it in yourself to do this, then you have forgotten who it is you serve and your loyalty is rightfully demanded by us who you ought to be ministering to because WE put YOU there!

3We DO NOT throw Palestinians suffering under Israeli Apartheid under a bus. We should be confident in using this term, which is defined by the Rome Statute (2002).

4We also DO NOT throw left wing, non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews under a bus, which in effect is enabling the defining of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Jews – this is antisemitic, criticising Zionism is not! Zionism in practice for Palestinians, is a political ideology of ethnic supremacy, supported as a model by the likes of Richard Spencer, Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson.

5We DO NOT throw veteran anti-racists under a bus, no matter how expedient it is. If you need to be reminded how immoral such actions are, remind yourself of what happened under McCarthyism. None of these things means we let people off the hook if they make insensitive, poorly conceived comments, rather remembering we can all get it wrong at times, we educate where appropriate and certainly we never overlook examples of clear antisemitism, because as socialists we know there is no place in our movement for racists.

6I believe legal action should be taken against Labour but we should also never forget that the battles of the working class have always been won on the streets and picket lines.

7We stop bickering amongst ourselves, we end the politics of purity and extreme identity politics that, rather than addressing real inequality and structural injustice, is actually fracturing and weakening us by alienating natural allies.

If the right, who are whipping us, can unite under bigotry, we can unite under social struggle! We have but one true enemy, the ruling class, and they excel at using divide and conquer, so let’s start boxing smart and take the fight to them. This should be our main goal at this time: we will disagree on stuff, that is okay! We have got to learn to agree to disagree at times and remember that we can still work together on what we do agree about.

Our debates do not overshadow the need to take down the government and economic system that is responsible for children going to bed without food in their stomach, for the working poor, oppression against travellers and the destruction of our environment!

I know all of these things are not easy, of course they take courage and they may require some of us at times to make sacrifices, but seriously comrades, what is the alternative? How would the resistance in Europe or any successful social justice movement in history have ever succeeded without solidarity and a willingness to risk everything we have in order to win it all for all of us.

We can all play a part and it starts when we refuse to give in to fear, when we choose to no longer be afraid of labels that may be applied to us, because that is all they are labels that can and will be peeled off in time. It starts when we understand that the power really does lie with us and that is what the ruling class are terrified of. 

So, I say again, comrades: gloves off, time to fight!

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