Angela Smith MP
House of Commons
For some time, I have been deeply unhappy with the changes that have taken place in the Labour Party.
History demonstrates very clearly that the Labour party has identified itself consistently as a social democratic party, committed to Parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, social justice and equality of opportunity for all.
The party has always prospered best and delivered for the people of this country when it has functioned as a viable mainstream alternative to conservative thinking. In 1945, the Attlee government used the considerable experience gained during the coalition years of world war 2 to implement very effectively a major programme of social change. The welfare state and our NHS stand as powerful legacies to that pioneering government.
In the 1960s, the Wilson government delivered key reforms relating to women’s rights and sexual equality. It also abolished the death penalty, an achievement often overlooked. And it founded the Open University, again providing a legacy we should all be proud of.
The three Labour governments that spanned the period between 1997 and 2010 built on this record, delivering not only a national minimum wage but also the Good Friday Agreement, strengthened trade union rights and recorded reductions in poverty.
All this, however, was achieved in alignment with adherence to key principles relating to national security and international relations. Labour in government has always defended the nation, indeed it was a Labour government that committed the UK to membership of NATO. And our Prime Ministers played a full part in maintaining the profile of the UK as a member of the UN Security Council.
I am proud of this record. As someone who knew what her voting intention was by the time she was five years old, I am particularly proud to have been part of a tradition that understood the importance of politics and democracy in securing increased living standards from one generation to the next. Our Parliamentary system, based as it is on representative democracy, has done so much to increase prosperity and provide opportunity for all.
None of this can be taken for granted, however, and every generation has to renew the contract between Parliament, Government and the people which stands as the bedrock of our democracy. It is the tragedy of our time that this contract stands under serious threat. The rise of populism and narrow-minded nationalism has jaundiced not just our politics here at home, but the politics of large parts of the western world. In the wake of the 2008 crash, we have seen stagnated living standards and for the first time ever, the next generation is at risk of being poorer than the one before. All this has been matched by a serious decline in the standards of political debate, with social media in particular characterised by a poisonous political atmosphere based on hatred and division.
Our politics, in other words, is broken, incapable of inspiring confidence in the future. The level of alienation from the political process on the part of the people is at a record high, with the chaos and conflict characterising Brexit encapsulating perfectly the sense of deadlock and hopelessness which pervades our political culture.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party is a major part of this problem. It has undergone major change since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015, change which in my view has destroyed the proud legacy built by our predecessors.
The Labour Party of 2019 is characterised by lazy, populist thinking which promises nothing but a tortured, divided future for our country. Hating the Tories and blaming the private sector for all of society’s ills may sound good to those who look for simple explanations and simplistic answers to our complex problems but will do nothing realistically to build the wealth necessary to provide the resources for our precious public services.
Not only that, much of the Labour agenda under Corbyn is deeply ideological. It is an agenda which would lead to a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few politicians at the top, despite all protestations to the contrary by John McDonnell. A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister would chill the very marrow of our economy, destroying jobs and stifling innovation. An authoritarian approach to running the country, familiar to citizens who lived under the horrors of the Soviet Union, beckons if these people ever get hold of the levers of power.
Our national security would be at risk. Jeremy Corbyn is supported by many because he is a ‘man of peace’, but in fact his record is warped by a deep-rooted dislike of western values which leads him to view the United States with deep disdain. This has led him and his key supporters to adopt a mindset sympathetic to terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the IRA but hostile to the UK’s international allies. The leadership of the Labour Party opposed action last April, when NATO intervened in Syria to destroy chemical weapon capabilities in the wake of yet another attack on the people of that tragic country. And yet it has had nothing much to say about the suffering of the Crimean Tartars at the hands of the occupying Russian forces, or about the latter’s occupation of part of the sovereign territory of Georgia.
Corbyn’s leadership stands responsible too for a dreadful betrayal as far as Brexit is concerned. The majority of Labour members and Labour voters believe in an open, progressive relationship with our neighbours and as a consequence value our membership of the European Union. As far as I am concerned, a large part of the responsibility for the failure of Remain to win the 2016 referendum can be laid at his doorstep. Jeremy Corbyn refused to campaign wholeheartedly for our continued membership of the world’s largest trading bloc and it is our children and grandchildren who will pay the price. Moreover, it is a betrayal at risk of being repeated if he continues to refuse to lead the way by supporting a People’s Vote on whatever deal is finally agreed by Parliament.
The Labour leadership has also presided over a betrayal of the culture which has traditionally characterised the Labour Party. The ‘broad church’ which encouraged a wide spectrum of progressive thinking is now destroyed, dismantled over a period of time by Corbyn supporters organised to intimidate and invalidate any strain of thought contrary to that of the leadership. A party built on tolerance and respect is now characterised by vicious intolerance, where complete loyalty is demanded to a leader who has done next to nothing to deserve it. Take, for example, the way he has presided over the emergence of a deeply shaming set of anti-Semitic behaviours in the party; not only has he done very little to combat this, his own history is enmeshed in a reluctance to accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
Moreover, the culture of the party is now overwhelmingly dominated by a depressing division of the world into those who are with us as opposed to those who are against us. I do not want to be part of a political force which deliberately sets out to divide and rule. That is not for me what politics is about; quite the opposite, in fact.
It is on this basis that I have decided to resign my membership of the Labour Party and the Labour whip in Parliament. This decision has not been an easy one to make. I come from a long line of Labour supporters, and indeed members; I am one of four generations of my family to enjoy formal affiliation with the party. But the Labour Party we have now is almost completely divorced from its social democratic history. It is dominated by intolerance and extremism. It is unpleasant and divisive. And it represents a threat to the future of our great country.
It is also a party beyond redemption. There is no way back. The leadership of the party is gradually adapting the machinery to its own image, embedding the anti-democratic culture which has grown to dominate every aspect of the Labour party’s existence.
I will continue as an independent Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge representing the values many of my constituents share and in the national interest.
Angela Smith MP
Penistone & Stocksbridge