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I want to vote for Labour - but here's why I won't


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I am a terrible cynic. A loveless and bitter sort of chap, I find I am seldom enthused by anything except the prospect for schadenfreude, the chance to laugh at other peoples’ misfortunes. So, paradoxically, I am often in good humour.

But when the draft Labour manifesto was leaked to the press, something peculiar happened. I experienced a brief fit of warmth and fuzziness, and upon reflection was alarmed to conclude that I had just suffered my first relapse into happiness and excitement since… well, who can say? January of last year, I think.

(I was so taken in by it that I didn’t even stop to chuckle at the news that Jeremy Corbyn had run over a BBC cameraman, something I’m sure he’s wanted to do for a very long time. ‘Good for him,’ I thought, and returned to the manifesto.)

The draft is not perfect, of course. Nothing is. I do not much care about the costing (or lack thereof), as political parties, advised as they are by economists, invariably get the economics wrong. New Labour, in ’97, had the right idea; their little sheets of vague, pleasant-sounding promises contained no pound signs, yet appealed so much to peoples’ aspirational sentimentality that huge numbers of voters happily strapped on their gimp masks and spent the next 13 years being royally shafted. Many people do still insist on believing in things.

But I think it unwise to confer greater political power to union bosses. The principle of organised labour is, of course, a good one. But, as the measly turnout at the last Unite election shows (to say nothing of the awful way in which it was conducted), trades unions aren’t really the manifestation of organised labour anymore. Thatcher did not destroy unions physically, rather she caused them to rot from within. If there is no such thing as society, there is no such thing as collectivism. Ergo the spirit that once bound unions together is dead, or at least dormant. Until that is redressed, there can be no justification for increasing the power and influence granted to the well-paid crypto-politicians like Len McCluskey, feudal barons sitting on these dead thrones of the collective ideal.

It looks as though Labour would keep our nuclear deterrent, which is as absurd as it is expensive and useless, and it was noticeably quiet on one or two other matters. It contains some fantastically woolly language about immigration, proposing to do away with income thresholds and instead telling incomers that they have ‘an obligation to survive without recourse to public funds’. (Presumably, if you have need of such recourse you might as well pack up and die.) And, yes, one can have serious doubts about Corbyn’s suitability, his beliefs, his friends, his record, his allotment…

But as for the rest, what’s not to like? Scrapping tuition fees, nationalising the railways, a fairly radical rearrangement of our energy policy, £8bn for social care, building more council houses, reserving some for the homeless, reversing NHS privatisation, boosting workers’ rights, massive infrastructure spending, abandoning austerity, the National Education Service, and much more besides.

That list would be quite remarkable in almost any election, yet it is made to seem particularly grand now because it has been thrust into a context of nothingness. It is a vision and a plan, not a soundbite. It invites you to ask the question: which do you prefer, 40 pages of bold ideas or some robot repeating the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ until you are battered into miserable submission?

As I say, I could get behind it. I want to vote for it. But, alas, I fear I can’t.

If life has taught me anything, it is that all good things are tricks. Robert Frost was right, ‘nothing gold can stay’. Passions, like loves, excite and tease; they touch your hand, they may brush your lips; you lean on them, heartsick, and believe. Yet, at the crucial moment, as you press forward, they disappear. You trip, your nose explodes against the pavement. You look up and see nothing but stars.

Far better to avoid being enticed. Look upon the good with a weary, wary eye. Scrutinize it. For failure is often etched into the skin, and it is only because passion is blinding that you are wont to overlook it.

I have done this with the draft manifesto, and so I do not think that I should love it.

The flaw is stated plainly: there can be, it says, no ‘no deal’ in our negotiations with the EU. Labour would, it says, place ‘a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union,’ and Keir Starmer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union, has said many times before that he believes we should remain within the single market. A very large number of Labour MPs would be happy to reverse the referendum.

We really must be clear about this: if you are in the single market, you are in the European Union. Treaty obligations, directives and regulations apply. Government is elevated above the level of parliament, and the people of this country denied the chance to offer meaningful consent at the ballot box. I cannot trade democracy for utopian élan.

Single market membership, furthermore, makes Labour’s proposed spending programme illegal – actually illegal – by constitutional decree. You cannot create a welfare state under EU law, let alone expand one. You cannot nationalise industries, you cannot borrow and spend, you cannot ditch austerity, you cannot reverse privatisation.

Labour’s whole platform requires that we leave, yet the party seems set on remaining. I think it was W. Somerset Maugham who wrote that ‘the love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned’, but the worst kind of love is that which is mutually self-deluding. It only lasts whilst both believe in the impossible. Eventually, someone grows up. Their eyes open. And then bang! Your poor nose explodes.

So I cannot vote for Labour. I cannot, really, vote for anyone. This isn’t necessarily such a bad thing – abstention is underrated – except when you wish feverishly that you could. For the first time, I find myself in that unenviable position.

Ideally, nothing much would change this time. A small Tory majority grants power to its Leave faction whilst making it difficult to push through any significant social policy, thereby limiting the damage and, potentially, speeding up the process of exiting the EU. (And no deal is better than a bad deal.)

Labour could do with shedding a large number of its MPs, who do not (or should not) belong in the party. But I’d rather not see it suffer a devastating loss, for it seems finally to have developed ideas. An identity is forming. It simply isn’t ready yet. And I wonder if there isn’t some merit in the suggestion that progressive taxation and other measures proposed in the draft would, at this fragile time, carry exceptional risks. (One way for Macron to succeed in pinching British business would be to make Britain as useless as France.) Perhaps ‘now,’ to borrow from the MayBot 9000, ‘is not the time.’

Ideally it would exceed expectations a little, coming close to or besting Ed Miliband’s result. This might feasibly allow Corbyn to stay on long enough to reform the NEC and PLP, at which point he should step down and allow someone a little more clean and competent to take his place.

This is not instruction. You will vote as you will. I’m not sure it even counts as advice. And the manifesto was only a draft; perhaps the facts will change next Tuesday, and my opinion with them. But I share it now because… Well, perhaps there’s something of use in it, somewhere.

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