Jonathan Roberts was Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in Thirsk and Malton in 2010. He is now a member of the Conservative Party.
Leaving the Labour Party was not a difficult decision in the end. It was admitting I was wrong that was hard.
My parents worked for the council. My grandparents were bakers, electricians, farmhands and secretaries. On paper I sounded ‘Labour’ and I dutifully stood for election in 2010 in my home seat of Thirsk and Malton. Labour support was thin on the ground in a true blue seat, and my family and friends gave up countless hours to campaign – not out of loyalty to Labour but out of loyalty to me.
Resigning my membership felt like an act of ingratitude towards them.
But even in 2010, I knew that Labour was not the party I joined years earlier. What’s more, I was aware countless other members, including prominent ones, felt the same.
There are many good, decent Labour supporters who continue to believe what I once did – that Labour would eventually return to the centre ground. That this retreat to the failed, deceitful ideology of socialism was a fleeting dalliance of comfort zone retreat. These people are out there right now campaigning, knocking on doors, living in hope of a change that they know in their heart will never come.
When Lord Kinnock said, upon Ed Miliband’s election to the Labour leadership, “we’ve got our party back”, he wasn’t kidding. Those on the right of the party became disengaged, whilst those on the hard left returned to membership. Within months the centre of gravity swung leftwards, and with it, the definition of a Labour moderate changed. Today’s Labour moderates believe in hiking taxes regardless of whether they force revenue to fall, they believe”‘business” is a synonym for “tax avoidance”, that even the most modest reduction in government spending is “savage”. So, too, do they wilfully ignore Labour outsourcing four per cent of the NHS to the private sector whilst simultaneously berating the Conservatives for outsourcing one per cent more.
Ten years ago, these were Labour’s extremist fringe. Now they are its mainstream.
So what is the outcast, demonised right of the Labour Party to do?
They joined Labour because they support the workers. But Labour has never left office with employment higher than when they found it. This Conservative Government has, meanwhile, created 2.2 million apprenticeships, cut income tax for 26 million working people and overseen the highest levels of job creation in living memory. It begs the question, just who is it that is the party of working people?
They joined Labour because they care about the poorest. But who is it that gets hurt most when a Labour Government, as usual, runs out of money? Meanwhile, three million of the poorest workers have been lifted out of tax these past five years, more people from poor backgrounds are going to university and the tough love of welfare reform has ensured those previously left to rot have found dignity and security in work and training. In the years to come all minimum wage workers will be taken out of income tax altogether. So again, who is it that is the party of the poorest?
Labour fills its supporters heads with lies about the Tories, dehumanising them as “lower than vermin”. They are free to say what they like about their opponents, no matter how unpleasant, without recourse because they have commandeered the nice words of British politics – fairness, decency, hope. This is nothing more than a useful debating tactic that allows them to fool themselves into thinking anyone who disagrees with them must oppose such noble qualities. It allows them to deflect criticism, jeer journalists, avoid scrutiny and claim a moral superiority for which there is no evidence and an arrogance for which their is no justification.
Having finally left Labour in 2013, I emailed the branch secretary of my local Conservative Association. She invited me to a ‘pub and politics’ evening where people would discuss issues of the day over a drink. I went along, finding people from all walks of life debating passionately in an informed way. None of them were obsessed with what made them different – their class, sex, sexuality, race or faith – but instead they were engaged with what united them.
The subject of the evening’s debate was the International Development budget. Nobody got angry, nobody started calling each other names. People changed their minds as the debate progressed, asking questions because they wanted to know the answer not because they were trying to catch someone out. It was as far removed from a Labour Party branch meeting as I could imagine. Even those who argued for a reduction in the fund did so from a good place – out of fear local crime barons and corrupt officials were stealing too much of the money or resources.
My point is this: If you are a Labour supporter who has been told what to think of the Conservatives you have been spun a line that is not true.
The Conservatives are flawed as all parties are, but the evidence is clear that they are the real party of work, of opportunity, of fairness and decency. They are the party that says you can succeed, and when you do so, it will be because you have worked for it, not because the state has given it to you. That is real freedom, real hope, real fairness.
There are many centrist Labour supporters who have been demonised and ostracised, who still feel loyalty to a party that no longer values them or their way of thinking. Switching allegiances is difficult, I know that first hand. But if you feel the same way as I did, then take a look at the Conservatives, without the spin, without listening to what Labour says about them. Read their manifesto dispassionately and objectively. You may well just find something worth voting for.