After what has been a depressing couple of years, I was reminded early on Friday morning of why I stand for, and in the end fought for, the Labour Party.
I had been hesitant in professing my support for and officially affiliating myself with any particular party for a long time, before the election forced my hand. People may attribute this to a small rebellion against my staunchly Labour family, or fear of being mocked as their ratings in the polls languished. Perhaps this did have an unconscious effect; it’s hard to say.
However, the reason I told myself I was right not to do so was a sort of squeamishness stemming from a fear of being accused of supporting Labour for the same reasons I support Newcastle United – due to an emotional, regional and class connection, and because my Dad does it.
I had, in fact, thoroughly inspected the policies of each party. I must admit to have briefly wavered when ‘Cleggmania’ hit, and the Lib Dems briefly appeared to be a potentially significant party. Some of their policies made sense: Capital Gains Tax rises and Pupil Premiums would have my full support. Although I think Proportional Representation and scrapping Trident would be detrimental for Britain, at least they came from ideals I can identify with.
However, they remained the Lib Dems; inexperienced, largely unrealistic and in some cases dishonest. Their immigration policies are nonsensical, their environmental policies unworkable and the likes of scrapping Child Trust Funds just plain wrong.
Also, the Tories, whose speedy return to Thatcherite policies terrifies me, might have won outright.
I was a ‘closet’ Labour supporter, struggling to ‘come out’. However, I realised how shallow my position was – if it’s the way I am, if I believe absolutely in their policies and ideology, then I shouldn’t fight it. I might even help others to come out.
Of course, as soon as I told my friends I was canvassing with the OULC, it quickly spread that I was “bumming Labour”.
In the end, a couple of my friends actually came out and came along as well, and the more I got involved, the more I really, really cared. The amount of people who didn’t care at all about Labour or broader politics but felt personally indebted to Andrew Smith, particularly in the council estates around Blackbird Leys, reinforced the importance for me of the cause locally as well as nationally.
It actually got to the stage where I felt guilty when I was writing essays, because I wasn’t out campaigning. At the town hall, waiting for the results, I told a fellow Labourite that I was more nervous than when finding out if I had got in to Oxford. He didn’t seem to believe me, but I genuinely meant it. I knew that the impact of Andrew’s re-election, and nationally a limitation of the Tory damage, would make a huge difference to the hundreds of people I had knocked on in the previous couple of weeks.
The announcement of a substantial increase in Andrew’s majority when he had largely been written off, including by many of my politically-minded friends and one of my politics tutors, is a moment I will never forget. Rarely have I been happier.
Hours later, I was dragged along to the Union by a Union hack friend, and to the Tory room, as every other room was deserted. I was expecting banter and some hostility, as I stood wearing my ‘Vote Labour’ sticker with pride. The reality was far worse, and was genuinely physically repulsive. Not a man was there without a tweed jacket and greased hair, not an ethnic minority was there at all, and they all started singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ when they took Labour seats. Were it not for the TV in the corner, a hundred years may as well have not passed.
The thought of singing ‘Red Flag’ or some Billy Bragg passed my mind, but were rejected for fear of being encircled and drowned in slime. I quickly left, although I have no idea how I resisted punching the smirking racist who lost the OCA their ‘U’, who stood by the door on my way out.
Whilst I’m still slightly squeamish about coming out in black and white about a set of problems where there is no easy answer, Friday night convinced me that I was right in fighting for those I believe are nearer the best answers. It is important that those who care about politics, who believe having one party rather than another can make a beneficial difference to Britain, debate, campaign and help out; it is surely unacceptable not to if you truly believe that it will make that much of a difference. Ideologically, on policy, and on lack of abject repulsiveness I found it important that I made every difference I could for my party.
I have finally ‘come out’; much to the horror of the Conservatives.