Comment: Why I am stepping down from Left Unity to join Labour

The former principal speaker of Left Unity on why it would be irresponsible not to support Jeremy Corbyn

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This weekend, I made the decision to step down as Principal Speaker of Left Unity and resign from the party I and many others helped found almost three years ago. It was not an easy decision, but it was, I believe, a necessary one. In short, Jeremy Corbyn has changed everything.

Three years ago, when we set out to found Left Unity, the Coalition government was striding forwards with a punishing austerity programme that was trampling the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in this country and we felt Labour was not doing nearly enough about it. We had three main parties signed up to the austerity agenda and no genuine opposition.

The Conservative government is still striding ahead with austerity, it is still immiserating the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain. But something has changed. Something we never in our wildest imaginations thought possible. Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn who, along with John McDonnell, is attempting to turn the party into a genuine anti-austerity opposition. Not only one I now feel I can support, but one I feel it would be irresponsible not to support.

I now fundamentally believe, like many who have already left Left Unity, the Greens and other progressive parties to join Labour, that the central priority is to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn is the next prime minister and that a Labour government, proud once more of its founding principles and its greatest progressive achievements, topples the Tories and reverses the austerity measures that are laying this country and so many of its people low.

I was born under Thatcher and I came into politics as a teenager under Blair as the anti-war movement was just beginning. At the time, and in the years since as Ed Miliband’s leadership signed up to Conservative spending plans and offered little more than a toned down version of austerity, I thought that Labour was irrevocably wedded to disastrous foreign interventions and the interests of big business, rather than the vulnerable and working class people it was founded to represent.

I remember speaking to Tony Benn and Owen Jones, both of whose politics are for the most part my politics, but both of who insisted that the Labour Party was reclaimable from within and that those on the left should stick with it. After so many retreats for progressive politics, I just could not see it. Corbyn’s victory in the leadership election proves them right.

I believe that when we launched Left Unity three years ago in an entirely different political climate, it was the right thing to do and I am tremendously proud of much of the work the party has done in campaigning against the cuts. Left Unity was never really meant to be primarily an electoral project and it was always unlikely to be a successful one.

Under first-past-the-post, even the Green surge only returned a single MP and it took them 40 years to get there. But the left outside Labour had, I believe, an important role to play in showing Labour that it could not shift inexorably to the right and continue to take working class and progressive support for granted.

The Greens, Left Unity, the unions, the People’s Assembly and many others all had their parts to play in a much bigger movement that has put anti-austerity squarely in the political mainstream and to some extent helped pave the way for Corbyn’s election.

Given Left Unity was never going to be a party of government, it was always my belief that the left outside Labour should work with the left within it to push for the strongest possible Labour opposition to the austerity agenda. In this regard, the ideal of Left Unity was often compared to a UKIP of the left – the notion that there could be this pole of attraction that could shift mainstream political discourse and Labour’s position with it to the left, in the same way UKIP were shifting the Tories and debates around the EU and immigration to the right.

Now Corbyn has become Labour leader, I would quote men I hope more naïve than me – mission accomplished! And now Corbyn is the leader, I no longer believe we need an electoral left outside of Labour in the same way. I wish those who remain in Left Unity all the best, and I am sure we will work together in many cross-party campaigns going forward, but it is now my view that all those on the left should, like the hundreds of thousands who have already done so, join Labour to support Jeremy Corbyn and push for a Labour government in 2020.

I now plan to apply to join Labour. It is important to point out – despite the overblown headlines in the media that follow Corbyn wherever he goes, stooping far lower than he did at the Cenotaph – that I and others like me are not entryists. There are many on the Labour right who disagree with my politics. There are those, like Alan Johnson, who I’m sure will not welcome me in the party.

We will have our legitimate disagreements over the course we believe Labour should take and the policies it should stand on. But I am not an infiltrator looking to stage some kind of hostile takeover. I have no agenda other than to see Jeremy Corbyn become the next prime minister, to campaign for a Labour government in 2020, and to ensure that it is the best possible Labour government, committed, as Corbyn is, to fairness and equality.

Salman Shaheen is a former principal speaker of Left Unity. He is editor-in-chief of The World Weekly and a freelance journalist. He writes here in a personal capacity.

92 Responses to “Comment: Why I am stepping down from Left Unity to join Labour”

  1. Chris Kitcher

    I agree but there is no room for Tory light propagandists. Look at the name – LABOUR

  2. johnm55

    The Labour party has historically been a Social Democratic party not a Marxist party. There seems to be a move afoot to re-brand Social Democrats as Tory-lite, and to try and force us out of the party.

  3. Salman Shaheen

    I got no money from Left Unity, I only gave money to it. I will get no money from Labour, I will only give money to it. Your argument makes no sense.

  4. Chris Kitcher

    Of course he was a Tory otherwise why have the membership voted so overwhelmingly for JC?

  5. Chris Kitcher

    But you are Tory light. That’s why any socialist like myself wants to see your ideas discredited.

  6. D B Widnes UK

    I do not believe you are the REAL Wolfie Smith!! 🙂

  7. D B Widnes UK

    Wow Salman! You must be wondering what the hell you’ve done, encountering this lot! Welcome to the Labour Party from me, at least! When you go to your meetings, you will hear voices like these; but happily, I’m sure they will be in a disaffected, grumbling minority.
    A huge majority of Labour Party members support Jeremy. A majority of people who didn’t vote for him accept that he is the democratically elected leader. Well, that has been my experience, at least.

  8. johnm55

    You can discredit my ideas ’till the kye come hame. Your problem is getting a majority in parliament using yours. Without that all you have is empty rhetoric and posturing. Taking over every CLP in the country means nothing if you cannot get a majority of Labour MPs elected.

  9. Ringstone

    Ah, the sound of reasoned fraternal debate…
    Or do I mean the sound of the dog on a rope brigade tearing Labour apart?
    Popcorn! More popcorn!


    Corbyn and McDonnell have managed to wreck the Labour Party. Both could have joined a party like Sinn Fein, Hamas or the Argentinian 1982 Fascist junta. Maybe the WRP, SWP etc but they wanted to ruin Labour. So they hung in there to do their dirt.

  11. Andy Goodall

    Bang out of order saying the CP is extreme – we have long and consistently argued and fought for the election of a Labour government and keep the tories out. We have always argued the LP could be won to represent the working class – now we have been proved right we will continue to fight the good fight.

  12. Selohesra

    I’m sure the huge majority of Labour members do support Jeremy – the trouble is most of the electorate are not members of any political party – it is not good enough to win over party activists he needs to convince the voters and I see very little evidence that he can do that. Perhaps a convincing win for Labour in their safe Oldham seat will prove me wrong.

  13. ACC

    No, I don’t think that Ed was a Tory. He was state educated for a start – I liked him, but unfortunately he lacked public appeal. I also have this sneaking suspicion that anti-semitism reared its ugly head. That said, I am now totally behind Jeremy Corbyn. Any member of the Labour party who isn’t should resign from the party. Jeremy is old style Labour, updated for a harsher age – he deserves to be listened to.

  14. ACC

    Well said, Jaz!

  15. ACC

    James, I think you are in the wrong party. Labour is traditionally a party for the working people, hijacked by the likes of ‘Tory’ Blair. the working people are still here and with us, so who is to be their voice?

  16. ACC

    Well said, Salman.

  17. ACC

    Euseless, it seems that you are in the wrong party – it’s a pity the Libdems are no more!

  18. spamfreedave

    Jeremy Corbyn is not ‘extreme left’ as has been said elsewhere he is being labelled as such by the right wing media because politics in this country has moved so far to the right, that a straight talking moderate politician such as Jeremy Corbyn is now labelled extreme left which is entirely untrue

  19. ACC

    We should keep out of Syria at all costs. Blair’s invasion of Iraq caused untold troubles that are still reverberating, including mass deaths and resulting terrorism.

  20. Dave Stewart

    Labour lost the last 2 elections! Labour under the NuLabour leadership are unelectable. People like you who rather than offering support to your (presuming you are a member) ELECTED leader rather than constantly slagging him off. That sort of behaviour is what is going to make labour unelectable. Please bear in mind that Corbyn won a majority in all three sections of the vote, the members, the supporters and the trade unions.

    Either get behind him (in public at least) or be quiet. It’s not like he has been particularly dictatorial either. He has constantly made it clear he wants honest debate amongst the party to decide policy. If you disagree with his positions then engage in the debate with your fellow members (the majority of which support Corbyn) and change their minds with your reasoned arguments.

  21. Dave Stewart

    I should definitely call up the variety of police service providers in my area next time I get robbed to find out which force will give me the best value for money.

    Free (there is no such thing as a free market in modern capitalism but that is a different discussion) markets have their place but there are some things which cannot be done by private enterprise.

    No one is seriously suggesting we move to a system of state controlled communism kindly try and argue against the actual suggestions people make rather than ones you have imagined.

  22. Dave Stewart

    I suggest you read about the Overton Window.

    The publics perception of the Labour part and JC does not necessarily reflect reality. By having more people actually articulating the Labour Party and JCs positions directly to the public rather than through the distorting lense of the press and media then that perception can be changed. People in the Labour party that are so quick to throw around comments like “JC will make labour unelectable” are actively making that more likely to be true.

  23. Bosun Higgs

    Hye Jung Lee channels John McDonnell:

  24. Wan Ke Wanqa

    You need to examine the history of the Labour party if you think that Jeremy Corbyn is old style Labour….The party has only ever elected someone like Corbyn once in the past, Lansbury, and how well did that end?

  25. madasafish

    I suggest you look at all the Opinion Polls. yes: they have faults. But they are all saying the same thing. Corbyn is toxix politically.

    Labour are trying to appeal to teh Left wing of teh country: to people who are in a political minority. It is deserting the middle ground.

    The actions of its leaders and their words (Chairman Mao! – crazy) are effectively designed to lose support.

  26. Dave Stewart

    you should also look at the opinion polls. Those that show the public overwhelming support most of Corbyns major policies.

    On the substance of policy whether they are aware of it or not the public by and large support Corbyns policies. Corbyn still has 4 years to work on his public image and on shifting the debate back from the current right wing extremism we are used to. However when supposed Labour supports go out of their way to continually undermine him and his leadership they are actively making it less likely he will succeed in changing their views of him.

  27. madasafish

    Hmm People supported Ed Miliband’s policies. They had no confidence in him as a potential PM

    Corbyn’s personal rating are appalling and getting worse. He has persuaded the general electorate – and Labour voters – he is not PM material.

    As for “current right wing extremism we are used to.”, I see no hanging, eating of babies etc. I do see fiscal conservatism and trying to control benefits spending. That is not extremism and to call it such shows how out of touch your comments are.

    Corbyn is doing a wonderful job for the Tories, UKIP and the LibDems. All his problems are self generated – as anyone who reads can see. Voters do not like leftwing leaders and have not voted for them. See Michael Foot.

  28. Dave Stewart

    Look at the historical record. The current governments policies are extreme when it comes to the economy. They want to shrink the state to a smaller size than the US’s. They are selling off more state assets than any UK government in history. They have overseen the largest upwards redistribution of wealth upwards on record due to QE. They are following an ideological austerity policy which most of the rest of the world has seen through as economically illiterate.

    How is this not extreme?

    Did I mention hanging or baby eating? No I didn’t kindly debate the points I make rather than those you imagine I make.

  29. madasafish

    The size of the state will be the same size as 2000..

    The welfare cuts are undoing Working Tax Credits introduced by G Brown

    They want to shrink the state to a smaller size than the US’s.

    US State spending is $6.5Trillion. for 2016 i.e c £4.2 Trillion..

    UK State spending is C £780Billion.

    You appear innumerate : US state spending has always been bigger than the UK’s
    Hint: their GDP is bigger as well.

    If you cannot get your numbers right, then your argument is wrong.

  30. madasafish

    The LP does not represent the WWC: It represents the Asian WC plus the unions – mainly in the State.

  31. Dave Stewart

    “The size of the state will be the same size as 2000”

    But the population has grown. You have to look at relative per capita numbers as I’m sure you well know and as I’m sure you know I was referring to.

    “US State spending is $6.5Trillion. for 2016 i.e c £4.2 Trillion..

    UK State spending is C £780Billion.

    You appear innumerate : US state spending has always been bigger than the UK’s
    Hint: their GDP is bigger as well.”

    Do you seriously think I was referring to absolute rather than relative per capita values? I suspect you know full well what I was referring to however you have chosen to wilfully misinterpret it so that you can prove me wrong on a point I wasn’t even making.

    Of course the US has absolute state spending much higher than the UK. Rather than throwing insults around based on your weak attempts at straw man arguments why don’t you engage with my arguments with a degree of intellectual honesty?

    I will not be wasting my time replying to you any further as you clearly don’t want to have a sensible and respectful discussion.

  32. madasafish

    Well I replied to what you wrote. If you meant something different you should have said so. You were wrong.
    So you run away and shout “unfair”..
    Really grown up.

  33. Sylar

    Oh dear. You left out the word ‘left’. Context is everything. Perhaps you should seek remedial reading lessons, my tankie friend.

  34. jaz

    Having unhidden my comments you can see I am not “the Guido scumbag I know you to be”. Your apology is accepted.

  35. Comrade Darling

    You are completely correct, I totally misjudged you and I unreservedly apologise. Thank you for your response and your forbearance. I wish you well.

  36. jaz

    You are a gentleman and I thank you for your very gracious and kind reply and I return your good wishes. Thank you.

  37. Cole

    You’re not the type of intolerant thug we want in the Labour Party – denouncing everyone who disagrees with you as a Tory

  38. Cole

    I see Left Unity – which is not anything to do with the Labour Party – has drawn up a list of Labour MPs it wants deselected. Will the writer of this article dissociate himself from this and condemn it? Or is he actually an entryist?

  39. Chris Kitcher

    Thank you, I am certainly not the type of intolerant thug you want in the Labour Party. However, I do have a right to comment and challenge those who disagree with me and unlike most who just pronounce with no argument to support their pronouncement I will not pronounce until I have reasoned it out and have a strong case. I am just the type of person that the Labour Party needs as the ones who have been quiet for so long have just lost two elections on the run, primarily because previous Labour was just another version of the Tories.

  40. Cole

    Ed was not New Labour. And I’ll do what I want, thank you. I intend to continue to back Labour but oppose Corbyn. Corbyn spent his whole career opposing Labour leaders.

    I’m not going to be intimidated by Corbynistas telling me what to do. Given they’re history, they have a nerve tell people to shut up. But that’s the hard left for you – no respect for democracy.

  41. Cole

    One reason to oppose Corbyn is that the likes of Kitcher will take over local,parties, screaming abuse at anyone who disagrees with them. Happened in the 80s, is happening again

  42. jaz

    It did, you are right. It was not a good time.

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