Why I’ve quit Labour to campaign for Greens and Independents

'I’m now sitting as an independent councillor, but I don’t feel politically homeless or hopeless.'

Hilary Schan former Momentum co-chair

Hilary Schan is a councillor in Worthing and former Co-Chair of the Labour campaign group Momentum.

I’ve quit the Party I’ve given eight years of my life to. When Peter Mandelson was asked about my resignation this week, he described it as “a very important development”. At least we agree that defections from Labour are significant, but he thinks that me and other “disgruntled hard leftists” leaving the Party is a good thing. 

While it’s no surprise that the ‘prince of darkness’, who is reportedly advising Starmer and his team and seemingly has the Shadow Cabinet on speed dial, would welcome our departure, stating this publicly just after Labour has suffered widespread losses to left-wing candidates, while the leadership embraces a hard Tory MP, right shows how complacent the Party has become. 

In the last eight years, I’ve knocked on countless doors, helped to elect the first Labour council in my hometown of Worthing’s history, and become a Labour councillor here myself. For the last two years, I’ve been proud to serve as the Co-Chair of Momentum. I’ve resigned from that role and I’m now sitting as an independent councillor, but I don’t feel politically homeless or hopeless. 

I’ve joined We Deserve Better – the new initiative building the alternative to the race to the bottom between the Tories and their Tory-lite opponents in Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. While Labour benefited from Tory collapse in last week’s elections, and many other places besides, we also saw voters roundly reject Starmerism in favour of socialist, pro-Gaza independents and Green candidates in Labour heartlands from Norwich to Newcastle, Oldham to Bristol. Our campaign is mobilising support for these candidates in key Parliamentary constituencies including: British Palestinian Leanne Mohamad’s grassroots campaign to unseat Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting in Ilford North; and Green Co-Leader Carla Denyer’s campaign in Bristol Central, where Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire is at real risk.

Last week’s election results show the Tories’ vote has collapsed and there is no coming back from their spectacular self-implosion but Labour is still facing a backlash in its urban heartlands. Over the weekend, one Labour figure after another was wheeled out to promise that the Party is listening and that they will work to win back the support they’ve lost, particularly within the Muslim community. But these seem only warm words. Instead, Starmer seems to be actively trolling them.  

With Israel now bombarding Rafah, Labour’s refusal to condemn Israeli war crimes and listen to 56% of the public, and 71% of Labour voters, who back a ban on arms sales is more egregious by the day. Meanwhile, a refugee bashing, union trashing, anti-abortion, hard right Tory MP who has undermined the fight against sexual harassment being welcomed by Starmer with – literally – wide open arms, while he still refuses to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn or  Diane Abbott, despite one hundred years of party service between them. This will only drive away even more young, ethnic minority and progressive voters.

It’s not like there’s much else for them to be excited about. Labour won’t: nationalise our public services, implement rent controls, scrap the two-child benefit cap, abolish tuition fees, tax the rich, repeal authoritarian laws, implement a Green New Deal or give the NHS the money it needs.

So while there’s no prospect of the Tories getting back into power after the next election it’s no surprise there’s no real enthusiasm for Starmer’s Labour either. He’s 60% less popular than Blair was in 1997 and recent polling shows 61% of people think they will be the same, or worse off under a Labour government. On the domestic front, Labour’s “unrecognisably” watered down ‘New Deal for Workers’ is just the latest example of  a decent policy they announce and then swiftly consign to the dustbin of history, along with Starmer’s leadership pledges, showing yet again that Starmer can’t be trusted and alienating even more of Labour’s core voter base in the process.

Naturally, you may ask, why not stay and fight from within Labour? This had been my mission as Momentum Co-Chair but, from stitching up parliamentary selections by blocking left candidates and even allegedly rigging votes, to the hounding of left-wing MPs and the empowerment of corporate lobbyists over party members, the reality is that the game is rigged.

And as the Gaza kickback shows, the Labour Leadership only responds to pressure from outside. It’s time for the Left to be that force again. We need to free ourselves of our collective Stockholm Syndrome, and rediscover the mass energy and excitement which powered Corbynism, above all in 2017.  

We Deserve Better is working to revive that spirit . We want to mobilise the tens of thousands of Labour members who campaigned for Labour in the last two elections – who knocked on doors, delivered leaflets, phonebanked and organised in their communities – to help us elect socialist independents and Greens in key seats where we know they can win, or if they can’t join the campaign on the ground, then donate to our campaign war-chest. 

Although electing any candidate not from a main party is a tall order in our First Past the Post system, much of the country is crying out for an alternative. There is a massive constituency for hope. Until now, though, opposition to Labour has been fragmented. We’re coming together to mount a serious challenge, electing progressive candidates is vital to pressure Starmer to finally listen to the voters he has taken for granted, mirroring Reform UK’s pressure on the Conservatives but from the left.

While projections and polls using different methodologies are producing wildly different results about the number of seats, it’s clearer than ever that the Tories are toast. Those feeling politically abandoned by Labour can support the alternative and send Labour a message on Gaza, climate change and austerity, safe in the knowledge that there is no possibility of the Tories returning to power. Mandelson once infamously said Labour needn’t worry about its base as “they’ve got nowhere else to go”. Now, we do. Join the alternative. 

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