CN: Reference to racist slur and ableist comments
I am Labour through and through. I am from a Labour family, the daughter of a trade unionist and granddaughter of coal miner. If you cut me open you’d find the words ‘for the many’ written on my bones (and a whole host of other clichés too!). I have always been, and know in my heart of hearts, that I will always be Labour. Even in darkest days of Iraq, Blair and PFI, I couldn’t ever see myself voting for anyone else. I’ve joked before that it was much easier to tell my father that I’m queer than it would ever have been to say I was considering voting Lib Dem- thankfully the latter is not a bridge I’ve ever had to cross, but it’s statements like these that open me up to accusations of ‘tribalism’ from my progressive friends.
Tribalism is a slur meant to denote a dangerous ‘us and them’ mentality, blind following and unconditional support of leaders whom we should know better than to support. It alleges a level of uncritical thinking and defence of the indefensible in the name of party unity. It is turning a blind eye, ‘shutting up and putting up’ and accepting the party’s word as gospel, dismissing any good deeds of others who are not ‘one of us’.
Tribalism as it is usually imagined is dangerous and stifles meaningful political engagement. It is the kind of behaviour that turns the electorate off and fuels apathy in young people. Too often however, ‘tribalism’ is conflated with ‘loyalty’ which results in a failure to recognise the complex and important relationship with party politics that many of us (particularly on the left) have.
My loyalty to the Labour party is not simply about doing what has always been done and voting the same way as my parents. Neither is it near-sighted or uncritical. There have been times throughout my political life when I have been staunchly critical of Labour policies and leaders, times when my political heart has been broken, my faith tested and my trust betrayed, but I have always remained faithful and I think that people sometimes find it difficult to understand why.
My party loyalty is just that; loyalty to a party who has done so much for me. Labour and Trade Union politics gave my father an education and a job for life which continue to support our family to this day. The unions put food on the table when miners like my grandfather were on strike, and it was my Labour government who introduced a minimum wage and scrapped Section 28 so that people like me could live with the small amount of dignity that things like a properly paid job and freedom of sexual expression afford.
When Thatcher was calling Mandela’s ANC ‘terrorists’, Jeremy Corbyn was being arrested for protesting apartheid. In 1965 when Tories like Peter Griffiths used slogans like the infamous ‘N****r for a neighbour, vote Lib Dem or Labour’ Harold Wilson unapologetically called upon the Conservatives to disown him (they did not). In the early eighties when Liberal Simon Hughes ran against Peter Tatchell in Bermondsey by styling himself as ‘the straight choice’, Labour’s campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights (LCLGR) were proudly supporting, and working with, LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). To me, what this shows is that even since before I was born, Labour have had my back- and that means something. Something profound and something deeply personal and not easily forgotten.
It is within this sense of a legacy of support, that my party loyalty is located. I will never stand up and say that Labour are a perfect party with a perfect track record, but they have consistently been there for me, my family and people like us and they continue to be to this day. In this election we have a Liberal Democrat Leader who couldn’t quite look us in the eye when he (eventually) said that he didn’t think homosexuality was a sin, a Tory Candidate (for Shipley) who says that he can’t see why ‘blacking up’ is offensive, has called for an International Men’s Day, and for disabled workers to be ineligible for minimum wage and was also the only politician to vote against the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence Bill. Even the Greens were called out at the last election for having fewer BAME candidates than all of the other parties (UKIP included!).
My ‘tribalism’ then is really loyalty, founded in my gratitude to Labour for everything they have fought for on my behalf. It is also trust, built up over generations that Labour will continue to fight for working and marginalised people instead of using them for photo ops and sound bites. This faith by its very nature makes me mistrustful of other parties -not because we are ‘us’ and they are ‘them’, but because they have never been, nor do I trust them ever to be, willing or able to fight for the many in the way that Labour always have.
With less than a week to go until the election my vote remains ‘as red as my blood’, but before you dismiss me, and others like me, for our ‘tribal’ politics, and roll your eyes at another Labour post shared to the news feed, why not ask us about why we’re so passionate and committed, why it matters so much to us, and how we became so personally invested? Ask us about the manifesto, our policies, our hopes, fears and ‘thoughts on liberty’ – you might just learn something and so might we!