Saviour or Satan: Why so many people are joining the UK Labour Party right now

Saviour or Satan: Why so many people are joining the UK Labour Party right now

Should Jez stay or should he go? — Just minuted after the results from the EU referendum been announced, a coup was brewing inside the UK Labour Party. The majority of Labour MPs have had enough of Jeremy Corbyn, the newly-elected left-wing leader who still commands the support of vast swathes of the party nationwide. With a leadership contest on the very near horizon, some 100,000 people had joined Labour since the vote, desperate to have their say.

Despite the fact the UK is in the midst of a constitutional crisis, we’re about to be appointed an unelected Prime Minister who has a deep contempt for human rights, and Britain’s exit from the EU has seen the economy plunged into meltdown while simultaneously sparking what soon may be an intergenerational civil war, it seems Labour-Party-leadership-gate is still pretty much all anyone wants to talk about. If you’ve not been keeping up, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-serving left-wing politician unexpectedly won a leadership contest in the Labour Party, defying odds and expectations.

Ever since then the opposition party has been playing out a very public fight: Corbyn’s supporters, trade unions, young activists and campaigners from across the country reckon his track record so far is pretty good – increasing the majority vote share for the Labour Party in every Parliamentary by-election, winning every metropolitan mayoral race including Sadiq Khan’s historic victory in London, and increasing the Labour Party membership to  well over 500,000. His critics say Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable, it’s as simple as that.

One thing is for certain: an attempted coup by Labour MPs last week to unseat Corbyn from the leadership seat has resolutely failed. Resignation after resignation was confronted with rallies by grassroots supporters all over the country. The message from Labour members was clear: Jeremy Corbyn was elected with the biggest party-member mandate in political history in Britain, and if MPs want a new leader they’ll have to go through the membership first. It’s happening, another leadership contest is set to ensue.

In the two weeks following the EU referendum, some 130,000 people joined the Labour Party – an unprecedented figure, and it seems pretty obvious that most are joining because of Corbyn – whether it to be keep him as leader, or as a vote for the alternative. We asked three new members why they’ve joined.

Kirsty Haigh, 23, Charity Worker, Edinburgh

“I want to live in a place where the NHS is protected, supported & properly funded; where everyone feels welcome no matter where they are from; where people’s life opportunities aren’t determined by the postcode they live in but by the skills they have and where we don’t have a super rich who suck all the money away from the general population. It became clear that the best way of achieving this was to keep Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party and then to help the party win the next general election. Labour is once again providing a real, credible alternative to the Tory party but to get them from opposing Government to being the Government is going to need all of us out campaigning for change.”

Richard Daniels, 27, Doctor, London

“I’ve joined the Labour party for the first time – my first venture into political membership. I’m not a big believer in partisan politics; I believe my ideas are too heterogeneous to fit generally. Whilst I’m naturally left of centre, it’s by no means been a given that I’d support Labour previously. So why have I joined?

“I’ve joined the Labour party because I believe in the importance of opposition in our essentially binary democracy. A good opposition keeps the Government on their toes, holds them to their manifesto and should counter any wanderings. It’s to our benefit as a country – a strong opposition breeds a strong democracy in my opinion. I’m a junior doctor, and as well documented, we’re not currently best pleased with this Conservative Government. That said, we’re not unique. Huge swathes of society have reacted to the continued ideological austerity programme, and I feel that Corbyn’s Labour party haven’t reflected this across the dispatch boxes.

“Brexit, Teachers, Benefits – whatever the issue – I feel that Corbyn has generally been either behind the curve – or in some cases, obstructive. This has released pressure on the Government when they really looked like they were creaking. A good opposition would have skewered ministers for far less. So I’ve joined the Labour party to effect change. I’m not a natural Corbynista, but thought he deserved a crack at shaping the Labour party given his overwhelming mandate.

“To my mind, he’s failed. I feel the Labour party is currently in a worse state than after the humiliation of the last general election – fractured and wounded, and this means that an opportunity to go after a creaking Conservative party has been missed. You can’t lead without followers, and Corbyn has lost the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party – who he needs to oppose effectively. Therefore, I believe change is necessary, and want to have a vote in the leadership election – when it occurs.”

Bethany Eldon Kerr, 23, University Administrator, London

“I am not a devout believer in the party political system of the United Kingdom, in fact I am hugely critical and weary of it.  My interest in politics developed from grassroots activism and working within different areas of the welfare state. As a member of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, I was always aware of Jeremy Corbyn, and agreed with a lot of what he said in his talks at their events. When he ran for labour leader I paid the minimum £3 to vote for him.

“Although I have my doubts that we can achieve true social justice and equality in a political system so historically rooted in oppression, while we work out how to move forward in the long run there has to be a clear alternative in Westminster to oppose austerity, and Jeremy Corbyn’s politics offer this clear alternative.

“I have my frustrations with Corbyn: he is after all an old white middle-class man (hardly a symbol of resisting the status quo), but since he took over as Labour leader I have been constantly impressed with his opposition at Prime Minister’s Questions, his campaign during the EU referendum and his resilience against the right-wing government, media and a Parliamentary Labour Party hell-bent on pushing forward austerity and destroying his leadership.”

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