I left the Labour Party in 1983, the only political party I have ever belonged to, worn down by the entryism of the Trotskyite left and propelled out finally by the Michael Foot manifesto, which was far too far to the left for me economically, although not in terms of social policies. Since then I have voted for whichever party seemed to offer the closest to my particular profile of interest in social justice, environmental responsibility, and individual freedom. “Individual freedom” in my case included not only a strong interest in civil liberties but a belief that free market capitalism was an essential and strong component of a private-public mix, but needed to be firmly but fairly regulated and taxed so as to contribute to public as well as private purposes.

 

This was of course a long time ago and Labour never won my vote during this long period. It probably came closest in 1997, but before the election for me it was far too calculative in its pragmatism, particularly towards the poisonous Murdoch press, and from its earliest days in power it seemed too glib and easily star-struck by the gloss of cultural, business and political power. Blair betrayed the values and interests of his party, and corrupted the democratic process over Iraq; but at a more mundane level within Labour there was also a drifting away from any strategic purposes or values. Although this process seemed to climax the Brown period when a man who had wanted the top job all his life didn’t know what to do with it, the fundamental uncertainty as to Labour’s constituencies and Labour’s values continued.

 

This is the background with which I as an ordinary voter came to the current Labour leadership election. Labour for me had lost its political constituency and was no longer part of a broad social movement; it had lost its purpose; and had finally lost its head – the power to analyse broader issues of political and economic change and prescribe radical and imaginative responses to them. Transfixed more by the fear of losing elections than the opportunities created by winning them, Labour had become a Tory tracker party, mirroring them on light-touch regulation, on taxation, on the need for austerity (ie increased economic inequality) in dealing with the financial crisis, on defence, on the basics of education, and pretty much completely on civil liberties, the role of the public sector and climate change. After a period of rather more balanced discourse on immigration under Blair Labour now also followed the Tories on immigration and the shameful and deceitful scapegoating, often tantamount to soft racism, of some of the world’s most desperate citizens in a near abroad which Britain felt no compunction to meddle in, but refused to take responsibility for. The image of a Britain as a generous and open society has been shrinking since Thatcher, and since Brown this sorry story of political cowardice has been Labour’s work too.

 

Unsurprisingly I voted Green in 2015, believing that if there were ever again to be a politics in Britain I could truly believe in, it had to be delivered by a reconstituted left in which the Labour party was reduced to a residual rump. This may still be the case: indeed I think it certainly would be the case if Cooper, Burnham or Kendall win. But then there is Jeremy Corbyn: a modest, likeable man, not a tub-thumping ya-boo politics careerist, with some radical and decided non-Marxist thinking about Britain’s fundamental problems and what to do about them. Certainly such new thinking is needed: the limitations of capitalism unbound have been evident on every level, not only at the macro level in huge discontinuities of the financial system – consumer sovereignty has proved to be a costly myth too, certainly in the famously lax regulatory environment of the UK.

 

Faced with this range of challenges, does Corbyn change everything? I don’t know, but it seems worth a punt to see if he can reinvigorate the sclerotic Labour beast and put it to good use. So this morning, 12 August, admittedly in the last half hour of eligibility today, I tried to become a Labour party supporter so as to be able to contribute my vote. Sadly, I failed – I got 500 and 502 error messages when I tried to select the payment I wished to make in the online system, and phoning the party proved useless too – presumably the switchboard was overwhelmed by others in a similar position. But if my dream ticket of Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson win, I will certainly join up.