1981 – 2019 – why 38 years in the Labour Party for me has today come to an end
I write this today Wednesday 27 February 2019 personally from a good place. A strong place. My marriage to Sarah is strong, our children are flourishing. We have a strong network of close friends whom we have sought wisdom, prayer and advice from as this undoubtedly life changing decision has been made.
It’s life changing as whilst I have been married to Sarah for 33 years, my marriage to the Labour Party has surpassed this by some five years. It’s simply therefore not possible to leave something that has been an integral part of your every day existence and DNA for nearly four decades without heart aching sadness. Yet there is no bitterness or regret. Just the innate sense that politics in this country deeply yearns and demands something new, an approach that leaves the old tribal culture dominating so much of the current traditional party political culture behind, and embraces the values of integrity, openness and critically being able to disagree well. I want to play my part in enabling a new politics proliferate.
My Labour history
I first joined the Labour Party in 1981 aged nineteen – no doubt against the wishes of my parents. I worked for the then Department of Health & Social Security and started to witness first hand the misery of long-term unemployment – and recall grown men crying in front of me having being put out of work because of the repressive Thatcher regime.
I was also horrified how the Miners were treated by Thatcher and MacGregor; this served as another reason for joining the Labour Party.
- In terms of elected office at borough and county council level, I have fought and won elections as a Labour candidate in Broxtowe, Nottingham in 1991, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2007, 2011 and 2015. In 2003, 2007 and 2011 I topped the poll in my 3-member borough council ward.
- I was Labour Parliamentary candidate in Charnwood in 2005. I put my heart and soul into this. We came second in a rock solid Tory seat. I’m told that this was fourth lowest swing against Labour (0.68%) throughout the whole of the East Midlands. House of Commons statisticians equated this to an additional 2,500 votes taken off the Tories which went to Labour.
- Since 2005 I applied to be the Labour Parliamentary Candidate in Shrewsbury (2006) – got to the hustings and came 2nd, South Derbyshire (2008) also got through to the hustings and came 2nd as I did in 2014 for Hemel Hempstead.
- I applied twice to be Labour Parliamentary candidate in Amber Valley – the area where I was born, but was thwarted on both occasions.
- I worked on Ed Miliband’s Labour Leadership campaign in 2015 as Regional Organiser in the East Midlands.
- I have attended every Labour Party Conference between 2002 and 2018 and spoke on the Conference main stage in 2007 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-VQLB-cphE
- I was the Vice Chair of Ashfield Constituency Labour Party (CLP) until today and also Chair of Eastwood & Brinsley Labour Party.
- I have served on internal Labour selection, disciplinary and appeals panels.
- Apart from Gavin I have worked for Labour MPs – Helen Clark, Natascha Engel and Andy Reed.
So why Leave? – A matter of integrity
I have battled through many recent days with my conscience (and encountered a number of sleepless nights). I have decided that it would be disingenuous of me to continue campaigning and stand for re-election as a Labour councillor knowing that I can no longer publicly endorse the national Party leadership. I am not a supporter of the “hard left” in the Labour movement which has near total control in the Party, but fully accept that the leader has unprecedented legitimacy having been voted in twice overwhelmingly by the current Labour membership.
I work for Gavin Shuker MP in Luton South, and have done since 2012. He was one of the seven Labour MPs that left Labour last week to form the new Independent Group in the House of Commons. The decision that I have taken to leave the Labour Party though is entirely mine after much personal reflection.
It would undoubtedly have been easier for me to play this low key and continue as a Labour councillor. Probably not that many people in Nottingham know I work for Gavin. Opponents could have well pointed however out that here was a Labour councillor working for an MP who has left the Labour Party. A conflict of interests here surely?
Or I could look for another job – that was another possibility.
However my heart and head says Gavin has done the right thing. I support him. In the bigger picture and beyond Broxtowe – our current politics is broken and tired; a different culture is required. Does this mean that I mean I wholeheartedly and immediate endorse and agree with every stance that will be taken by the Independent Group? No. There are some huge challenges!
I do want to play my part though nationally in helping shape this new culture. I was listening to a Craig Groeschel podcast at the weekend where he interviews Chip Heath an American academic & Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Stanford Graduate school of Business. He talks about how Leaders have at times and particular moments to be more unreasonable and of the need to break the script.
We live in an ever changing, fast moving and increasingly complex society. The Brexit debate of course epitomises this complexity perfectly, and dominates the whole political discourse.
Whilst I personally voted for and enthusiastically support Remain, I acknowledge though that there are completely understandable reasons why so many constituents I have talked with in Kimberley voted to Leave and have not changed their minds. I don’t think they are racist. Neither do I get the sense that the majority of people want a 2nd Referendum. Some do I accept, but I do not share that view.
Furthermore what appears evident to me is that many who voted Leave wanted to shake up the broken settlement of our national politics.
However all of the current MPs in the new Independent Group support a 2nd Referendum, whilst still wanting to shake our system. Here then perfectly demonstrates the complexity!
A further significant challenge for me personally is the fact that there are now former Conservative MPs who voted through austerity measures hitting the most vulnerable in our society, sitting side by side former Labour MPs. I admit that this does not at all naturally sit easily with me. However I want to start to put behind me the narrow party interests and pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest. Where we have to disagree, we’ll disagree well.
Which brings me onto another point that has increasingly frustrated me over the past few years. Our traditional party political culture of politics in this country and believe you me this is just as evident in Broxtowe as it is in Westminster, dictates that it’s essentially impossible at times to work together openly with members of different political parties. Of course politics is a tribal sport. However – very often good local grassroots campaigns are hijacked needlessly by the more confrontational cllrs from an opposing party for no other reason than blind party loyalty (and often jealousy because of the publicity a good local campaign has had).
For example in Broxtowe there are a few very good Conservative councillors including Lydia Ball, John Handley & Margaret Handley, and we work well together on various projects with them that will benefit the whole community. We clearly don’t always agree on everything but have a mature working relationship, and respect our differences. Where we disagree, we agree to disagree well. I know that Margaret and John have been subjected however to the most ridiculous insults and criticism from some quarters – particularly on how we are working together in looking at the tram extension from Phoenix Park to the new Super Hub Transport Link in Langley Mill http://richardsrobinson.org.uk/2015/02/tram-extension-line-4-phase-iii-to-kimberley-eastwood-into-amber-valley/ – just because of my involvement as as a Labour councillor. Is this really a mature way to do politics in the best interests of the community?
I am not leaving the Labour Party because I have fallen out with any one individual. I haven’t, and life is way too short for that anyway.
I have resigned from the Party today, will sit out the rest of my term as an Independent councillor until May 2nd this year, and stand as an Independent in Kimberley for the Broxtowe elections. I have served constituents in Kimberley with fierce loyalty and passion since I first became elected there in 1997 and hope to continue this after May. I cherish them (well most of them) dearly. Everyone hasn’t and won’t always agree with me, that won’t stop me working however for the whole community, and engaging constructively with councillors from all political parties.
Some may argue that this is a reckless gamble on my behalf as opposed to a calculated risk. I believe it’s the latter, I appreciate I will come in for some criticism but what I have done is to try and take a brave, open and principled stand.
I have Labour friends that span the decades, I have both grown up with, and campaigned with for Labour throughout many areas of the country – from Norwich to Dagenham, Amber Valley to Northampton, Broxtowe to Chesterfield, Charnwood to Ashfield – from Derby, Loughborough, Stoke on Trent to Leicester and Luton.
Many Labour Party members have been friends for what seems like time immemorial; Andy Cooper & Colin Sansom (Nuthall & Giltbrook respectively), Ted Perfect in Stapleford, John Legrys in North West Leicestershire, Max Hunt and Betty Newton in Loughborough, Paul Gill, Tom & Marilyn Cowles in Charnwood, Gloria De Piero MP and James Robinson in Ashfield, Alex Sobel MP for Leeds North West, Francis Steer and Olly Martins in Luton, David Mellen in Nottingham City, Andy Furlong (Labour Regional Board East Mids), Kathy Salt in Bolsover, Chris Ostrowski Labour PPC for Watford, Celia Cox, Pete & Meg Baxendale, Chris Emmas-Williams and Paul Jones (Amber Valley), Rachael Maskell MP in York Central, Paddy Tipping the Police & Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire, Nick Palmer the Labour MP for Broxtowe between 1997 and 2010, Louise Davies from Sheffield (and Director of Christians on the Left).
To my dear Blue Labour friends including John Milbank, Adrian Pabst, Maurice Glasman, Ed Rennie, Ian Geary, Rowenna Davis, et al – they have for a long time been a source of inspiration and encouragement.
I will remain a proud member of my Trade Union GMB. In the GMB Midlands and East Coast Region – Richard Oliver the Regional Organiser is an outstanding colleague and friend. Trade Unions are a non negotiable part of a fairer more equal society.
I’ve always enjoyed a strong relationship with Labour Party Regional Office staff in the East Midlands, in particular I will miss George Carr-Williamson enormously.
I should also pay tribute to the leader of the Labour Group in Broxtowe Cllr Milan Radulovic – we’ve remained friends through thick and thin since 1991 – when we first stood together. I hope our friendship can continue.
Finally there are a couple of people in Eastwood & Brinsley Labour Party that are absolutely salt of the earth and never get any headlines – Matt and Bob Bullock. I will miss them also dearly.
In terms of the particular policy areas I am interested in and will pursue as an Independent councillor, this will include:
- Increasing power from Westminster to the most appropriate level, trusting and involving local communities
- Giving every child the best start in life through investment in early years provision
- Electoral Reform
- Fairer & genuinely re-distributive Taxation (looking at the idea of a Land Value Tax)
- Public transport investment
- Preventative measures to reduce health inequalities
- Promoting renewable energy
In addition to drawing on my faith, inspiration and clarity from the Bible I have been actively reading and undertaking research to sharpen my thinking and rationale for the decision I have now made. I have also sought the counsel of close friends and colleagues and spent many hours meditating on the pros and cons of this decision. This course of action has not been taken without significant reflection on my part. At the end of the day I have to be true to myself and the people I have been elected to serve. The following books have proved really helpful to this extent:
- The Leadership Lab – Understanding Leadership in the 21st century – (Chris Lewis & Pippa Malgren)
- Why we get the Wrong Politicians (Isabel Hardman)
- Lincoln on Leadership (Donald T Phillips)
- 12 Rules for Life (Jordan Peterson)
I’d also recommend any podcast from Craig Groeschel (there’s one in particular talking about six aspects of a better leadership) – a) have the discipline to start b) the courage to stop c) a person to empower, d) a system to create e) a relationship to initiate f) a risk to take.
It’s the people who matter most, that must come before Party loyalty, and as one constituent in Kimberley said to me on Monday when I was visiting a broken fence with her (yes that’s the glamorous job of a councillor) – “it’s really rather quite an exciting time in politics isn’t it”. She wasn’t referring to the fence.
Lenin once quipped there are decades in politics when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happens.
I’m 56 and I hope during the next decade we can start on the course of reconciling a divided and fractured nation with a new robust and relational politics in Britain embracing the Common Good.
I would want my 38 years in the Labour Party to be viewed and remembered as a celebration – but it’s time to move on. Despite the inner turmoil – I’m in a good place.