Angela Smith: Intolerance and division...the face of the Labour Party I loved

Angela Smith, the  MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge. says today's Labour Party ' is almost completely divorced from its social democratic history'. (Getty Images).
Angela Smith, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge. says today's Labour Party ' is almost completely divorced from its social democratic history'. (Getty Images).
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For some time, I have been deeply unhappy with the changes that have taken place in the Labour Party.

History demonstrates very clearly that the Labour party has identified itself consistently as a social democratic party, committed to Parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, social justice and equality of opportunity for all.

I am proud of this record. As someone who knew what her voting intention was by the time she was five years old, I am particularly proud to have been part of a tradition that understood the importance of politics and democracy in securing increased living standards from one generation to the next. Our Parliamentary system, based as it is on representative democracy, has done so much to increase prosperity and provide opportunity for all.

None of this can be taken for
granted, however, and every generation has to renew the contract between Parliament, Government and the people which stands as the bedrock of our democracy. It is the tragedy of our time that this contract stands under serious threat. The rise of populism and narrow-minded nationalism has jaundiced not just our politics here at home, but the politics of large parts of the western world.

Our politics, in other words, is broken, incapable of inspiring confidence in the future. The level of alienation from the political process on the part of the people is at a record high. Unfortunately, the Labour Party is a major part of this problem. It has undergone major change since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015, change which in my view has destroyed the proud legacy built by our predecessors.

The Labour Party of 2019 is characterised by lazy, populist thinking which promises nothing but a tortured, divided future for our country. Hating the Tories and blaming the private sector for all of society’s ills may sound good to those who look for simple explanations and simplistic answers to our complex problems but will do nothing realistically to build the wealth necessary to provide the resources for our precious public services.

Not only that, much of the Labour agenda under Corbyn is deeply ideological. It is an agenda which would lead to a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few politicians at the top. A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister
would chill the very marrow of our economy, destroying jobs and stifling innovation. An authoritarian approach
to running the country, familiar to citizens who lived under the horrors
of the Soviet Union, beckons if these people ever get hold of the levers of power.

Our national security would be at risk. Jeremy Corbyn is supported by many because he is a ‘‘man of peace’’, but in fact his record is warped by a deep-rooted dislike of western values which leads him to view the United States with deep disdain. This has led him and his key supporters to adopt a mindset sympathetic to terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the IRA but hostile to the UK’s international allies.

Corbyn’s leadership stands responsible too for a dreadful betrayal as far as Brexit is concerned.

The majority of Labour members and Labour voters believe in an open, progressive relationship with our neighbours and as a consequence value our membership of the European Union. As far as I am concerned, a large part of the responsibility for the failure of Remain to win the 2016 referendum can be laid at his doorstep. Jeremy Corbyn refused to campaign wholeheartedly for our continued membership of the world’s largest trading bloc and it is our children and grandchildren who will pay the price. Moreover, it is a betrayal at risk of being repeated if he continues to refuse to lead the way by supporting a People’s Vote on whatever deal is finally agreed by Parliament.

A party built on tolerance and respect is now characterised by vicious intolerance, where complete loyalty is demanded to a leader who has done next to nothing to deserve it. Take, for example, the way he has presided over the emergence of a deeply shaming set of anti-Semitic behaviours in the party; not only has he done very little to combat this, his own history is enmeshed in a reluctance to accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel.

Moreover, the culture of the party is now overwhelmingly dominated by a depressing division of the world into those who are with us as opposed to those who are against us. I do not want to be part of a political force which deliberately sets out to divide and rule.

It is on this basis that I have decided to resign my membership of the Labour Party and the Labour whip in Parliament. This decision has not been an easy one to make. I come from a long line of Labour supporters, and indeed members; I am one of four generations of my family to enjoy formal affiliation with the party. But the Labour Party we have now is almost completely divorced from its social democratic history. It is dominated by intolerance and extremism. It is unpleasant and divisive. And it represents a threat to the future of our great country.

It is also a party beyond redemption. There is no way back. The leadership of the party is gradually adapting the machinery to its own image, embedding the anti-democratic culture which has grown to dominate every aspect of the Labour Party’s existence.

I will continue as an independent Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge representing the values many of my constituents share and in the national interest.

Angela Smith is MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge. This is an edited version of her resignation statement from the Labour Party.