After 40 years as a one-team player, this year I voted Green

CROYDON COMMENTARY: After 40 years of campaigning only for one political party, this month PAUL AINSCOUGH, pictured left, couldn’t bring himself to vote Labour. Here, he explains why

For me and for countless others, supporting a political party is like supporting a football team. It’s for life.

So, there it was: Liverpool FC and the Labour Party. I expected victory after victory on the pitch and in Parliament.

My first election was in 1979 and I was inducted into the ranks by working-class, middle-aged men that checked that I was dressed for the occasion. They wore suits and ties, and I made sure that I polished my shoes. I learnt how to open and close a gate. Fold a leaflet properly, be polite and get off the doorstep. Most importantly, how to get the right message across.

It was a momentous day when I was allowed to canvass on my own. I was convinced we were going to win the General Election. We did not. I had canvassed a solidly Labour area with a keen sense of community. I was blissfully unaware of the Thatcher revolution about to unfold.

Man of the people: Bill Shankly knew the real importance of football, and socialism

I was undeterred: socialism is a struggle. When Labour members left to join the SDP, I stood by Bill Shankly’s maxim that “If you can’t support us when we lose or draw, don’t support us when we win”, and I told them so.

Embarrassingly, years later at a friend’s wedding an ex-SDP member spotted me and shouted across the room wanting to know if he had my permission to be back in the Labour Party. I did not tell him to go away, or even words to that effect. Just like myself, he just wanted to get rid of the Tories. I said he’d let down Roy Hattersley and the Tories are still in power. I knew that would hurt.

We all soldiered on. I have supported Labour in every election between 1979 to 2019.

That’s 40 years campaigning, for some Labour leaders with more enthusiasm than for others: “Labour is always better than the Tories and only Labour can remove the Tories”.

Local Labour politicians in Croydon stretched this slogan to the point of incredulity.

After years of being politically restricted because of my work, seven years ago I became more active again and I got to understand the dynamics of Croydon Labour. It was not a happy experience. The more I saw, the more I felt we had lost our way.

Youthful optimism: Paul Ainscough as a Labour councillor in the 1980s

By this year, I had become so disillusioned and embarrassed that I decided not to stand, not even as a paper candidate

How could I explain this to my younger self or worst still, Bill Shankly? For old time’s sake I did give limited support to a few Labour candidates during the recent local elections. However, when it came to the ballot box, I voted Green for the first time. I was not alone.

To people that do not belong to a political tribe, it can be difficult to explain this. Politicians do “cross the floor” to the other side. From what I have seen, it never appears to be a happy event. I have met a few obvious opportunists. For others it has been a difficult path to take and made after much soul searching.

Famously, it was Bill Shankly who said that football is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.

But politics is about life and death.

We have a climate emergency, we are emerging from a pandemic, and, I believe, we are burdened with a government and opposition at Westminster that are incapable of grasping the enormity of the tasks ahead.

For this reason, I would say to my younger self in my own defence: fight the good fight. It is not the party label that matters – it is the principles and outcomes that count.

  • Paul Ainscough has been a Labour councillor, parliamentary candidate and stood as a candidate in the 2018 Croydon local elections

Read more: Croydon May 2022 is writing on the wall for Starmer’s Labour

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6 Responses to After 40 years as a one-team player, this year I voted Green

  1. Ken Towl says:

    “I got to understand the dynamics of Croydon Labour. It was not a happy experience.” Couldn’t agree more. It is not a happy place. Croydon Labour is riven by factionalism, each side unable to see any merit in the other.

    • Mathew Hill says:

      Unfortunately, when I attempted to build a consensus between the different factions within the local Labour Party, reminding them that our enemy is the Tories, not each other, I ended up being shunned by both sides, and advised that “If you stand in the middle of the road, you’ll get knocked down by traffic on both sides” (which I didn’t realise at the time, is apparently a Margaret Thatcher quote).

      I still believe in the local Labour Party, particularly in view of the recent changes (including resignations and deselections) that have taken place within the Labour Group, and there are still excellent councillors in parts of the borough, like Rowenna Davis and Ellily Ponnuthurai, who will no doubt be as well-regarded among their Waddon constituents as their predecessors, Robert, Joy and Andrew, were, but it is true that we need to do something about the factionalism. It has created a very toxic atmosphere which has alienated and deterred many keen and idealistic activists, particularly young activists, from regular volunteering and attendance at key meetings.

  2. Peter Underwood says:

    Thanks Paul for this. I have spoken to a number of people who feel the same but it still takes courage to say so publicly.

    As Greens we believe people should be treated fairly, we believe that we have to care about the environment we live in, and we believe that decisions should be made democratically. If you believe that as well, then I would encourage you to join us.

  3. Jessica says:

    For the first time, I didn’t vote Labour, and that was hard. Labour became Croydon’s nasty party. Beyond the bankrupting of the borough and the destruction of the town centre, it was the conduct of Labour councillors at the planning committee and the videos of their behaviour that were posted on Next Door – I just couldn’t. It will take a long time for Labour to win back the hearts of some of its supporters at local level.

  4. Andy Ward says:

    I voted and campaigned for Labour. But totally understand Paul’s frustration.

    Regarding the local party in Croydon mistakes were certainly made. I feel the main problem is the national leadership which as Paul has said has not provided the necessary vision or leadership. I believe in the old adage ‘Fish rots from the head upwards’. Or to put it more bluntly you are not going to win anything in football and politics with a crap manager in charge. A good lawyer does not always make a good political manager!

  5. Lewis White says:

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating…………… when the residents of Regina Road tasted the Labour-managed pudding, it left much more than a nasty taste in their mouths. It was stomach-churningly revolting.

    When the Labour council treats council tenants so badly, something is deeply, deeply wrong.

    Why support a political party which can’t manage when in power?

    That’s what a lot of Labour members will be thinking.

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