Hugo Collingridge tells us why he joined Progress – and why he spurned his youthful flirtation with the hard left.
As any member can attest, the Labour party can certainly be an unharmonious place. Meetings can be fractious and unpleasant events. However, rebuilding the party might well require reaching out to people from different internal positions to us. I wanted to write about my own political journey to illustrate that people’s politics can change, sometimes dramatically.
For a spell in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Fast forward twenty years, and now I’m a moderate member of the Labour party. There would have been very little that the Hugo of 1999 and the Hugo of 2020 would have agreed with each other about.
I joined the SWP because I had read lots of books about socialism and had very little discussion about it with anyone who wasn’t either related to me or on my university politics course. No real people, in other words.
I stayed with the SWP for two main reasons. Partly because all of my social life revolved around the SWP and leaving it would have meant leaving my friends. Partly because the meetings, paper sales, demonstrations and so on took up so much of my time that I never really stopped to think about whether I was doing the right thing or not. Also, if I’m honest, it was fun and exciting.
I’d like to be able to say that I eventually left because I saw through their nonsense, but the reality was that it was taking up too much of my spare time and I drifted away. It was only after leaving that I started to think about all of the things that were wrong with revolutionary politics. A few years later, the SWP were involved in a scandal that convinced me to sever my connections once and for all.
After about a decade when my only engagement with politics was talking about it in the pub and not much else, Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. I was excited and saw what I thought was an opportunity to get involved and change things. So, I ignored the tiny bit of my brain that was asking ‘is he electable?’ and joined the Labour Party.
From 2015 up until not long after the 2017 election I was a relatively enthusiastic Corbyn supporter. Just like during my SWP days, I was carried along by the excitement and the activity. The leadership election of 2016 seemed to me at the time to confirm that I was right. Also, the 2017 election almost felt like a success (at least until a few weeks afterwards), mainly because my expectations had been so low to start with.
But the part of me that doubted it all was becoming harder to ignore. There were three main reasons why.
The first was the awful scandal of contemporary left antisemitism inside the Labour party. It became more and more obvious to me that it was real, and I became more and more aware of the part that the leadership of the party and their outriders had played in it.
The second was the state of social media. I am someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter and the sheer nastiness and toxicity of the hard left on social media became more and more apparent. There were certain vocal and high profile hard left Twitter users that I did not want to associate myself with. I’m sure I don’t need to name names.
The third was a growing concern for what was best for the Labour party. Being actively involved in the party meant caring about it and wanting it to succeed. After the 2017 election, I took some time out to think. It occurred to me that, if you ditch revolutionary politics but still have a desire to make life fairer for people, then automatically that means wanting a Labour party that is more electable and more appealing to ordinary people. And it became clear to me that Corbynite politics was not the route towards that sort of Labour party. Also, I was very lucky to be in the branch and the constituency that I was, with a group of decent and moderate members with whom I had become friends.
So, I joined Progress because they seemed to represent a route towards the electable Labour party that I had come to realise we needed. And now we have a leader and shadow cabinet who are streets ahead of the previous incumbents and I finally feel optimistic about our future.
In conclusion, I now believe that what I really need to avoid is certainty. Never trust anyone who is certain about their opinions, as I used to be, and always listen to the bit of your brain that is asking ‘what if I’m wrong?’. The job of the Labour Party is not to be the guardian of some sort of pure and holy socialist flame but to get elected to government in order to help people. And I hope that I can do my bit to make Labour into that sort of party again.
Hugo Collingridge is a member of Manchester Withington CLP. He tweets at @Chorltonian