Politically homeless: ‘It’s become a very different party to the one I joined’
By Natalie Bloomer
In recent years voters and political activists have become polarised over issues like Brexit, the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn, and more recently Covid measures. People have been divided into camps, you’re either for or against with little room for nuance or a middle ground.
But for many people their beliefs are not so clear cut. Research carried out in 2017, just a year after the EU referendum, found that over half of the British public did not feel as if any political party represented them.
The issues that split voters also cause divides within political parties. Leaders often have to juggle the views of different factions, trying to keep each happy enough not to cause them too many problems. Ultimately though, political parties are a bit like families, members can fight among themselves but when the chips are down they rally around. They typically want and believe in the same things and agree their chosen party is the one to deliver that.
What happens when that is no longer the case? We spoke to three local people about leaving the party they had spent years dedicated to.
Victoria Perry has been a member of the Conservative Party on and off since 1981 becoming a councillor in Kettering in 2007 and a county councillor in 2017. Now though she has left the Tories saying she no longer feels aligned to the current government enough to knock on doors asking for votes.
“The final straw was before the ‘partygate’ fiasco. I was very disappointed over the handling of the Owen Patterson problem. Prior to that I was upset that they had taken their eyes off the ball in Afghanistan. The removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift was also an issue for me and whilst I support a tax increase for social care, I think the least well off should be exempt at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing.
“Transparency, accountability and integrity are the standards I expect from public servants, currently these are lacking in some of the current cabinet and leaders. I don’t see any viable opposition and in fact the weakness of opposition has contributed to the government not being held to account robustly - the fall in standards is on their watch too. Labour Party infighting meant they took their eye off the ball and they just haven’t delivered.”
Perry is now doing a MA in philosophy which is currently on power and the politics of ‘dirty hands’. She says she is comfortable with her decision to leave the Conservatives and that she now has the space and time to think about politics without the constraints of ‘group think’.
“I am friends with ex-colleagues from all political groups. At a local level, despite perceptions, many local councillors are very committed public servants and are trying to support their local communities. Anyone who puts their residents first and works hard will always have my support regardless of political affiliation.”
Paul Crofts comes from a Labour family but his own relationship with the party has never been straight forward.
“I joined at 16 and got involved in the Labour Party Young Socialists. In 1974 at 21 I was a young radical and it no longer captured my imagination so I left and joined the Communist Party. In the mid 90s I rejoined and became a Labour councillor in Wellingborough just before Blair came to power. I was a councillor for 16 years but spent six of those as an independent as I had become disillusioned again, not locally but nationally. It was following the war in Iraq and the straw that broke the camel’s back was the growing privatisation of schools.
“Everyone locally understood why I’d left and had sympathy for that, I had really good and close contacts locally, it was national party politics I disagreed with fundamentally. When I stood as an independent candidate Labour decided not to stand anyone against me and I worked closely with their local Labour candidates to get re-elected.
“I joined Labour again when Corbyn became leader, people were telling me the party was changing and returning to the left. I was enthused by the possibilities of a Corbyn-led project. But unfortunately I felt the party let me down with the attacks on Corbyn - both inside and outside the party they tried to destroy him. When Starmer got elected and the whip was removed from Corbyn I left again. In my mind the Labour Party is no longer a way to achieve my political objectives. I’ve always seen a political party as a means to an end. Many people are very committed to the party but it can be tribalistic.”
Politics is in Jim Hakewill’s blood. He joined the Conservative Party in 1974 at a time of great political unrest. Five years later, his father, the leader of Kettering Borough Council and former mayor, collapsed and died while at a full council meeting.
In 1987 Hakewill was elected councillor for the same ward his father had represented and in 2013 also became a county councillor. It was his time at Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) that later led him to leave the party he had been part of for more than 40 years.
“I was the scrutiny chairman at NCC when the crisis happened and it was the way the county council Tory party split into two and turned on each other at the time, as well as seeing the county’s libraries put under threat that made me feel the party was no longer for me. It’s become a very different party to the one I joined in 1974.
“Both locally and nationally I feel it has become more right wing and intolerant of different views - the MPs representing the local area in Westminster are very right wing.
“When I joined the party and first got elected, it seemed like the obvious choice because I always viewed Conservatives as people who had done reasonably well in life and wanted to put something back into the community. I always thought we put people before politics. Now I think so much of what happens is very much driven by politics.
“It was quite lonely when I made the decision to leave and I was expecting lots of negative comments but actually most people I worked with within the party knew me well enough and knew what I stood for. When I stood as an independent candidate in Rothwell I found a lot of Conservatives saying they would continue to vote for me and even more special, some helped me deliver leaflets! The support I used to have has endured.”
Hakewill has now formed an alliance with new Green councillors in North Northants. He says that it has revitalised his enthusiasm for being a councillor.
“Dez, Emily and Sarah are so full of enthusiasm to make a green difference. I’ve always been very green in my thoughts so it’s been brilliant to be able to be part of the alliance and work closely with them. I’ve always found it easier to work with those who put people before politics.”