I’m an intensely political person and it has been that way for a long time. I joined the Labour Party in the UK as a 16 year old, before I was even old enough to vote. This means I have spent more than half my life in the Labour Party, which is rather scary (background on why I joined can be found here).
But today is the last day, for now at least. I am leaving Labour, and joining the Grüne (Greens) in Germany. The Direct Debit to Labour has been cancelled, and the online form to join the Grüne has been sent off.
So why am I making this move?
“Don’t burn your bridges” my mother said to me by e-mail when I told her, but that is most definitely not my intention. My decision is as a result of a combination of personal and political circumstances that I hope to be able to explain, and my decision was taken in the best of faith.
Firstly the personal level. I moved to live in Berlin three weeks ago. I do not know what the future will hold, and how long I will stay in Berlin. But I cannot see anything that is going to entice me back to live in the UK any time soon. Berlin is home for now, and home means being politically active where one lives. Unlike my time in Brussels where the expat / EU environment prevented engaging locally, and Copenhagen, where language did, in Berlin I can actually do local politics.
When it comes to the politics of it, I feel I have been steadily moving away from Labour for some time. It is not that I necessarily think the party is doing the wrong things strategically, but more that its direction and mine have parted. When it comes to EU matters, civil liberties and the surveillance state, the environment, and tax and spending, I feel my own positions are further away from Labour’s than they have ever been. “So fight to change it from within!” has always – rightly – been the refrain from friends in the party in the past. But from Berlin I cannot do that effectively, or even hope to do so.
To put it another way, the party now brings me less than it has ever done, and I conversely bring less to it than I have ever done either.
At an organisational level I have concerns about Labour too – not least in the way it selected its MEPs, and seeing a ghost of European Parliaments past at the very top of one list makes me deeply sad. The party talks the talk of being open and modern, but it is a long way from walking the walk.
I hope the dozens of friends I have in the Labour Party understand my decision. I am the same person, I have the same ethics which I hope are the reason these people are friends of mine, not that we just happen to have been in the same clan.
So why then am I joining the Grüne in Germany?
It is in part motivated by the circumstances outlined above – that I want to be able to be politically active in Berlin, my current home. Of course this would be possible without any sort of party political affiliation (and I suppose I could have stayed in Labour passively – paying my money but doing nothing like so many party members). But for me that is not an option. I want to nail my ideological colours to the mast, and also my remaining belief in the value of representative democracy necessitates a belief in vibrant and functional parties.
So which party should I join? Unfortunately I find the SPD, Labour’s sister party in Germany, to be retro and uninspiring. The SPD has not been able to adequately define itself for a decade, and rightly suffered at the recent Bundestagswahl. Its approach to negotiations to form a Grand Coalition with the CDU, with the same old faces back once again, does not motivate me at all. The party is also not at the cutting edge when it comes to transparency, openness, and online engagement.
The Grüne, by contrast, are better both politically and when it comes to how a party should work internally. They have more of the answers to vital environmental questions than any other party does, and for me that is a strong point in their favour. Hell, I am obsessive about trying to travel in a green way, so I am actually practising what they preach on that crucial issue anyway. The Grüne’s more open and transparent processes – most recently the #GreenPrimary at EU level – are better than the procedures in other parties. I also know some super people in the Grüne – from old friends like Jan Seifert to more recent acquaintances like Malte Spitz and Franziska Brantner. These are people I can work with.
I have no idea where my membership of the Grüne will take me – I have no specific aim, no plan. It feels like the right thing to do, here and now, and I am going to learn plenty of fascinating things if nothing else!