I first became aware of the current version of the SDP about a year ago on Twitter. Like most people, I assumed the party had died a death in the late 80s, after getting fewer votes in a by-election than the MRLP. Anyway, I followed it with interest. When the party’s “New Declaration” was released in the autumn, (with one or two quibbles) it struck a chord with me. Here was a communitarian party which was centre-right on socio-cultural issues (I’m one of those horrible old-fashioned people who, for example, would want to see lower term limits on abortion, and who can’t stand identity politics) and centre-left on economic issues (I would want to see an end to austerity, more investment in the regions, better bus services in rural areas etc etc). Think: Red Tory/Blue Labour (the generally sound version of Maurice Glasman, not the more questionable one of Paul Embery). I heard the leader, William Clouston, on the radio, and was impressed. People whom I admired, joined. I had some qualms (notably the defection to the party of former UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn), but thought, it’s only £5 for a year’s membership, what have I got to lose. And so, last December, I joined up – the first party I ever joined. Shortly afterwards, I met the leader and several others at an event in Manchester and… liked them.
Things started going sour in February, when a detailed policy platform was released. As I guess is the case with most people in most parties, there were some policies I really liked and some I thought were a bit naff but could live with. And then, right at the end, in the Animal Welfare section, one that really jarred: a pledge to ban non-stun (i.e. kosher and halal) slaughter, apparently in response to a request from the RSPCA and the British Vets Association. This policy has been a hallmark of the far right for decades, because it enables nasty people to express their antipathy for Jews and Muslims whilst pretending to be motivated by animal welfare. Was this the intention here? Probably not, but it felt like a massive dog whistle. I contacted people in leadership, explained my concerns, asked if it could be looked at again. I was told that I could propose a motion at the autumn AGM to get it changed. And so I began to message people behind the scenes, asking for their support. The replies fell into three broad categories. 1. People with some kind of faith (particularly, interestingly, the Catholics) *always* got the issue and said they would support me. 2. The atheists who, by and large, didn’t get it and opposed me (not hugely surprising as it is basically a religious issue). 3. A lot of people in the middle who hadn’t thought about the issue previously (fair enough) but were prepared to listen. I knew the fight would be over the people in group 3. And so I began to research, tweet and blog about non-stun slaughter. (Which, incidentally, was never something I had thought about much before: I’m Jewish but I don’t keep kosher.)
And I began to debate other party members about it on Twitter. Which frequently became heated. I was asked by the party big cheeses to take it offline as they wanted the party to present a united front, which was fair enough. But then I saw other party members, including people in senior roles , tweeting in support of the current policy. Which pissed me off. Bigly. As did the lack of any public support for me from anyone in a senior leadership position. I did not feel that it should have been left to the small number of Jews and Muslims in the party (and our few but welcome mainly Christian allies) to overturn the policy.
Other things I didn’t like: the recruitment of Rod Liddle (really?); a column about the party in Spiked (history of genocide denial and all); and the party’s rhetoric on Brexit (I was a marginal leaver, never a No Dealer, so never agreed with the party’s support for No Deal and disliked the rhetoric about “elites” and “betrayal”.) Oh, and, the generally unhelpful presence of a number of former UKIPpers who (with some honourable exceptions such as Sarah Devenney and Ian McLean) weren’t really Blue Labour/Red Tory people but had joined the party simply because Brexit. And, simmering away, the party’s policy on non-stun slaughter, which made me feel unwanted and unwelcome in my own party.
Nonetheless, I was prepared to hang on until the autumn AGM to see if my motion would pass. But then I saw the list of speakers for the AGM.
Rod Liddle. Brendan O’Neill. Ben Cobley (a writer who has some useful things to say about identity politics but who is also a fellow traveller with Claire Fox). Patrick O’Flynn. And a lady called Lisa Renfree. You may remember her better by the (maiden?) name of Lisa Duffy. She stood for UKIP leader a few years ago, and was backed by none other than Gerard Batten. That told me that, regardless of whether or not my motion passed, the party was essentially UKIP-lite with some left-wing economics. That wasn’t what I signed up for, nor did I think it truly reflected the spirit of the New Declaration. And so I left.
Someone else is going to take on my motion on non-stun slaughter. If it fails, I will know I made the right decision. If it passes, great, but I’ll see how things develop before I think about rejoining.
If it is to have any sort of future, SDP 3.0 needs to become a genuine postliberal, communitarian party, not simply nUKIP with some left-wing economics. The former will mean concentrating positions of power in the hands of genuine Red Tory/Blue Labour people. The latter will mean the party going down a rather unattractive cul-de-sac. In the meantime, I am once again politically homeless. Some good people, with good ideas, remain in the party. I hope that they come to the fore.