Unfortunately I have also had a long belief that you should judge political parties by what they actually deliver not by what they promise. So when Blair came to government I told myself that it might be time to stop criticising and put my shoulder to the wheel of helping Labour deliver a helpful agenda of change. I thought I would give them six months and if they started out doing things that impressed me then I should bite the bullet and join up.
As part of my preparation for potentially joining I decided to read Tony Blair's book about what he would do in power. I was shocked by the bland platitudes it contained. Page after page of it droned on revealing a mind that had no real principles or sense of purpose. All he seemed interested in was his own ego and the occupation of power. His government proceeded to echo those qualities. Blair himself turned into the master of the soundbite. A man who could sound wonderfully convincing until you asked yourself the hard question of what he had actually committed himself to and discovered again and again that it was nothing of substance. Then he decided that this skill with words qualified him to be a world statesman. He lied to us all about the threat coming from Iraq in order to sign us up to one of the most counterproductive wars that has been fought in the history of humanity.
Some of the key people around him proved equally disappointing. The firebrand socialist David Blunkett from the "People's Republic of South Yorkshire" gave us academy schools, top down re-organisations, endless targets and then made a fool of himself in a squalid affair that revealed even more about how far he had come from his roots. The brave anti-apartheid hero Jack Straw turned into a timid cabinet member who repeatedly refused to face up to equally horrible practices in places such as Saudi Arabia so long as they bought UK arms. Worst of all we got a Chancellor who told us all how important it was to be prudent and not waste money. Then he told us that he had put an end to boom and bust. All the time he was presiding over such a huge reckless financial bubble that three times the size of the entire world economy is still invested in mysterious financial derivatives 8 years after they crashed.
Instead of joining the Labour Party I joined the Greens. They seemed to me to have quite a few ill thought out or even silly ideas but a core philosophy that went to the heart of what needed to be done. For a start they understood that the central problem humanity faces is an environmental crisis that threatens our own existence and that of most other complex organisms. It is that serious. Dealing with climate change, species extinction, forest destruction, over use of pesticides, reliance on feeding ourselves by using more calories (in the form of fossil fuel) than we actually produce, and over population is not a peripheral issue. It is the central problem that we have and the extent of the change that this requires is enormous. The Greens also got it right on the big issues of war and peace. Iraq wasn't an error of one man's judgement. It was the product of a systematic arrogance about our position in the world. Invading other countries without a clear UN mandate is not what the UK should be doing with its limited resources. Significant numbers of the troops that were needed to fight this war were sacked when they came back because the same arrogance persuaded Labour that we needed to spend so much of the defence budget on Trident that there wasn't enough left of it to support the troops we might actually need with adequate supplies of modern equipment. Finally the Greens got it right on austerity. The debate should never have been about who could best cut the deficit by managing a largely unchanged economy through a short period of fairly normal recession. The debate should have been about why a dangerous collapse had taken place in an unmanaged world economy and what we should do to prevent it happening again and invest in a more sustainable future.
Things have changed significantly since Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. There are still large numbers of powerful people in the party who think that nothing much went wrong under Blair, there is no real need to fundamentally rethink their politics and that if the party stays in the bland centre then sooner or later the voters will return to them in their droves. This is a huge illusion. Voters don't forgive and forget so easily. As soon as you start talking to voters on the street you quickly discover that most people think things have gone pretty fundamentally wrong and are looking for a solution. Telling them that the last Labour government really wasn't so very bad and that we just need to get back to those days isn't going to win an election any time soon and if it did it wouldn't equip the incoming party with a remote understanding of the scale of the challenge and the tools to respond to it. Just look at France. A centre left socialist back in power has drifted aimlessly and become the most unpopular President ever. The result of trying to do more of the same has proved a breeding ground of support for Le Pen and the supposedly reformed and rebranded fascists.
By contrast there are now hundreds of thousands of new people in the Labour Party who really badly want to see that organisation change and are putting forward policies that make a lot of sense. Looking at Corbyn's latest 10 point plan there is very little that I would disagree with and much that I would enthusiastically endorse. I instinctively want to collaborate and work together with people who want to implement an agenda like that. I certainly buy the idea that progressives of all persuasions need to fight hard together against a government of extremist right wingers claiming to represent the centre ground whist they destroy the last fragments of the welfare state, ruin education for the poor, and introduce so many efficiency drives into the NHS that they make the system completely inefficient and inoperable.
And yet ....
I don't want to support a party that thinks it is sensible to build huge monolithic nuclear power projects in order to secure the support of unions who have members that might work in them. We can provide better more secure jobs for those workers and get our energy much more securely and cheaply if we decentralise power production and cut usage by improved conservation. I don't want to support a party that backs Trident. Above all I am not sure that I want to use up my remaining time and energy fighting endless battles with the powerful forces in the Labour Party who still don't think they got much wrong last time round and want the party to be seen once again as the intelligent managers of a slightly reformed status quo.
I wish many of the more sensible Corbynistas well. Not the ones who think the solution to every single problem is nationalisation. Not the ones who think the heavy industry and factories of the past can be brought back. Not the ones who think the way to do politics is to sending bullying sexist messages to anyone who disagrees with them. But certainly the ones who are thinking about what kind of society and economy we are going to need 30 years from now and how we build it. Certainly the ones who would like to see a bit of trickle up economics for a change. Certainly the ones who value public service and don't automatically assume that the free market can solve every single problem. Certainly the ones who are prepared to use the power of government effectively and recognise the need for stronger local and stronger international government.
Nevertheless I worry what will happen if we lose the impact of a separate political party that places Green issues at the centre of its agenda. I fear that too many of Corbyn's supporters see environmental issues as a nice little luxury add on to their politics that might get dumped if other more important considerations such as union members jobs clashed with them. Above all I fear what will happen within the Labour party if they lose the next election. Where would we be if we had a weakened Green Party and the New Labour old guard won power back after an election defeat that their own disunity had fomented?
I think the only sensible way forward is for people to stick with the organisations that they find the most helpful and then to collaborate actively across the boundaries of those organisations. It is stupid tribal politics that sees the members of another organisation as rivals. It is also stupid tribal politics that refuses to collaborate when elections could be won by a progressive well meaning Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid, SNP, or Green candidate but are lost because several of those parties split the vote to let in an aggressively right wing Tory. But it is not stupid tribal politics to say that there is a real need for a distinct Green voice in British politics and that isn't going away any time soon. Indeed - and don't whisper it - there are an awful lot of decent Conservative supporters who would like to see their Party conserving instead of destroying and there are quite a number of UKIP folk who are desperate for an alternative to the status quo and seriously uncomfortable with the bonkers racists in their ranks.
We need to get used to a time of collaboration across party lines. We would be very foolish to dismantle a separate Green voice at a time when it is going to become more and more obvious with every passing year that it is that voice that has correctly identified the central challenge of our times. With an excellent new leadership team elected after an amicable and well organised process by a friendly party I will be sticking with the Greens!