Why I have left the Conservative Party - Joseph Gellman
In March 2017, I joined the Conservative Party as an enthusiastic 16-year-old, ready to campaign for a country led by a government that promoted the values of liberal conservatism. In July 2019, I resigned my membership of the Conservative Party as an alienated 18-year-old, feeling politically homeless.
Naturally, there will always be individuals in a political party who try to make you uncomfortable. As a former member of the neoliberal wing of the party, any position I took would be met, by some, with insults. If I defended Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, I would be accused of being a “CCHQ shill” (CCHQ refers to the Conservative Campaign Headquarters). Alternatively, if I strayed from the party line on matters such as drug policy, I was accused of being a ‘fake Conservative’ and told to join the Liberal Democrats.
However, it is unfair to use these individuals as a complete representation of the party. The majority of members I came into contact with were very welcoming. From my local association, to other young politicos on Twitter. This therefore begs the question; why did I leave? The answer is simple; Boris Johnson.
There are many reasons why Boris Johnson should never have become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. Firstly, his wasteful spending on vanity projects as Mayor of London, such as on the design of the failed Garden Bridge, showed that he was far from a fiscal conservative. Furthermore, his time as Foreign Secretary and his incompetence in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe showed that he does not possess the base level of skills required to hold the most senior political office of Prime Minister.
This is why I did not support Johnson in the leadership contest; but it does not explain why I have now left the party. I have no aversion to being in a political party led by someone I have some political disagreements with. After all, the Conservative Party is broad-church and encompasses multiple factions; whether they be one-nation conservatives, neoliberals, or traditional conservatives. I disagreed with Theresa May on matters such as the sugar tax and internet regulation; yet remained a member of the party because we had the same overarching political outlook. Furthermore, I can stay in a party led by someone who has made mistakes in the past. Theresa May certainly made mistakes as Home Secretary, but I was able to campaign for a government led by her. So, you may ask, why is Johnson the exception?
The answer to this is simple; I will not be a member of a political party led by someone who has been consistently racist and Islamophobic.
In his time as a politician and journalist, Boris Johnson has made numerous comments that are very troubling. He has called black people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, said Muslim women look like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. The fact that this list is only a few of many examples should be a serious cause for concern for anyone who stands up against hatred towards marginalised groups.
The fact that the Conservative Party elected a man who had made all of these comments (and more) led me to believe that I could no longer consciously remain a member of the Conservative Party; leading me to take the hard decision to resign my membership. I enjoyed my time in the party but felt there was no other option. If you do not stand up to fight hatred against others, you should not expect others to stand up to fight hatred that you face. As a young Jew, I am all too aware of the importance of snuffing out prejudice before it can truly rear its ugly head.
For those who will criticise my decision, I want you to take Johnson’s comments, and imagine if Jeremy Corbyn had made an equivalent comment about Jews. What would you say if Corbyn said Jews had big noses? What would you say if Corbyn made fun of the way Jewish men and women dress? What would you say if Corbyn had blamed Israel for rising anti-Semitism? You would almost definitely be up in arms, and rightly so. Now ask yourself why you are not up in arms about an almost direct equivalent, about Islam and Muslims, rather than about Jews.
I would one day like to re-join the Conservative Party, under happier circumstances; but there are only two situations where I would do so. The first involves Boris Johnson losing the leadership and being replaced by someone who has not made the vile comments that Johnson has. The second involves Johnson changing as a person. I accept that all people have the ability to reform their character and change for the better. To his credit, Johnson has already done this on the matter of LGBTQ+ rights. Having previously made homophobic comments, he demonstrated that, through his actions, such as voting to repeal section 28 and being one of the first prominent Conservatives to back same-sex marriage that he could reform his character. If Johnson can reform his character on matters such as Islamophobia, I will re-join the party. To do this, Johnson needs to call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party, and respond to it effectively.
Until then, I will remain neutral in terms of partisanship, whilst continuing the fight for a truly liberal conservative country.
For all those who remain in the Conservative Party, I urge you to fight against hatred wherever you see it. I hope to be back with you all soon, in a party that remembers what it truly stands for, a society that includes all groups, regardless of how small a minority they are.
written by Joseph Gellman