Councillor explains 'gut-wrenching' decision to quit Labour after almost 40 years

He was a proud member of the Labour Party for 40 years.

Councillor Doug James, who represents Darlaston, quit Labour on May 1.
Councillor Doug James, who represents Darlaston, quit Labour on May 1.

Now, Doug James, who represented the party for a decade as a councillor, has explained in detail for the first time why he felt he had to walk away.

He said he felt dismayed at all political parties, but felt that Labour was failing to offer the electorate a valid alternative to the Conservatives.

He said: “I think now – what do we stand for? Nobody has got a clue, we seem to hope the Government will make such a mess of things and we’ll gain power – but that’s not positive, that’s reactionary politics.”

Councillor James took the “gut-wrenching” decision to leave the party, both nationally and locally, in May, five days before the local elections.

Councillor Doug James, who represents Darlaston, quit Labour on May 1

He said his decision was due to Labour having been split into factions, with the party struggling with infighting and offering no real alternative for people to get behind both in his home town of Walsall and nationally.

The 62-year-old, who represents Darlaston South on Walsall Council, argued Labour was “disappearing” into the past and nobody knew what it currently stood for.

Councillor James, who now sits as an independent on the council, told the Express & Star: “Basically, the Labour Party isn’t offering any solutions to local issues and nationally, we’ve got one wing who want to bring back 1945 and another who want to bring back the 1980s and Blairism.

“None of this will bring answers for local people moving forward. Labour have had two dismal national and local campaigns and things need to change. I think the Labour Party left me behind rather than me leaving it, but I will personally continue to offer solutions to local issues and will again be campaigning to be re-elected after two years – but this time as an independent councillor.”

Councillor James, who has represented the area as a Labour councillor for 10 years, said he had discussed leaving the party with friends and colleagues within the movement, including in trade unions which he has a long history with.

He said: “I’ve been involved with unions back in Dundee where I was helping them fight the closure of the Timex factory and my first job was to hand out unemployment benefit forms to the thousands of workers who were unemployed. I’ve been involved for around 40 years and it’s been great to work with people and do local campaigns.

“But we’ve got the past, the present and the future – and at the moment I don’t think any of the political parties are offering answers and solutions to problems and a vision for the future we can all share. Labour is disappearing into the past and you will not find answers there.

“It’s gut-wrenching and soul-destroying to have to make that decision to leave. Luckily, I’ve got great friends and colleagues across the Labour movement.

Councillor James, who said he would have first joined Labour aged around 23, added: “I think it’s time to accept it would have to be a change in the Labour leadership and the Labour Group in the borough before we can expect victory again in Walsall – and many people feel exactly the same. We have to move forward and focus on the positives. Darlaston has got serious problems which have not been tackled by Labour and we need to change that.”

He said he had supported Lisa Nandy MP, who is now Shadow Foreign Secretary, during her leadership bid and criticised his former party for being focused on reacting – rather than putting a vision forward.

Councillor Doug James, who represents Darlaston, quit Labour on May 1

Councillor James added: “She had a much better view of how we should be going forward but that didn’t come about. I’m sure Keir Starmer is talented, but I can’t see if he has got anything in his locker to help people in this country. I wish him all the best, but there’s just no answers to people’s problems. I think they’ve turned their focus onto focus groups and what you might call false representation – they’ve just sat there arrogantly suggesting they’re the only one who speaks for the working class.”

Councillor James said none of the two main parties were offering the right vision for people and said the Liberal Democrats had been “obliterated” in the local elections in the borough and should “stay that way”.

He said Labour was now a “huge disappointment” for people who were expecting it to “fighting for them” rather than the party’s infighting – and stressed there was issues that needed to be tackled in Darlaston, such as domestic abuse and the state of Leys Hall in the area.

He said: “In Darlaston, we’ve got community halls which are in a state and we’ve got an increase in domestic violence. We’ve still got an issue with our babies with too many infants dying at that and stage and none of these issues are being addressed.”

The move was made official by Walsall Council on May 27, which followed May’s local elections where the Conservatives gained five seats and lost none to increase the majority on the authority. Labour lost four seats and failed to gain any on a devastating day for the party. The Tories now have 37 seats at the council house, with Labour trailing behind on 22. The Liberal Democrats were wiped out completely as they lost two seats. It came as the blue tidal wave swept across the Black Country and Staffordshire.

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