Fighting to win and shifting the terrain on to our issues are the left’s urgent tasks, writes Lindsey German
A left Labour leader, popular among the party’s very large membership, but blamed for everything that goes wrong by his own MPs and council leaders, the subject of repeated sneering from most sections of the media, told that he and he alone is the problem, faced with a bad set of local election results and with the daunting prospect of a general election in just over four weeks. That is the unique situation in which we are now.
What can help to turn around the situation in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour find themselves, in just over four weeks? This is the question on all our minds after the local election results on Friday. I have written on these before but whichever way you cut it, they are not good. Projections put the Tories at 11 points ahead which would give them a majority of 48 in the general election. While this is being regarded as a shoo-in for Empress Theresa on June 8th, it is by no means the inevitable outcome, and there is a great deal that can be done between now and then to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Firstly, we should assess where we think we are. The Tories are benefiting from the collapse of the Ukip vote, and are projecting themselves as strong in a time of uncertainty over Brexit. Labour has, in my opinion, tried to put forward a sensible policy on Brexit which stresses rights of EU citizens, workers’ rights, and protection of health and education, but it is obvious that in some Labour areas Leave voters are going for the Tories (or rather Theresa May because the Tory brand is virtually invisible on their literature). The Lib Dems on last week’s showing are not picking up much in the way of Labour Remain voters, and are not looking at much of a revival. Indeed some Lib Dem seats in cities may be vulnerable to Labour if there is a serious push on them, for example in Cardiff.
It is clear that there are other issues on which people are voting, such as the NHS and education, which Labour has far more popular policies on. However there is a limit to the extent this can be won just on policies, since the Tories are putting forward so few and are trying to make this all about leadership. There is also a limit to seeing elections as being the main way of changing consciousness.
We have endured many years of austerity, backed up by right wing ideas from government and the media in terms of migration and scapegoating, and a stress on individual self-advancement, not collective change. There has been a very low level of collective struggle, in particular strikes, at the same time. This leaves working people isolated and open to some right wing arguments. This will not be overcome in weeks or without the struggles which do change people’s ideas.
But we can use the election to begin to alter those ideas. My suggestion for the next month would be, yes, good policies but a much less cautious way of getting them across. Corbyn won two leadership campaigns on the basis of mass campaigning including large public street rallies. These must be a feature of the next four weeks in order to explain what he stands for, to cohere his existing supporters and to build confidence to go out and mobilise. These rallies would also stand in contrast to the invisibility of May’s public campaign. If Jeremy Corbyn is so unpopular, how come hundreds flock to hear him speak and that he is prepared to turn up in public and deal with any criticism face to face?
A safety first manifesto and campaign will not do this, although he will undoubtedly be under pressure not to do street campaigning. There is nothing to lose from breaking from the routine in these next weeks and speaking openly and honestly about what a left leader really stands for. Canvassing door to door is always important to Labour, and must be done, but it then becomes all too often a routine experience. Building up a head of steam around him and his supporters, taking the fight to the Tories among local communities, is a way of breaking down the isolation in which politics is all too often presently conducted and challenging the arguments about leadership and what the Tories plan to do.
There is a real fight on here, and we have to use every weapon to win it.
It’s all relative for the rich
The policy to raise more tax from those earning £80k or above (the top 5% of the population) is a good start, although doesn’t by any means take tax rates back to what they were even under previous Tory governments. But already the outcry is palpable. Sunday Telegraph: Labour hammers £80k workers, one Sunday morning commentator - £80k not much in London. Actually, it is nearly 3 times the average London wage, let alone outside. Someone else asked whether it would mean that doctors and school heads would have to pay more. The answer to that is yes, and they can afford to. At present, the poor pay less in income tax, but the overall tax take as a proportion of their wages is 38%. Why should they pay a penny more, and why shouldn’t those in the top 5% pay a fairer share?
I think it would be good if we had more reminders about how little most of us actually earn because it obviously comes as news to most journalists. I was once interviewed for a BBC programme on class, and the reporter told me that he had interviewed girls at Roedean (a top boarding school) none of whom thought they were rich. The trouble is, they compared themselves with the even smaller number above them in the wealth rankings and didn’t look at anyone else. Reminds me of these commentators and experts. Their key argument against it also seems to be that it wouldn’t make much difference. So why not do it then?
The sound of sharpening knives
The behaviour of Labour’s right and centre towards Jeremy Corbyn has been disgraceful from the very beginning. They are now openly blaming him for all the party’s losses, even though the decline of Labour’s vote goes back decades. There are obviously mixed responses to him among Labour voters – hardly surprising given the constant attacks on him for nearly two years – but do these people do anything to counter a negative view?
Looks to me like some of them are encouraging it. They are already sharpening their knives for after the election if it goes badly. This is because they want to bury any idea of socialism as dominant – let alone leading – the Labour Party. They want a Blair/Mandelson return to centre politics with their love of neoliberalism and war. Jeremy Corbyn is a constant reminder to them that most Labour members don’t agree.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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