Lindsey German on the persistence of the nasty party and Labour's antisemitism smears
Boris Johnson has claimed that he wants to govern as a ‘moderate and compassionate’ Tory prime minister. Unfortunately, the first day of his party’s election campaign showed exactly how moderate and compassionate his party is, with continuing scandals over Rees-Mogg and Bridgen’s insults to the Grenfell victims, the resignation of the secretary of state for Wales over his knowledge of a former aide’s ‘sabotage’ of a rape trial, and the party’s chairman squirming as he tried to defend Tory dirty tricks in doctoring a Labour shadow minister’s speech.
Johnson has also decided to show no moderation in declaring himself leader of the party of the rich. The great defender of business declared that while Jeremy Corbyn ‘sneered’ at businessmen he would ‘cheer for them.’ Maybe that goes down well with readers of the Telegraph, whose front page made a similar point in a totally hyperbolic way, but actually, most people in Britain worry about levels of inequality and are perfectly relaxed about rich people and corporations paying their fair share of tax.
Portraying himself as a cheerleader of massive profits and obscene levels of executive pay probably isn’t the best look for someone who wants to hoover up northern working class votes. To be a gallant defender of the present unparalleled levels of inequality puts him firmly on the side of immoderate and uncompassionate.
This only underlines the difficulty Johnson has in winning a majority in the election. He wants to portray himself as someone simply concerned with ‘getting Brexit done’ and so unite the whole country behind him. But in reality, he represents a tiny minority of the rich and powerful. And he will do everything to protect their power and wealth.
The problem is every time the mask slips from him or one of his ministers, they reveal the true face of the nasty party. It’s fairly obvious as well on day one of the election that it isn’t going to be just a Brexit election. The Tories are doing their best to make it one, but the state of public services, the NHS, housing, poverty and climate means they can’t. And in this situation, they are at a disadvantage.
So we are seeing Labour improving in the polls (although in most cases still well behind the Tories) and the Lib Dems and Brexit Party declining slightly. This is all good news for Labour although there is still a campaign ahead where Labour will need all its resources to defeat the Tories. Still, it is a good start.
There are also problems for the two parties who led in the Euros and are trying to boost themselves as a result. The truth is that there is little comparison between that election and the one on December 12th and already the parties are well down in the polls compared to their achievements then. So we should take their claims with more than a pinch of salt. The Lib Dems are consistently lying about their possibilities in a way which I think is backfiring on them. A Facebook friend has pointed out that 24% of the Lib Dem parliamentary party is made up of people elected as Tories! Some people will of course vote for Lib Dems on the basis of Remain, but Labour can expose them for the yellow Tories that they are.
The Brexit Party is facing major problems because of Farage’s rejection of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement, and his decision to stand candidates everywhere. Already he has lost some candidates, and is looking much less strong and confident than he was back in the summer. So far, Johnson has managed to pick up a fair bit of his expected support. That doesn’t mean the Brexit Party cannot damage both the Tories and Labour in particular constituencies – but it is not performing as it did in the Euros.
The good start for Labour and the disastrous one for Johnson shouldn’t make us complacent. In particular, I think Labour’s abandonment of its previous position of a People’s Brexit will still cost it in a number of areas. But as long as it stresses the class issues at the centre of this election, it can do much better than most predicted.
I want to return in future briefings to those predictions of doom, but let’s just say now that if Corbyn does well for the second time in a general election which we were told was hopeless for him, then there are very serious questions to answer about why the ‘experts’ keep getting it wrong.
A whiff of witch-hunting
I was very sorry to hear that Labour’s NEC has decided not to back Chris Williamson as a parliamentary candidate – effectively ensuring he will no longer be an MP. I don’t regard what he said as antisemitic, and I’m afraid this decision is to avoid another outcry from right wing MPs and the media. It will cause much resentment among Labour activists, and quite rightly, since there is no evidence of antisemitism. The various campaigns against him and others on the left have more than a whiff of witch-hunting, and Labour should have stood up against this.
There are two things we can say about antisemitism in Labour: the first is that it exists and that it has to be opposed and defeated. The second is that the issue has been turned into a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. It is now routine for politicians who have no record of fighting racism compared to that of Corbyn to declare that Labour is institutionally antisemitic or that Corbyn himself is antisemitic. It has weakened the left and Williamson has paid the price.
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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