We’re in the last days of the election, so here are a few things to bear in mind, writes Lindsey German
1Labour is the underdog as we go into the final week. The polls vary and are narrowing slightly but at present the Tories are on course either for a small majority or to be the biggest single party in a hung parliament. The polls underestimate support for Labour as they assume that younger people (who are overwhelmingly Labour) are less likely to vote. There are also very high numbers of undecided voters, many of whom I suspect will choose voting Labour or staying at home. Ensuring that as many as possible don’t do the latter is key. Therefore turnout is key and Labour has a huge advantage in its mobilising base.
2Jeremy Corbyn is not as popular with voters as we would like him to be. Again, we shouldn't exaggerate and his ratings are slowly climbing up, but this is still an issue when canvassing. The reasons are partly that the mud thrown at him over antisemitism, Brexit, indecision and weakness, friend of terrorists etc etc has to some extent stuck. In addition, the appalling behaviour of his own MPs in many instances has magnified the criticisms. However, it is often the case that these criticisms are very superficial and can be overcome through argument and discussion. We should not be surprised at this unpopularity in another sense because he is offering a profoundly radical programme compared with anything seen in recent decades and that is bound to polarise opinion.
3In reality, the policies put forward are themselves popular. The majority of people in this country know that there needs to be serious and drastic action over public services, poverty, education, housing and health to bring standards up to the levels of countries such as Germany. The only argument that the Tories and their right wing media friends are confident of putting is that this is just a wish list of ‘free stuff’ which is unaffordable. This may cut with some people (and hasn’t been helped by Labour’s endless policy declarations) but much of it is very popular with teachers, parents, health workers, WASPI women and young people in general.
4Labour has a particular problem in some of its traditional areas which voted Leave and feel that Labour has betrayed the vote. In many of these places such as the old mining and steel areas this is seen as the latest in a series of betrayals and instances of neglect by Labour governments and councils, and the Labour vote has been eroded steadily since 1997. Labour has done too little to address this problem over the past few years. It is not helped by reference to ‘gammons’ or ‘boomers’ to denigrate older people, or to dismiss them as one reactionary mass. These are people some of whom will have voted Labour in 1945 and the 50s and who were part of the great upsurge of working class struggle in the 70s. They can be won with class arguments, not by being treated as the enemy in a culture war.
5Attempts to define this election in terms of the 2016 referendum are only partly accurate - it is clear that other issues are as, if not more, important than the Brexit debate. Indeed the relative success of the Tory slogan 'Get Brexit Done’ suggests a sense of exasperation with Brexit. Those who have insisted on defining it purely about staying in the EU have not flourished in the campaign, with the Lib Dems falling in support, the Greens and Plaid all on low figures.
6Socialists should be extremely wary about calls for tactical voting - nearly everywhere in England and Wales this means voting Labour. The call has all too often been a manoeuvre to suppress the Labour vote while boosting usually the Lib Dems. Yet they have repeatedly shown themselves to be yellow Tories and refuse to work with Corbyn so there is no advantage to giving them your vote. Calls for tactical voting to deliver a hung parliament are coming from the extreme centre who fear Johnson but who equally fear the effect of a left Corbyn government. They want to ‘moderate’ the policies and avoid taxing the rich and nationalisation.
7Most, if not all, of those MPs who switched party during the last parliament will not be MPs by Friday. The Lib Dems are quite likely to end up with fewer seats than they had a couple of months ago following defections. These MPs were given huge prominence by the media and regarded as important political players but failed to establish a new centre party and have now failed to give the Lib Dems a boost. So it hopefully looks like the end for Chuka Umunna, Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry and Mike Gapes, whose usefulness to the media was saying things the centre wanted to hear rather than the reality.
8The media has played a really terrible role in the demonising of Corbyn and the boosting of the Tories in this election and long before. It will get even worse this week. The continuing campaign against Labour over antisemitism grinds on - leading yesterday’s Sunday Times. Meanwhile, we have a new scare this time over Russian influence in the election. Nearly 100 years ago Labour lost an election following a red scare - a forged letter allegedly from the Russian revolutionary Grigory Zinoviev. This week we’re faced with headlines that Labour’s leaked document about NHS deals came from a Russian source. The bigger question of Russian interference in the election is that Boris Johnson has refused to publish the report of an investigation into just this question which is likely to highlight donations to the party from Russian oligarchs, but this gets much less publicity.
9We often look at the problems of our own side but we should also remember that the Tories are very nervous about this election. Johnson is not popular and is scared of scrutiny. It is indeed a mystery how Jeremy Corbyn manages to meet the public while being so allegedly unpopular whereas Johnson runs away from handfuls of demonstrators (and had to be coached for 5 hours before Friday’s debate by Michael Gove). Their policies aren’t popular either and they will have huge problems in the months ahead. They are also a very old and well off party, unrepresentative of the country and hobbled increasingly in future elections.
10This is the most important election since 1979 and Labour needs to win and to stop Johnson. We can do it but it will take huge levels of energy, political courage and organisation. We can do it and all efforts until 10pm Thursday need to be in this direction. But whatever the outcome on that day, we need to organise to fight either against Johnson or against the vested interests of those who want to stop a Corbyn government. The stakes are very high. The whole world is watching to see whether the country that brought us Thatcherism and Blairism can vote for a socialist to be prime minister.
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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- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December