Lindsey German begins the assessment of a major defeat
There is no way round it. This is a catastrophic result for Labour and will have major ramifications. Labour lost many of its traditional working-class seats and failed to break through in others such as Hastings and Rye and Chingford and Woodford Green. It lost a number of very good MPs most notably Laura Pidcock and Dennis Skinner.
The Tories have a big majority and working-class people, including many who voted for them, will pay the price. The party held on to nearly all its seats and took many that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. This has led to a worse result than most people, including myself, thought. Only in Scotland was there an alternative picture, where the SNP took seats off other parties and is heading towards independence.
The left which has been so galvanised by Corbyn and Corbynism – and which has worked so hard in this election – has failed and the experience is incredibly bitter. People are absolutely gutted, as they should be. Record numbers of young people turned out. They worked day after day for a different result and they embodied a sense of hope for change.
Why didn’t this campaign – which offered policies that would bring real material improvement to the lives of millions – succeed?
There is one overwhelming reason and it is absolutely glaring. Johnson’s slogan of ‘get Brexit done’ cut through everything else. People who voted Leave deserted Labour in huge numbers. Many of them voted for the Brexit Party or didn’t vote, and some directly backed the Tories, even when led by a charlatan like Johnson who cares nothing for their real interests.
The reason Labour lost was because of this. Its vote plummeted from 2017 when its policy was to respect the referendum vote. It had a radical manifesto then and it had Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The difference yesterday was that Labour abandoned that policy in favour of a second referendum. This was a policy forced on Labour by its right wing and unfortunately accepted by too many on the left. Corbyn and conference delegates did their best to limit the impact of switching to Remain, but the damage was done. Left shadow cabinet members boasted that they would campaign for Remain in the referendum, thus branding the leadership as Remain.
The People’s Vote Campaign played a big part in forcing this shift and was an amalgam of Tories, the Lib Dems and Blairites like Alastair Campbell. These people claimed, supported by many on the left like the Another Europe is Possible campaign, that they only had to worry about Remain voters and that most Leave voters wouldn’t vote Labour anyway. Well, they haven’t now. And Brexit will follow in the coming weeks.
The lesson of this is that you can’t just trash people’s votes and expect them not to notice. On 12th December that became abundantly clear, and many good candidates have paid the price.
Naturally, the Blairites who have contributed to this defeat are blaming one person – Jeremy Corbyn. The knives were out straight away, with right wingers like Alan Johnson launching a huge attack on Corbyn.
There is no doubt that he was unpopular among many Labour voters in this election. One major reason for this was the policy over Brexit, which made him look as if he wasn’t sticking to his promises. The lies about antisemitism were repeated time after time, and although he apologised on a number of occasions, this just fed a frenzy and witch-hunting atmosphere.
The media also played a huge role in demonising him as a terrorist sympathiser, pacifist, antisemite. These lies were reinforced through an overwhelmingly hostile media which followed Johnson and Dominic Cummings’ agenda to the letter.
It is a tragedy for working class people that some of this mud stuck and led to the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn, while a real racist and liar is now secure in Downing Street.
It’s worth also stating the pernicious role of the Lib Dems here, especially the hubristic Jo Swinson who deservedly lost her seat. The former Tory turned Lib Dem Sam Gyimah only succeeded in allowing the Tories back in Kensington despite a heroic fight from Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, who lost by a very narrow margin. He was boosted by lying tactical voting sites – let’s not hear any more about this useless tactic in the future.
Where do we go from here?
It is obvious that the left has to look very seriously at its strategy, and that this has to shift from parliament, which has never been its most favourable terrain, to using our strength to mobilise in the unions, in campaigns and in resisting the vicious attacks on working class people that will come from a Johnson government.
This requires developing an analysis which rejects the false divisions of Leave and Remain and centres on class issues. Incidentally, this means rejecting some of the more insulting approaches to working class people as gammons, boomers or just plain old. Any resurgent left in the future has to find ways of winning its policies not just with a highly politicised minority but much deeper in the working class.
The many thousands within Labour who support the left will be faced with an assault not just on Corbyn but Corbynism. The centre will try to regain control and is already blaming socialism for the defeat. There is life for the left after this, but it will not be centred in the internal structures of Labour. Those of us who have always argued for independent left organisation must show that we can organise and campaign for those issues that have so motivated the Corbynite left.
There are questions which can’t be dealt with immediately. I always had a fear that the worst outcome on the 12th might lead to the end of Labour as national party. This result points towards that in some ways. There are huge implications for that and for Scotland with its result.
Johnson has won a major victory, but he faces troubles ahead – not least over the economy. He has made many promises which he will not keep, and we know he will not represent the interests of the working-class people who have elected him.
The left has to dust itself down, begin to develop an analysis of why this has happened and then urgently begin the task of organising to fight against the worst Tory government for decades.
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’.
More articles from this author
- The battle is on: and the left can’t win in Labour - weekly briefing
- The movement that can dump Trump – weekly briefing
- The good, the bad and the ugly – weekly briefing
- The looming danger of a US-China military confrontation
- Boris Johnson, statues and staying in the streets
- Black Lives Matter, the sixties and socialist organisation - video
- A turning point against racism – weekly briefing