As part of our series on the future of the left in and out of Labour, Laura Smith outlines a path forward
Remaining optimistic in the current political climate can indeed be challenging. There is little point burying our heads in the sand and wishing the situation would just go away, or worse, remain in denial about how difficult things currently are for those of us who identify as socialists.
It is also pointless to try and move forward without acknowledging and understanding the mistakes that were made during the last 5 years. It would, however, be a travesty if those of us who have fought for a radical agenda to transform the economy, reduce inequality and speak up for the voiceless and weakest in our society, just rolled over and said ‘well, we gave it our best shot.’
- Firstly, I firmly believe that we have the answers to tackle the social and economic challenges that we face, especially if we are to save the planet from climate change – the biggest threat to us all and something everybody should be dedicated to finding long-lasting solutions for
- Secondly, we must not let those who say ‘Corbyn lost and so it is proof people don’t want radical change’ control the narrative, rewrite the facts and allow things to remain pretty much as they are
- Thirdly, the left has to stop waiting for the Labour Party alone to provide the direction of travel
To those still in the Labour Party, like me, I would simply say channel your energy into achieving positive change, and recognise that that transformation will not be won arguing on Twitter or getting angry at the latest comment or action from an establishment stooge designed to suck all of your energy away from the important task in hand. We must stop reacting constantly to the attacks and instead remain focused and steadfast in our long-term strategy and goals.
Learn from our mistakes
Far too much focus is given to the tittle-tattle of Parliament, instead of organising and educating ourselves to push for the change our communities need. Quite frankly if we continue waiting for Parliament to offer the solutions we may as well all give up now.
This is where the Corbyn movement made a huge mistake. Many thought that a socialist leader in Parliament was enough. It never was and never will be. We the working class must be the ones to drive the narrative and if we are to do that, we need those disconnected with the political system to feel that their voice counts, and we must get organised.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and I know that finding where to start is difficult when the task seems so enormous and the battle wounds still so raw. Lockdown puts new challenges in our way with the reality being physical meetups out of the question, and more time than ever on social media and Zoom.
Despite these challenges, the positive shoots of the future are starting to spring up across the country, and with hundreds of thousands of people now politically engaged thanks in part to the Corbyn movement and because of the radical set of ideas for how Britain can face the future, we can rest assured socialism is not going back into the box.
In fact, the pandemic has shone a light on exactly why the country needs to change direction if it is to provide for the people, and with trade union membership increasing now is the time to offer an alternative.
It is obvious to many that capitalism is in a prolonged crisis. Its only survival technique is to use austerity to bear down on public services, and people’s incomes – we know that the plan is to put a public sector pay freeze on those very keyworkers that the government was clapping not so long ago.
This is on top of the existing cuts to public services, as well as the attacks on pensions over the last decade. Working people have lost something like £433 billion in wages and salaries whilst at the same time, the richest 1,000 people in Britain have gained £588 billion. How much longer will people put up with this? Especially now as redundancies increase and child poverty grows by the day.
As part of No Holding Back, alongside Ian Lavery MP and Jon Trickett MP, I was proud to recently launch the report, The Challenge For Labour, which consists of our analysis after listening to thousands in the Labour movement over a lockdown national Zoom tour, with clear suggestions of how we move forward.
Many of the people involved were from areas that had lost Labour supporters over the last twenty years, resulting in Labour losing or hanging on by a thread to the Parliamentary seat in 2019.
The discussions we had clearly showed that the issues of greatest salience in these communities related to people’s economic situation, the finance of public services – above all health and education – and access to decent housing at a price which is not out of reach. The left has the answers to these problems, but we must put the groundwork in to get people on board.
The report explains that we must abandon managerialism in favour of movement building by new methods of community organising, especially but not exclusively in alienated communities.
We need to identify new generations of community leaders deeply rooted in their local areas and we must empower people to fight for the change that they need and want to see, in order to create a movement for social justice; and, therefore, to ensure that working-class people, and others from diverse backgrounds, can become a new generation of political leaders.
The pressure that this would put on our rule-makers is already clear to see when you look at the accomplishment of Marcus Rashford fighting child poverty, or the Black Lives Matter campaign.
During the lockdown, I have also been taking part in a political education group, The Beehive, over Zoom. It is based in the North West with a focus on accessible Political Education for working-class people, because it is blatantly apparent, especially in light of the last five years that a deeper understanding of history and learning from what has happened before is desperately required in order to give people the tools to then tackle the reasons for injustice.
We need to build socialist political education projects in working-class communities in Britain working hand in hand with the trade union movement and politically organised community groups to empower people to become political actors and change-makers with the skills, and political understanding necessary to retake control over their lives and the economic destinies of their communities, through the creation of a more just, democratic and sustainable economy beyond capitalism and the politics necessary to bring it about.
If we as socialists can focus on these two areas – political education and community organising – then I am convinced that we can eventually achieve the transformation that so many in this country desperately need to see.
We have to shape the future together and, yes, be aware that it will take time, energy and perseverance – but what is at stake is too great for us to do nothing. So as Tony Benn said: ‘toughen up, bloody toughen up’, and as Laura Smith says,
Stop fighting on Twitter and start organising!
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Laura Smith is a Councillor for Cheshire East and is the former Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich