Red Flag Editorial Board June 9, 2017
A massive turnout of young and working class voters has inflicted a shock defeat on the Tories, with a surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leftwing Labour programme denying Theresa May her majority and mandate for hard Brexit.
May miscalculated big time. The Tories now have to cling on to power by relying on the Democratic Unionists, the Northern Irish protestant sectarians whose bigotry is even more repulsive than that of the Conservatives.
Far from destroying Labour as an electoral force, the election saw the party’s manifesto, For The Many, Not The Few, seized on by millions of people as a meaningful alternative to decades of Tory and Blairite neoliberalism.
Huge turnouts and margins were delivered in Labour safe seats. Former Tory safe seats like Battersea turned red. Even gold-plated Tory seats in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster saw dramatic swings to Labour.
This fantastic effort is the fruit of a genuinely people-powered politics. All our enemies said Corbyn was an electoral liability and a weak leader. The Tory press deluged Corbyn with smears and waged a systematic campaign of bullying and vilification against his allies, most disgracefully against Diane Abbott. Many Labour candidates refused to mention Corbyn’s name, and ran relentlessly local, personal campaigns focusing on their individual record.
But our opponents underestimated the strength of Corbyn’s convictions and the extent to which they resonated amongst, and are shared by, millions of ordinary people. That’s why hundreds of thousands of Labour members have run a campaign that dramatically shifts the balance of forces in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of apathetic non-voters were encouraged and convinced to vote.
The signs have been there for years. The student movement, the mass public sector strikes, the emergence of DPAC, campaigns to save local hospitals, and Jeremy Corbyn’s two elections as leader of the Labour Party all demonstrated that a leftwing programme would have wide appeal.
The minute Labour’s manifesto was released, the steady uptick in Labour support turned into a real surge, because for the first time in decades, Labour proudly stood apart from, and against, the Tories.
It was the clear red water between the two sides which enabled Corbyn’s team and supporters in Momentum to run a different kind of campaign, one that placed real emphasis on ordinary Labour members persuading others to vote and putting the party’s alternative across.
The break with the past was best expressed by the emphasis Corbyn placed on engaging with people in the flesh. Far from being wary of addressing large crowds or impromptu meetings, Corbyn’s campaign stops actively encouraged people to turn up and vividly expressed the mass character behind Labour’s newfound support.
Corbyn held 90 meetings and open air rallies during the campaign. 10,000 came to hear him speak in Gateshead. Thousands turned up in Birmingham where his speech was live screened to rallies in six other cities across the country. In Leeds, Warrington, Watford and Harrow unprecedented crowds turned up. Every rally saw huge enthusiasm from members and voters, particularly young people who turned out in record numbers to vote for Labour.
The Guardian’s Welsh correspondent said, “Corbyn’s crowd was so big in Colwyn Bay that nobody could believe that many people lived in Colwyn Bay”. Matt Rodda, who overturned a 6,000 Tory majority to take Reading East, thanked Corbyn and said his visit to the constituency had tipped the balance in the final days of the campaign.
These types of campaigning methods, long disdained by political strategists, work because they give people not just the chance to see political leaders for themselves, but to sense their own power by being involved in a collective movement with so many other people. Combine these methods with policies ‘for the many, not the few’ and the foundations of a truly powerful movement are laid.
And this movement is changing attitudes. Its potential power frightens our opponents. Just look at the way the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has changed her tone towards Corbyn during the election. A change is coming and those who belittled and patronised Corbyn and his supporters are going to change their tune now that ordinary people have intruded into political life.
So we have a hung parliament with the Tories forced to go cap in hand to the ultra-reactionary DUP. In the last few weeks, 100, 000 people have joined the Labour Party. We have a leader and membership that has come out of the other side of the struggle with a massive membership and a powerful drive amongst young people for radical change.
There is no strong and stable leadership in sight for the foreseeable future. With the Tories terrified by the very real prospect of another general election soon, the coming months will be turbulent and pregnant with possibilities for an emboldened and confident labour movement prepared to press our advantage.
The popular support for Labour’s policies has been proven at the ballot box. Now we need to ensure those policies don’t remain paper aspirations but are given a real life of their own by mobilising the youth, the working class and the labour movement to campaign for them.
Building strong campaigns for the living wage, council housing, in defence of migrants’ rights is the most effective way of capitalising on Labour’s election campaign and laying the basis for a future Labour government.
Labour’s success was based on breaking with the failed obsession with the ‘centre-ground’ and actually delivering a manifesto that will improve the lives and prospects of the working class and create a better society for all.
We need the Labour Party in parliament to be the voice of a labour movement that is taking action in the workplaces and the streets. Corbyn should create a shadow cabinet that recognises this so we can get on with stepping up our common struggle without unnecessary compromises with the right.
Over the next few weeks we need to ensure that the energy of the election campaign is directed into the struggle for Labour’s policies. Building a powerful campaign in every community, fighting for Labour’s objectives is the best way to resist Tory attacks and continue to generate support for Labour so that, come election time, Labour’s manifesto is identified with a powerful and confident working class movement capable of delivering change.
Labour MPs must be the tribune of the new movement that elected them to represent its interests. That means voting against every reactionary measure the Tories propose, every war, every attack on civil liberties, including any proposals for hard Brexit.
CLPs and branches should use the potential of the new membership by launching campaigns on the streets not just against Tory attacks, but to fight for the policies in Labour’s manifesto – on wages, education, housing and the NHS.
The Labour left should learn from previous mistakes. Momentum and other Labour Party left groups should organise open meetings for Labour members and supporters to discuss a strategy for securing more socialist policies at conference, democratising the party and delivering anti-cuts manifestos and candidates before next year’s local elections.
If the Tories cobble together a government, we need to know senior Labour figures are dedicated to opposing it instead of Labour’s leader. Tom Watson and Iain McNicol’s war against Corbyn and the membership has completely discredited them. They should resign their posts and allow members to elect representative and loyal replacements for the struggles to come.