Labour turns tide
Don Flynn writes on the General Election 2017
General Election 2017: Not yet in government, but the conditions for real advance are being forged. The bald statement of fact tells us that that the Labour Party did not win the general election of June 2017. A badly wounded Conservative Party led by a clearly dismayed and embarrassed prime minister limped over the line generated by parliamentary arithmetic and was duly awarded the prize of getting the first chance to talk to the Queen about the formation of a new government.
She, Theresa May, will not enjoy this ‘victory’ one iota. Her cocky self-assurance, spelt out so cynically in the Conservative manifesto, was that the mass of people across the UK were so demoralised by austerity, and so divided by the politics of blaming – the-poor/immigrants, that they could even be persuaded to vote for policies that were patently contrary to their interests.
The victory that Jeremy Corbyn has won from this engagement has proven in the most dramatic terms that the tide is turning and that social forces are being assembled that have served notice on the ruling elites that they are up for a fight against the poverty and hardship that has been foisted upon them for the last seven years.
This emergence of this new, popular, bloc has the revolt of the young at its heart. A generation of people being offered little more than the prospect shabby, down-at-heel ‘Uber’- type jobs, a life-time of inadequate accommodation in the exploitative private rented sector, and the burden of tens-of-thousands of pounds worth of debt for those who took on the chance that a higher education might improve their lot in life.
But this has not been the inter-generational warfare that some academics and the newspaper columnists have tried to big up. In backing Corbyn’s manifesto the millennials made it clear that they did not begrudge older citizens a decent retirement pension. It was an alliance of a now grey-haired phalanx of activists who still gripped the membership cards of trade unions as well as university students and Deliveroo gig workers who stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the Labour rallies from one end of the country to the next.
With the mood of euphoria over what has been achieved so strong we can be confident that things will not dissipate and revert to ‘normal’ at any time in the future. The sense of the victory that has been achieved will strengthen over the summer months as the Conservative Party and its allies continues to reel and the barrenness of the politics they stand for becomes ever clearer. More floundering on the part of the May camp during its engagement with the Brexit negotiations will furnish Corbyn’s team with many more targets where direct hits will do the gravest damage to the Conservative’s anti-working class cause.
Over the course of the coming summer months, Labour needs to press home its current advantage by continuing and strengthening its role as a campaigning party offer leadership to everyone who wants to fight against austerity and the version of hard Brexit which May had been planning to impose on British society.
Great progress has been made in setting out the arguments for a strong role for government in the running of the economy and the promotion of the welfare of the majority of the population. Labour needs to show that its commitment to ending the forced indebtedness of young people in education and vocational training was not just a ploy to win votes, but something it will continue to fight for as a reinvigorated opposition.
It needs to argue that the prospect of hundreds of thousands of new jobs offering good careers and decent pay, as well as an end to the housing crisis of young people is not something that depends on the sprouting of a magic money tree, but is there to be delivered by economic policies that raise productivity and rigorously pursued measures of progressive taxation.
Action will continue to be needed to defend a fully public NHS, involving trades unions, professional bodies and the community-based campaigns which have kept this vital issue on the agenda for so long.
And then there is Brexit. Corbyn has been criticised by some for a failure to make it a point of principle to oppose the triggering of Article 50 as a matter of principle. But the election outcome suggests that he has been playing a much cannier game. One of the most important outcomes of the campaign of the past few weeks is the sign that Labour has been able to win back a large segment of working-class voters who backed Brexit.
The refusal to make a fetish out of Parliamentary procedures, particular in circumstances where the rituals of that arcane palace have closed down all prospects of a win, has meant that Corbyn has been able to stand tall in the eyes of all those who despaired of the idea that the EU can be made to work in their interests, but who are savvy enough to know that a really bad Brexit poses even greater dangers than remaining within its neo-liberal embrace.
Corbyn’s team will have every opportunity to score big hits as what we can be sure will be an abject performance by Conservative negotiators will become apparent to all. But the need to be clearer about what they want from a new relationship with the counties that remain within the EU.
We think that should include a commitment, not just to assure EU nationals already here that their rights in the UK will be respected, but straightforward support for the continuation right of free movement of people as it has developed over recent decades. The messages that need to be got across couldn’t be clearer: migrants are not responsible for any of the hardship experienced by UK natives, and the right to move over national frontiers has worked in favour of the empowerment of working class people across history.
The mantra of support for the single market needs a more critical dimension. This is a market designed to reap more rewards for interests which are already winners and to hold those of the weaker economies in check. We need be more sceptical of the single market which is structured by the euro and policed by the often brutal ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, European Commission and the IMF.
Labour’s commentary on the Brexit process should set out the need to maintain the free movement of people in its agreement with EU, but also push for an end to the restraints which currently exist on countries participating in the single market, either as full members or connected through the EEA and association agreement arrangements. The positive element of Brexit is that it holds out the possibility of an active role for the democratic state in the running of the economy, and Labour should press for concessions in that direction.
Keen interest in what Labour has achieved these past few weeks extends a long way beyond the population of these shores. Our final point is that Corbyn and his closest allies in the leadership of the party should start thinking about ways of winning support amongst fellow socialist, trade union, civic groups and the progressive movement in general right the way across Europe (indeed, beyond).
We can now be confident that Labour will be forming the government of Britain sometime in the near future and the oppositional social movements it has fostered will provide the basis for the implementation of a programme of radical, democratic socialist reform that is truly fit for the 21st century. Our chance of success in the medium and longer term means that this cannot be advanced as a project t to be completed in just one country. Labour is in a good position to inspire all those who are experiencing the burden of austerity and neoliberal version of free market capitalism that is rampant across the world. Every moment spend in building this international solidarity in support of democratic socialism will reap dividends in the future.