With a snap election in prospect, Peter Kenyon suggests a way forward for Labour
Labour people have spoken. Jeremy Corbyn has an even stronger mandate. His supporters have shown superior organisational capacity. Now, what? Corbyn’s broad-church shadow cabinet Mark II is landing blows on the Tories. But the public is still disinclined to trust Labour. How can that be? For Labour to have any hope of unseating the Tories and form the next government, it has to shift public opinion pretty damn quick. Its prime target has to be through Brexit. The result of the EU referendum stands – no question. However, it is becoming obvious to this correspondent that calling the referendum was a monumental mistake by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Regrettably, the majority of voters don’t seem to see it in those terms. Nor more worryingly do some Labour MPs. On the positive side, there are straws in the wind, three months on, public opinion about Brexit is wavering. Sterling’s collapse is having an impact, not just on prices but public sentiment. Rocketing costs of holidays abroad, and rising petrol prices at the pumps are too easily blamed on those nasty bankers and greedy multinationals. So far the Conservatives and their new leader are getting off ‘scot-free’ (as indeed the reduced UK will be if Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has her way). Labour’s job in Parliament is to to calmly prepare the Tories for burial by the electorate. That can’t be achieved by wasting time trying to seek the best Brexit deal. The best deal is to Remain.
A cunning plan is need to encourage enough Tories to agree, thus depriving Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May of her slender majority in the House of Commons. Her Party Conference speech setting a date for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty activating the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was her ‘Black Wednesday’ moment. Responsibility for every company announcement of job losses, transfers out of the UK, investment plan shelved has to be laid firmly on May’s shoulders and those of the Conservative Party. Unlike in 1992, when Labour in opposition relied on the mainstream media (MSM) to get across its message – you can’t trust the Tories with the economy – Corbyn and Labour Party HQ will need to mobilise its 600,000 plus members to shift public opinion faster. Brexit is just the latest in a long list of Conservative blunders that are impoverishing the majority of Britons. A massive public re-education programme is needed to open the eyes of at least five million extra people to vote and vote Labour in the next General Election, or switch their vote to Labour. Under first past the post (FPTP) voting for Westminster Parliaments, there is scope for a ‘Progressive Alliance’ to form the next government as discussed elsewhere in this issue of Chartist. That risks detracting from the urgent work of the moment – creating the messages that will help family, friends, and neighbours change the political weather. Some awkward truths have to be acknowledged.
In a reckless attempt to cleanse the Conservative Party of its own canker, Cameron gambled the country in a referendum. May appears set on leaving the EU. Too many Labour MPs appear supine in the face of that ill-fated vote. Business leaders are not so squeamish. This is the point that business may be able to assist Labour to bury the Tories
Jeremy Corbyn is seen by too many people as a ‘bogey-man’, just as ‘socialism’ remains anathema to many. The fact that the UK has enjoyed the benefits of socialist healthcare for over three generations has simply passed over the heads of the the vast majority of voters. Britons are engaged in a nation-wide cutting off-nose-to-spite-face exercise. Most support policies advocated by Labour until they discover err….they are Labour policies, or worse, Corbyn policies…aghhhh. It is doubtful whether, even in polite conversation, those ‘truths’ can be confronted and overcome by Labour supporters. Converstational experiments suggest that reframing Labour’s mission, as Corbyn is doing, referencing re-nationalising the NHS, restoring good free education for all, ensuring more secure employment and affordable housing – the sorts of rights his generation and mine enjoyed resonates well. Yes, rights – not privileges. Though in the light of how governments have behaved in recent years that is how universal healthcare, housing and education are too readily perceived. Former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spawned the rot by reintroducing the household spending model into national political dialogue – private sector spending good/private sector spending bad, government has to live within its means. Then she sugared the poison pill with ‘Right to Buy’ – an assault on affordable/council housing which has continued relentlessly ever since. Voters loved her as she appealed to their venal side again and again, privatising nationalised industries offering shares to the masses at knockdown prices. So today, with the exception of very modest programmes of new build by some Labour councils, social housing as we all knew it is being systematically sold-off under ruthless Tory legislation aimed at enriching their supporters even more. Conservative cancer has infected every aspect of the economy and public life, finally reaching its heart – membership of the European Union.
In a reckless attempt to cleanse the Conservative Party of its own canker, Cameron gambled the country in a referendum. May appears set on leaving the EU. Too many Labour MPs appear supine in the face of that ill-fated vote. Business leaders are not so squeamish. This is the point that business may be able to assist Labour to bury the Tories. MSM is not the slightest bit interested in our ideological ambitions. Editors like good headlines. May’s cavalier attitude to the economy, people’s jobs and living standards is setting the scene for a possible change in the political sentiment. Her faltering responses at Prime Ministers’ Question Time in the House of Commons, an inability to be decisive deliciously portrayed in a very short video clip for social media by Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson and her haughty-style satirised by cartoonists such as our own Martin Rowson could be the start of her undoing as a credible leader. Her weaknesses needed to be tested vigorously both in Parliament and on the doorstep. Every opportunity must be taken to encourage doubts among Tory MPs about the wisdom of invoking Article 50, and build support for a Parliamentary vote that will force a General Election as quickly as possible to end the uncertainty facing both the UK and EU-27 economies. Latest polling by COMRES for The Independent newspaper in mid-October found that the British public think a good trade deal with the EU is more important that cutting immigration. May was marginalised at the Brussels EU Council summit the following week.
The EU-27 appear determined not to offer any hints of their negotiating stance ahead of the UK reaching a point of not return by invoking Article 50. In the meantime, business leaders especially bankers are getting impatient. Some political commentators rightly are chronicling varying degrees of indifference to the possible departure of casino banking from the UK to Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris or Luxembourg. There is however a big snag with this casual disregard for the nation’s finances; namely, tax receipts. The Labour Party is united in wanting to rebalance the economy – banking reform is needed to fund investment in future jobs and growth. But the speed and imminence of banking jobs and functions being relocated outside the UK risks a possible massive loss of tax revenue for the UK Treasury. At the same time Conservative austerity is cutting more savagely into the provision of public services across all sectors. Under the Tories there is no prospect of the investment needed to avert the risk of recession, let alone offer more secure and sustainable employment. With less than a month before the annual Autumn Statement about the state of UK finances scheduled for 23 November, Labour should be using every parliamentary opportunity to highlight the damage Brexit is doing to jobs and people’s living standards. Rhetorical questions should be carefully framed. The Conservative Brexiteers need to be forced to admit the costs for most people of their reckless gamble. The options need to be narrowed through public discourse so voters can see unequivocally that the best option is Remain, and quickly. At the same time the idea that the economy is not safe in Tory hand needs to bedded in the minds of voters, as Labour’s plans are seeded as a viable alternative. Corbyn’s 10-point vision should be an easy sell. It is more reminiscent of the One Nation Conservatism that boasted you have never had it so good, than the red-blooded socialism that characterised the 1945 Attlee government. The most difficult part of a snap election readiness strategy is the messaging to add credibility to a Corbyn-led Labour Party, while the electorate wakes up to the idea that the Conservatives led by May are not fit to govern.
A chorus of Tory MPs opposed to Brexit because of its kamikazi impact on the economy should be sufficient to persuade the Labour Party shadow cabinet to use its Parliamentary time to attempt to bring the government down. Though carrying the SNP in the House of Commons with it into the lobby to defeat the government would be a challenge. Threaded through this strategy is a presumption of unity within the Parliamentary Labour Party. At the time of writing Labour’s right-wing extremists reported as ‘moderates’ were wishing Corbyn dead in the columns of the Sunday Times. The concerns of those who voted to leave are never going to be addressed by Brexit, and Labour should be making that case. They are only going to be answered by government intervention directing investment into neglected areas. No Tory government is every going to contemplate such action. That needs to be a key part of the messaging on the doorstep that should be activiated now. Nor is any Tory government going to require firms to invest in the skills training to enable local people to secure local employment as and when it is available. As for affordable housing, forget it, no Tory government is ever going to allow your local council to borrow money to build enough Council houses even to replace those that have been lost since RTB was introduced. If you happen to live in London, the Tories claim an affordable home is one costing up to £480K. Doh! How much do you have to earn to afford such a dwelling? At 3x income that is £160K a year. According to latest ONS figures median income in London is £34K. Wake up, people, you are being conned by the Conservatives. Clue? Their politics is in their name. No where in this strategy to bury Toryism has the subject of immigration been mentioned. Why not? As Corbyn himself recognises immigration is a consequence of human activity. None of us would be here without it. As discussed elsewhere in this issue of Chartist, we need more not fewer incomers. Bring on the next General Election.