This election was a big defeat for the Labour Party. There will be much debate and questioning in its aftermath. The enemies of socialism will do their best to use the election result to try and destroy the socialist message.
Did Labour promise too much?
Britain is the sixth richest country in the world. The Attlee government could afford to introduce and fund the NHS directly after the Second World War. There are several countries in the world with free Broadband.
Labour was the only party in this election with a property costed program. It served to raise the aspirations especially of young people. None of the thousands of young people who went out to vote Labour think that student grants and free university tuition are “too much” because those rights existed 50 years ago and society has gone forward, become more productive, since then.
On many doorsteps where we had conversations people agreed that the rich are getting richer while the rest get poorer and if the billionaires were made to pay their taxes then Labour’s aims are by no means far-fetched. It is estimated that £130billion goes missing in unpaid tax by the super rich.
Labour promised to create a million jobs in green energy. This can’t have been off putting to the electorate because as soon as they announced it the Liberals and Plaid Cymru started pushing something similar! It was Labour’s spending plans that forced the Tories to announce that “austerity is over” (although they are still raising the retirement age for people still in school!) Even some Brexit voters on the doorstep agreed that building council housing is a good idea and that the NHS needs more funding. However, they believed that Brexit would somehow enable Britain to re-create wealth to enable such policies.
The problem with this election was that nationalism dominated the debate, especially as it was reported in official media. The Tories had a very simple message based on a lie: that they have a good Brexit deal. And a vote for them would get it done. Actually it will take years to get their Brexit deal fully operational and while it’s happening jobs will be lost and there are huge risks at some point of a renewed conflict over Northern Ireland because the border is not resolved. Labour’s position on Brexit was more nuanced and the media was able to portray it as Jeremy Corbyn “dithering”.
Votes were lost to the Liberals because for some people a clear Remain position was seen as more important than the social issues that the country is still left with irrespective of Remain or Brexit. In some constituencies this enabled the Tories to win. Both Brexit and Remain are versions of capitalism. This debate clouded out discussion about the issues facing working people: poverty, homelessness, hunger, precarious work, defence of the NHS.
In 2015 the EU was utterly merciless towards the Syriza government in Greece when it attempted to stand up against austerity. Brexit is lead by far right politicians who want to do away with even the very limited rights that trades unions and socialist parties have forced onto the EU, which of course should be defended and extended across all of Europe.
Over many years right wing politicians and news outlets have stirred up racism, some blatantly some subtly. Stories have suggested that too many foreigners are coming to the U.K. to “sponge” off the benefits system and use the health service. Stories have implied that the reason rents are sky high is because of too many foreigners coming into the country. (This of course is a smoke screen for the fact that council house building was virtually stopped by Thatcher, a policy perpetuated by Blair). The idea of “too many foreigners” was also used as an excuse for falling wages. And this leads back to Brexit because the EU requires free mobility of Labour.
This is not the first time in history where nationalism has drowned out the socialist message. In 1914, at the start of the First World War the entire Socialist International collapsed as Europe was overwhelmed with nationalism: yet within three years there was a wave of revolutionary movements starting across Europe. (This is not intended as a prediction of the timescales in the present day situation but rather an indication that the socialist movement can recover from catastrophe and indeed come back with a vengeance because capitalism only offers suffering and misery to the majority)
Was Jeremy Corbyn the problem?
Labour votes year leader
9.5 million 2005 Blair
8.6 million 2010 Brown
9.4 million 2015 Miliband
12.9 million 2017 Corbyn
10.3 million 2019 Corbyn
Labour got 32.2% of the vote this time compared with 29% in 2010 and 30.4% in 2015. In strong Brexit areas Labour lost votes to the Tories because of Johnson’s promise to get Brexit done.
Anti Semitism and the media/s
This election also saw a massive smear campaign against the Corbyn leadership, far worse and more full of lies than the Zinoviev Letter election of 1924. In their fear of policies that might challenge the rule of the rich, the media’s lies went beyond anything they had tried before. They invented a story about “anti Semitism” out of the most flimsy evidence. Like in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible about the 1692 Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, anyone who even suggested that the allegations were unfounded was also deemed to be a witch.
Labour is the biggest political party in Europe with over half a million members. There are bound to be a few cranks and a few trolls and any racist must be expelled, something the leadership completely supports. 136 of Labour Party members were being investigated for allegations of anti-semitism. In most cases the allegations was not supported by the evidence. It has been shown that the Tories deliberately sent trolls into the LP to tweet anti Semitic messages.
Yet in opinion polls on the street when ordinary people were asked to estimate the proportion of Labour Party members who are anti-semetic, the average estimate was 30%! How can this huge discrepancy be explained other than by a massive fake news campaign by the media? In practice the suggestion that Labour is rife with anti semitism is based on a conflation of support for Palestinian rights with anti semitism.
Any future socialist leader of the Labour Party will be vilified and assassinated by the right wing media. The task of a genuine party fighting for the right of working people to decent living standards is to get behind that leader and build a mass movement that will overcome the resistance of the establishment to socialist policies. The dirty tricks they have in store go way beyond the use of the media in this election.
The Economy and the future
The Tories will not be able to improve Britain’s weak
position in the world economy because it is based on speculation, no
longer on manufacturing, which was
closed from Thatcher’s time onwards. They will not be able to improve
the living standards of the majority of the population.
Labour’s policies were no more left wing than those of Atlee, who won with a landslide in 1945. The Labour Party does not need to “rebrand its image”. This is a Blair idea based on the assumption that every party has to “position itself to win the middle ground”. All over the world parties of the centre are collapsing. The future for any government wanting to take us back to the policies of Blair is eloquently illustrated in France today: a mass strike to defend retirement and employment rights, combined with youth unrest and road blocks by the rural poor. This was the president hailed only two and a half years ago as France’s new saviour for “centre” politics.
The task is rather to build a party based on the working population that will defend public services, raise living standards by creating jobs (something neo-liberal economics has failed to do globally for the last 30 years) prevent climate disaster and ultimately challenge and replace capitalism with a publicly owned and democratically controlled economy.
The majority of Brexit voters were over the age of 47. But in London there were queues of literally hundreds of young people waiting to vote. Under 25s voted overwhelmingly for Labour. The most motivated came to Labour Party offices and got involved in the campaign. The future could be ours if we can build an effective party and that will involve a resolution to the problem that there are many within the Parliamentary Labour Party who do not understand socialism and in fact oppose it.