Humble Pie and New Beginnings
That was an extraordinary night. It wasn’t one I expected and I have had to eat a certain amount of humble pie. Under the circumstances, it is delicious.
Thanks to our weak and wobbly Prime Minister, we now enter a very unstable time in politics. Labour will have to be on a permanent election footing, and I’m not sure this is a bad thing. The election has been good for the Labour family. We campaigned together and remembered that we are a family. Sure we’re a fractious family, and sometimes there are behaviours we can’t and shouldn’t tolerate (on all sides). But when the chips fall down, we stand together. Like most families we can criticise each other until the cows come home, but if you come at one of us you come at all of us.
The most obvious take away from this election is that Corbyn has earned his strengthened grip on the Party. Those hold outs who have spent today pointing out that we didn’t win are slightly missing the point. We advanced under what seemed like impossible circumstances. We did so with an unashamedly left wing platform against an appalling media onslaught. And we got 41% of the vote and added seats to our tally. The vote share vs seats argument wasn’t necessary in the end. What needs to happen now is for us to understand what we got right, what we got wrong, what the current political environment is and where it’s going.
The first and most important question is how can Labour capitalise on this? This is in part where the now permanent sense of an upcoming election comes in quite handy. It will keep Labour disciplined and outward facing. The unity that might have been temporary had we faced a big loss now feels more permanent. Corbyn sceptics will have to come inside the tent and must be welcomed as prodigals.
Corbyn should keep campaigning. It suits him, it gives him a new lease of life and it is clearly working to an extent. The positive energy of the World Transformed festival and the campaign have set his image with the public and I think it would continue to be a positive if he kept this up.
The PLP are going to have to work with Corbyn willingly and happily now. That will mean a real dollop of humility on their parts. But there remain internal issues with people management and relationships that haven’t gone away. The complaints of Thangam Debonnaire etc were valid. That side of Corbyn’s operation can and should be sharpened. Disciplinary issues around antisemitism and other abuses should be dealt with more effectively. I may be being naive, but I think this might be easier now that Corbyn has cemented his place. Calls for action on these issues can no longer be or be seen to be a proxy fight about the leadership. They should no longer be viewed by anyone as factional issues, but issues of Party welfare (they always should have been of course, but we all know they weren’t).
At the beginning of this campaign we were talking about Labour’s floor, now we’re talking about their ceiling. This is an incredible achievement. However, despite this, we have still lost an election. So we now need to look at how we can win the next one. What Corbyn seems to have achieved looking at the initial results is the delivery in spades of Miliband’s 35% strategy. The coalition Miliband tried to attract of young people and non-voters were instead attracted to his much more radical successor. As a result, Labour will remain champions of a more radical space. Triangulation is dead.
But to enact this radicalism, Labour do need to win over some who voted Tory even this time. That won’t be done by speaking in dull technocratic language and it won’t be done by capitulating on austerity. Those days are behind us. But it must be done. We cannot write off those who have voted Tory — we must win them over and we must work out how to do so while not losing the voters we have now attracted. No easy task.
The answers may lie in new ideas. New solutions from the left that address modern problems through the frame not of redistributing the proceeds of an iniquitous system but of reducing inequality in the first place. Some sort of open source Socialism may well be the answer and it will be a newly emboldened Labour Party who can seek to define and deploy that.
Theresa May’s days are numbered. You don’t fuck up an election this spectacularly and get to stay on. She has turned the Tory Party and the Government of the UK into the plaything of DUP extremists and that cannot and will not be forgiven. Labour must oppose her and whoever succeeds her after the Tories have had their inevitable bloodletting ferociously.
There is also new hope for those of us who oppose the hard Brexit May was trying to sleepwalk us into. This has been comprehensively rejected by the country. The Customs Union and Single Market may well be back in play now. No more will “the will of the people” be used to shut down all intelligent discussion of how a softer Brexit could be made to work.
I was wrong about Corbyn’s ability to appeal to a wider public. I will take my lumps for that. I let cynicism, available data, the awful local election results and a lack of self-confidence in the left after the devastation of 2015 convince me that we were facing an ’83 style rout. So take what I say about the future with a pinch of well-deserved salt. All that I say above are my thoughts on the future we might have not a prediction of what will definitely come to pass.
But this was a good but not great result for Labour. If we can keep our heads about that, we can have the bright and radical future we crave.