Stephen Low argues Labour’s guns are ready and loaded to shoot Boris and the Tories given the chance
A Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn Government in the near-ish future is a real prospect. You don’t need to take my word for it. If the spectre of Corbynism wasn’t haunting Westminster, the establishment wouldn’t – as I write – be playing an absurd game of fantasy cabinet. A game where the rule is anyone can be PM – as long as they aren’t Jeremy Corbyn.
This panic is well founded. In 2017, a snap election called precisely to crush Labour’s renewed radicalism instead increased the Labour vote by three and a half million and destroyed instead the Tory majority. In the next election. the contrast between a Labour Party prepared to address the manifest crises facing the country and the world – and other parties committed to an inequality generating, climate destroying, market driven consensus will be even more stark.
There are any number of imponderables between now and then. Whether Johnson jumps or is pushed into an early election being the most obvious one. Regardless of circumstance though, if precedent is anything to go by, minority governments tend not to last for a full term so an early election looks more likely than less.
A snap election would, of course, present challenges in terms of organisation and programme. The party is though in a better situation to handle these than at many points in its history. Membership remains somewhere north of half a million, making us the biggest political party in Europe. Our ability to mobilise that membership and campaign has if anything improved since the 2017 election. In that election Momentum targeted seats written off by party HQ. These seats returned Labour MPs. The party machinery is no longer run by the people who, to give just one example – from 2017 – timed the validity of the swipe cards Jeremy, John McDonnell and others used to enter Labour HQ to expire at midnight on the night of the election. Different people, with higher expectations and more sympathy with the hugely enlarged membership and alert to their capacities, are in place now.
The poor performance in the Euro elections in no way undermines this reasoning. Those polls prove very poor predictors of general election performance. Were this not the case, Nigel Farage having come top in both this and the previous EU election, might have succeeded in at least one of his many attempts to gain a Commons seat. The seeming monomania around Brexit isn’t shared by an electorate who have, by necessity, a far wider range of concerns. Concerns that Labour is seeking to address.
In terms of programme, the basis of any manifesto would be the For The Many – Not The Few manifesto of 2017. The radicalism of this document didn’t lie so much in the specific proposals it contained per se. What made it different, and threw Labour’s offering into sharp – and popular – relief was its obvious challenge to the Thatcherite consensus that has been common amongst all of the parties challenging for government anywhere in Britain for the last thirty years.
That isn’t to say that any new manifesto would just be the last one with the numbers adjusted to reflect an additional two years of Tory ghastliness (although I suspect that will feature). It’s more to suggest that it’s likely that the really transformative ideas won’t have been fully developed. Ideas and policies have been proposed around alternative models of ownership, responding to automation – using the need to tackle climate change to drive re-industrialisation and so on. Realising the full potential of these though will require more time and discussion than seems likely to be available. Whenever an election comes, what can be said with confidence is that, like For The Many, a manifesto will be proposed that will reject the consensus that has been in place across Britain for the last forty years.
Nowhere does this create greater fury in the current leadership’s enemies than in the realm of foreign policy. Here Jeremy Corbyn is, in Tony Benn’s phraseology, a signpost and not a weathervane. It is obvious to all that he will have no truck with involvement in US aggression around the world, that he views the ‘never mind the human rights – sell the guns’ stance of current and previous British governments with disdain. This, and not a fondness for publicly owned railways, is his cardinal sin.
Despite every establishment effort – inside and outside of Labour, the security of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is beyond any dispute. This too is a factor in any electoral calculation. The turnaround in Labour’s fortunes during the 2017 election was due in no small part to the necessity on the part of broadcast media to report what Corbyn actually said – rather than what anti-Corbyn sources told favoured lobby correspondents. The patent reasonableness of this mild social democrat combined with his unaffected human decency was a great asset to the party. It will be so again.
There remains much work to be done. If Johnson staggers on for another two years – then when the election comes our programme will be more radical, our candidates better prepared and our idea more refined. That, however, would be small comfort for having had to watch the inflicting of two more years of Tory cruelty and violence at home and abroad. We are ready to govern. We want a general election now!
Stephen Low is a member of the Scottish Labour Party in Glasgow