There is no denying that the result for Labour on December 13th 2019 was devastating. Why was Labour incapable of winning at the ballot box? Luckily, it would seem, there was no shortage of ‘political experts’ claiming to answer this question.
As soon as the exit poll was released, New Labour stalwart Alan Johnson was on ITV shouting “I want Momentum gone.” Many on the Labour right argue that this election was the electorate crying out for a return to the centre.
While Nineties fashion may be back in style, the decade’s politics are assuredly not. The Conservative party lurched to the right, and with demagogic, anti-establishment rhetoric made Brexit the salient issue in the election for much of the population. In contrast, rather than taking a class-based position on the EU, Labour’s capitulation to the Blairites facilitated a universally unpopular Brexit compromise. This gave a gleeful Conservative Campaign Headquarters grounds to paint Jeremy Corbyn as an out-of-touch, vacillating elitist. The Labour leadership and all those advocating a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ did not comprehend how powerful this sense of a democratic decision being ignored was. Voters distrusted the flip-flopping of Labour, which created fruitful conditions for Boris’ hollow sloganeering to thrive. Is this evidence the left of the party must be cast back out into the political wilderness?
To answer this, we would invite the pundits to look into the other great disappointments of the night. The failure of the Liberal Democrat campaign is a cautionary tale: their simultaneous defeat is a staunch rebuttal of the cynical argument of the opportunistic Labour right. Let us not forget that, in October, the Liberal Democrats were confidently predicting upwards of 100 seats would be won. If we must move to this hallowed center-ground in order to win, why was it that Jo Swinson wasn’t storming to success? Why did the Nandos-eating, salt-of-the earth centrists of the ‘Independent Group’ not win a single seat?
The argument that most voters are long-suffering centrists waiting with bated breath for a ‘Blair type’ to reunite our country under a programme of triangulation and neoliberal economics is entirely disingenuous. The Tories are not racing to the collapsed center, and neither should we.
Polling consistently shows that radical, innovative left-wing programme as an electoral asset for Labour – public ownership of the railways, water, energy and the mail; free personal care for the elderly; a green industrial revolution; a £10 minimum wage and income tax increases for the wealthiest are all extremely popular proposals. The next leader must not only defend the manifesto, but go further with bold socialist policies.
Right wing candidates for this contest would do well to follow the example of the universally-derided blairite stooge Jess Philips. After a decidely catastrophic hustings performance – where her only solid position was in pushing the tired smear of anti-semitism against any candidates even marginally supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. Philips, accustomed to being exalted in the cowardly liberal press as the ‘future of Labour’, finally faced the reality of her own deep unpopularity. Like all rotting remnants from the corpse of Blairism, her humiliating failure can only be greeted with greatest relief. Unfortunately for us, however, not all of the arch-Blairite leadership contenders are as explicit in their disdain for working class people. This is why it is utterly essential to expose the pretenders for what they are: right wing careerists who will stop at nothing to keep a socialist away from power.
Clever Blairite schemers have latched onto a more competent in the form of Starmer. Keir Starmer would have us believe that he is a candidate of the left – but we have good reason to call this into question, despite Starmer being the subject of many a gushing op-ed in liberal publications. His choice to fill many of his staff positions from the right of the party, including several staff who worked on the Owen Smith campaign, begs critique. Equally damning is his record on welfare: in 2013 as DPP he decided to increase the maximum sentence for benefit fraud to 10 years and in 2015 he abstained on the Conservative’s’ Welfare Reform bill. It is no surprise that many of his nominations come from self-styled Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), as well as an endorsement from Alastair Campell.
The clear candidate of the left is Long-Bailey. She has the strongest socialist credentials, being the architect of Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution, a prominent front-bencher and a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. Her campaign has gotten off to a strong start, leading with environmental issues and pledging to scrap the House of Lords as well as receiving endorsements from prominent Corbynites, John McDonnell and Momentum. Most significant, however, is her endorsement of open selection. Without a commitment to giving the rank-and-file democratic control of the party, any supposed ‘Left’ candidate will find themselves finished before they can even begin.
Her campaign would also benefit from considering the damage the right-wing Tom Watson was able to do to Corbyn as Deputy Leader and endorse an ideological ally, preferably fellow Socialist Campaign Group member Richard Burgon for the position, rather than Angela Rayner, who has already declared she is ‘not a Corbynite’.
The candidate with the strongest socialist credentials is Richard Burgon. Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, he has been MP for Leeds East since 2015 and has received backing from prominent Corbynites including John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. Showing a strong track record, he was one of the 48 in the PLP to defy the whip and vote against the callous 2015 welfare bill and one of the 36 to nominate Corbyn for leader.
Defeatism must not overcome us on the Labour left: this is not just a case of following on from Corbyn, but spearheading a growing mass movement that is lurching farther to the left. Labour must insist upon an unapologetically left-wing programme, and standing up against the right-wing rags and out-of-touch establishment. Only a genuinely socialist leader who has learnt the lessons of the last election can win the next.
Reuben O’Connell Booth & Poppy Coburn