Oh Snap

Labour Must Keep Campaigning Now the Election Is Finished

The job's not done yet.
June 16, 2017, 6:15am
Labour Party members (Photo by Adam Barnett)

After two years of ridicule, two years of despondency and hopelessness and increasingly bitter infighting, the left has now suddenly experienced the unfamiliar rush, of an explosion of joyous emotion. The 8th of June transformed everything, and now we all have hope for the future and justified Schadenfreude towards the entire political and media establishment.

But while the election was in many ways a wonderful political moment, the job is not yet done. Don't get me wrong – what we experienced was a triumph. The left is now cemented at the top of Labour; the party enjoys widespread and accelerating popularity; and Corbyn has finally proved to everyone that he's a credible alternative Prime Minister. With the Tories currently in utter chaos and pursuing an alliance with a gang of cartoonishly bigoted creationists, for the next election a Labour majority looks – right now – to be as good as assured.

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But therein lies the danger. There was a problem that everyone from Theresa May, to centrist political commentators, to Blairite MPs like Chris Leslie shared: namely, their certainty that they were right, that they knew everything about political reality, and if you disagreed with them you were simply a buffoon. These people made idiots out of themselves by being utterly unresponsive to the reality of life as lived by most people in this country, shielded by their dogmatic insistence – forged, for most, in 1983 – that left-wing policies could never win.

Although we have little to learn from these people in terms of political expertise, we can gain something by way of negative example. The left's gloating triumphalism ought not to be allowed to produce a new certainty of its own. The election saw a sort of hopeless fatalism defeated. It would be a mistake to replace that with another type of fatalism: a complacent certainty about an inevitable victory.

Labour's recent surge was built on the work of activists – including, if you haven't already guessed yet from the way I'm approaching these issues, me. The Corbyn surge happened through the agency of its participants. If we consider a Corbyn victory to be simply inevitable, there is a danger this particular enthusiasm might die down.

That can't be allowed to happen. The principle of "reality" is often asserted by grisly ghouls to kill progress and snuff out hope. Right now its partisans are pursuing a line that, let's face it, is at least factually correct: this result still wasn't enough to allow Labour to form a government.

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While many Tories are now making conciliatory noises about Brexit and austerity, it remains distressingly plausible that the DUP alliance will produce the most regressive government in living memory – everything bad about Mayism now allied to a determination to tear up women's and LGBT rights, unsettling the peace process in Northern Ireland into the bargain.

So it's time for the left to start thinking about how to win, and what to do with power when – if – we get there.


Watch: France's Anarchists Clash with Police on May Day


Labour's manifesto has been widely praised, and with good reason. But although in the context of UK politics its promises were refreshingly radical, it played things things too safe in at least two key ways.

Firstly, on areas where Labour is weaker – such as Brexit, immigration and law and order – the manifesto was a fudge. Labour will, for instance, pursue a Brexit that "prioritises jobs" – but how? They will leave the Single Market, but attempt to "retain the benefits" associated with it – so how is this any more realistic than Theresa May's Brit Abroad fantasies of Europe simply bending to her negotiators' will?

Meanwhile, immigration will be "managed" – but in a way that is "reasonable" and "fair". There will be more police, but Labour will "champion community police initiatives" to ensure this does not simply lead to more police brutality on the streets. In each of these cases, Labour is missing an opportunity: to directly challenge the right-wing tabloid narrative that – we now know – holds less sway over the electorate than anyone thought.

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While the manifesto departed from neoliberal economic dogma, it offered little sense of how the way people live and work is being transformed – not just in the UK, but worldwide – through technology. We are now at a moment in human existence when things like AI, big data and the automation of labour could be used to create a much freer world – but they could also be used to create a much more oppressive one. Labour now have the chance to pursue an emancipatory vision of the future – it would be criminal not to take it.

"For the Many, Not the Few" sold people on the idea of making the world less awful. What we have to do now is start thinking about how to make it actively good.

With the job only half-done, the campaigning can't stop now. Clearly, Labour now has to prepare for another election that could well be called later this year. The party – and Momentum in particular – are already making many of the right noises on this score.

With the Tories so obviously on the back foot, the government now has an incentive to cling on for as long as it can. In the worst case scenario, the Tories have five more years of power – their rule will be hated, their party increasingly sclerotic, but they could still do a lot more damage to this country; if not actively through legislation (which they will struggle to pass), then passively through neglect.

If that happens, activists will need to do something else: they will need to find a way to help mitigate this damage within their communities. That, in fact, could well prove the most effective campaigning technique of all.

@HealthUntoDeath