Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oppositions cannot win General Elections in the UK - so can we focus on what the Labour Party can do for working people now please?

Of all the (great deal) of idiocy which has surrounded the avoidable strife of the Labour leadership election (enabling the Conservative Government to get away without having any plan to deal with the disastrous outcome of the Referendum) perhaps the most stupid claims of the right-wing are that Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead Labour to victory in a General Election.

If you look back at the last four changes of Government in the United Kingdom (the only ones which I remember) then you see how true it is that Oppositions do not win General Elections, Governments lose them. (I exclude the change from a Coalition to a Majority Conservative Government in 2015 because that wasn’t really a change of Government).

In 2010 Labour lost power because of the economic crash which had begun two years earlier. In the short run the electorate punished a Government for being in charge when the economy crashed (and in the long run the material basis for the “New Labour” compromise between economic liberalism and social progress had been destroyed).

In 1997 Tony Blair won an election (in which John Smith would also have triumphed) because John Major’s Government never recovered from the economic consequences of sterling crashing out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. This smashed the Conservative’s reputation for economic competency, but also had negative impacts for which the electorate punished the incumbent Government as soon as they had the opportunity.

In 1979 Jim Callaghan lost to Margaret Thatcher not because there was any popular movement in support of the policies with which she was to come to be associated (many of which she did not then yet advocate) but because the voters punished the Government for the winter of discontent, and for the economic malaise of which it was a symptom.

In 1974 Ted Heath lost to Harold Wilson (albeit in two stages) because voters lacked confidence in the ability of the Tories to address the economic and industrial relations problems which had been expressed by the need for a three day week to deal with power shortages.

The most that an Opposition Party aiming to be a Government can hope to do in the run up to a General Election is to prepare and campaign as effectively as possible – but if circumstances on election day do not dictate that sufficient voters feel badly off under the present Government and see no immediate hope of improvement from the status quo then the Government are likely to remain in office.

The most important question confronting the Labour Party is not whether the Party can form a Government in 2020 (which, given the gerrymandering of constituencies and the loss of Scottish support, seems a remote possibility under any Leader). The most important question is whether there is a future for a Party of the Left to represent the interests of working class people, or whether Labour is doomed to decline as other parties of European social democracy are in decline.

With the trade union movement in the doldrums (and strike action at a historic low) the labour movement needs a political wing in order to be part of our fight, right now, to promote the interests of working class people. Once Jeremy Corbyn is elected (again) perhaps comrades in the Labour Party could return their attention to the real world?

As I have observed here before union activists could usefully engage with the Party’s Workplace 2020 consultation in order to try to be heard.

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