Friday, May 12, 2017

The General Election - locally and nationally

This week I have been spending my working hours getting back to working in my “day job” now that I am no longer seconded to trade union duties, and some of the rest of my time dealing with Labour’s General Election campaign in Brighton Pavilion.

I don’t intend to blog much about the election campaign whilst it is underway. It will generally be a better use of time to participate in the campaign than to comment upon it. This is a vitally important election in which we must ruthlessly prioritise our efforts to defend Labour MPs in marginal seats and target vulnerable Tories.

We face a clear choice between the Tories with their “hard Brexit” wrapped in a moth-eaten Union Jack under cover of which they will dismantle what is left of our welfare state, and Labour putting forward a democratic socialist manifesto offering hope to working class people. With less than four weeks until the voters make that choice it is more important to act than to comment.

However, there are a couple of things on which I won’t avoid commenting. The first of these is the question of a “progressive alliance” and what that means for Labour’s decision to stand a candidate in Brighton Pavilion, and the second is the implications of the General Election for the Labour leadership.

Unlike some of my more partisan comrades I do think that there is a debate to be had about the question of a “progressive alliance”, albeit there are many problems (not least of defining what is meant by “progressive”). However there has not been time to pursue that debate to any sort of conclusion in this campaign.

I welcome the decisions of the Green Party in Sussex to step aside in Brighton Kemptown and Hastings in order to increase the prospects of good Labour candidates ousting Tories in marginal seats. A case can be made for a candidate who knows they cannot win a seat to step aside where their doing so may increase the prospects of another progressive candidate.

I also understand why some Labour voters have, in the past, voted “tactically” for other candidates to defeat Tories in seats where Labour is not really in contention. One point of the franchise is that we, as voters, should have a choice between different candidates and I can see that Labour voters may face such choices in some constituencies in this election. Party activists also face a similar choice as to where best to target their own activities.

Brighton Pavilion, now a very left-wing constituency in which the Conservative Party came third in each of the last two General Elections, is not a seat to which the debate about a “progressive alliance” is relevant. The Liberal Democrats may have stood aside in favour of the Greens, but then they came a poor fifth in Pavilion in 2015 having seen their vote fall even more rapidly locally than it had nationally. Pavilion in 2017 is a seat in which Labour can rightly offer voters the opportunity to vote directly (rather than indirectly) for Labour’s socialist manifesto without risking that there will be a Conservative MP.

Our campaign in Pavilion may not be as high a priority for our Party as the campaign to defend the only Labour MP in Sussex in Hove or to unseat the awful Simon Kirby in Kemptown, but Labour in Brighton Pavilion will unashamedly offer our radical and progressive electorate a choice to which they are entitled in circumstances in which this can offer no succour to our Tory enemies – and you’ll be spared some of my blogging, dear reader, as I participate in that campaign.

Just as we will assess the eventual outcome of our campaign locally (having fought with all the vigour and resources which we can muster) in the light of very particular circumstances of our unique constituency, so we will also have to consider the outcome of the General Election nationally (after we have given our all to advance the cause of democratic socialism) in the equally particular circumstances of this General Election.

With almost four “long time in politics” before polling day, with hundreds of thousands of additions to the electoral register, with a lead among young voters and work underway to increase their turnout and with a manifesto fit to motivate the largest membership our Party has had in decades, now is not the time for despair. There is no reason to suppose that the adverse polls we see today will be reflected in the eventual result.

However, there is also no reason to argue that our current low standing in the polls is the responsibility of the current Party leadership, or of the policies associated with that leadership.

The eclipse of our Party in Scotland occurred under the previous Leader, and was in large part the consequence of Scottish politics being reoriented around the national question after the independence referendum (in which Labour tragically played a subaltern unionist role as second fiddle to the “Conservative and Unionist Party”).

We are now witnessing an analogous phenomenon in England as a result of the outcome of the EU referendum (the decision to hold which was taken before the election of our current Leader). The decision of the Tory Party to steal the nationalist agenda of UKIP (and hence to take a large chunk of their votes) threatens to organise politics south of the border around a “national question” to which there are no positive or progressive (let alone socialist) answers.

The Labour Party which is trying, in the short space of time leading up to the June General Election, to face up to these enormous challenges is hobbled by the hostility to the democratic socialist politics of our leadership (which are shared by the majority of our membership) from so many of our Parliamentarians and other elected representatives.

This hostility finds its echo in the conduct of the official machinery of our Party and of several of our trade unions (as exemplified by the decision of our National Executive to deny members a choice of Parliamentary candidates). Those who were leading our Party as it was shrinking and declining into irrelevance before the election of the current Leader retain many positions of influence and, disbelieving in the possibility of the popularity of socialist policies, are determined to hold on and reassert themselves after a defeat which they believe to be inevitable (and to which they plainly hope to contribute).

I am pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has made clear that he would not respond to a poor result with a resignation as Leader. Whatever the outcome of the General Election, the question of who leads our Party should be a question for the members of our Party, whose choice of candidates should not be restrained by our current Rules, which give far too great a “gatekeeping” role to the Parliamentary Labour Party (and need to be changed).

Those of us who believe in the manifesto which our Party will unveil in the coming days must and will do all that we can to maximise support for the policies, and votes for our candidates, between now and 8 June. Should we not be able to claw back the ground which had been lost before the election was called we must not make the mistake of accepting blame which does not belong to us.

Whatever the result of the General Election there will be a task facing Labour Party members on 9 June – and that task will be to rebuild the social organisations on which our Party was once based in a form fit for the twenty first century. That will be something to blog about a month from now.

For now, comrades, do all you can to get Labour votes out, particularly where they can make a difference as to who governs this country.
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