New year, new danger

by Tom Clements

It’s safe to assume that this time last year no one, not even Jeremy Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, would have expected the Party to be where it is today. Riding high in the polls, daring the Tories to call another election, led by a man confident enough to declare that he’ll “probably” become Prime Minister. From where we were, it’s certainly been a rollercoaster year.

But if we are to make good on our confidence and build a government that will really transform our country for the many, we must be wary of the traps that lay ahead. As we have seen so many times before in the history of our movement, our hubris can bring us down much more quickly than the Tories.

So as part of our approach moving forward, we have to start looking beyond the next year and expect that the next election will not take place until 2020 at the earliest. As a result, there are several threats that could destabilise our Party and prevent us from achieving victory at the next election.

Threat one: Theresa May
Since Gordon Brown transformed from “Stalin to Mr Bean” it is hard to remember a more spectacular disintegration from political grace than the one Mrs May has suffered this year. From being ready to crush the saboteurs in April to being trapped in Downing Street in June, it is hard to imagine her ever being in a position of authority again.

And yet, it would be dangerous to believe that May’s days are numbered. As long as she sits at the negotiating table to leave the EU, we should expect that the Prime Minister will make a comeback.

As a party we have enjoyed much of the last six months doubling down on May’s incompetence. From the paralysed response to Grenfell tower, to the defeat of the EU Withdrawal Bill and then the resignation of Damian Green; it is hard to remember a more hapless performance. And that is what the voters currently see: a hopeless Prime Minister unable to do anything waiting to be put out of her misery.

And therein lies the danger.

A successful Brexit negotiation will change all that. All this talk of no deal is merely bluster. There will be a deal. The economic consequences would be a catastrophe that no one is prepared to risk.

And whatever kind of deal is signed, we should be sure that it will be saluted. No matter how regressive or problematic, there can be no doubt that the Tories’ media allies will celebrate a deal as an unqualified success. This will give Theresa May a second chance to define herself.

Thatcher. Britannia. Boudicca. All those parallels will be invoked when Mrs May puts pent to paper on the final deal. The public will be presented with an all-conquering hero surveying the political landscape beneath her. And we cannot expect them to remember the weak and wobbly 2017 vintage then

And it is this second coming which will present the greatest danger.

Second threat: Leave v Remain
Whether right or wrong, the ambiguity of our leadership over Brexit allowed the Party to fight the 2017 election without alienating either side. Both metropolitan Remainers and Northern Leavers were able to find enough reasons to vote for our Party.

Next time, however, this won’t happen.

Next time, the party will have to take a side. Either because the government will collapse and it will fall on us to deliver Brexit; or because we will have left the European Union and the country will have changed.

Either way, people will try to push us into making a binding decision. Will we push for a second referendum or will we turn our back on the continent? However unfair, we can be certain that we will be forced into this false dichotomy.

And whichever way we turn, we will open ourselves to the threats of betrayal.

By supporting Brexit, the core remain vote that won us seats like Kensington and Reading East will turn their backs on us. Without a clear plan for closer unity with Europe can we be sure to count on the metropolitan liberal vote in the South or young people to turn out in such numbers?

Through backing a second referendum, voters in Bury North and Peterborough will claim that we are subverting democracy. We will be the party that didn’t listen and it will push these voters back towards a right wing Tory party or beyond.

Without reconciling our position on Brexit now, well in advance of the next election, we will find ourselves in an impossible position. Not only with our chances of winning a majority be weakened but we might not even have the right to be listened to.

Threat three: The expectation gap

The 2017 General Election result confounded the critics. No pollster or journalist would have predicted that the election would lead to anything other than a Conservative majority. Before the exit poll reverberated around the country, no poll had the Party anything close to the result that we were to achieve.

This absolute certainty gave us the freedom to run a different type of campaign. Whilst the Tory’s led a royal procession, we were able to run an insurgency.

In contrast to carefully presented photo opportunities and hollow soundbites, we were able to offer fevered crowds lining the streets at rallies and a fully costed manifesto. This allowed the Party to defy the media portrayal and present a popular, positive vision to the voters.

At the same time, the cast iron certainty of the polls allowed wavering Labour voters to be persuaded. Any concerns that they had about the leadership didn’t matter, their vote was hardly likely to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. And through this, we were able to secure the core vote whilst the campaign attracted new and floating voters.

Neither of those factors will be in our favour next time.

We won’t be the underdogs going into the next election. It won’t be enough to defy predictions through holding together and presenting a coherent manifesto. We will be going into the next election as the shadow government and should be expected to be judged as such. Our policies and personalities will be inspected and dissected in a way that they weren’t in 2017. Whenever the next election is called, we will be questioned on our ability to govern above all else.

Neither can we expect that eye catching policies such as the abolition of fees or the renationalisation of the railways will be enough to carry us over the line. We need to make sure that our policy offer for the next Parliament is truly radical and truly able to reverse the increasingly unequal society that the Conservatives have presided over for the last seven years.

And that should be the goal of the progressives of the next five years. We must discuss and contribute to a genuine and radical policy platform that will create more equal opportunity in our country. This should be our clarion call.

Tom Clements is a history and politics teacher in Leeds

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7 Responses to “New year, new danger”

  1. Dave Roberts says:

    A good article that points out the pros and cons of the situation relative to a Labour election victory. What was not mention was the Fixed Term Parliaments Act which has to happen either through two thirds of the Commons voting for a general election or by the Government losing a vote of confidence. If either of those two things don’t come to pass then May and the Tories can soldier on.

    She and her managers will studiously avoid the second scenario and it’s unlikely that enough Tory MPs will vote for the first. She needs the Unionist vote which will do its utmost to prevent what they see as an apologist for the IRA becoming PM.

    Time is not on Labour’s side and far too much emphasis is put on the apparent chaotic state of the Tories. All the need is for the economy to keep on path which it looks like doing, for whatever kind of Brexit deal to be done, for the uncertainty to be over and everything will settle down until the due date of the next GM.

    I voted remain with reservations. I would have liked to keep the ecooimic union and dumped most of the control from Brussels which I regard as undemocratic. I am however disgusted with the childish hooligan abuse coming from the left at those who exercised their democratic rights in the referendum. The Labour left is now becoming more and more like Private Eye’s swivel eyed Trotskyist Dave Spart hurling abuse at the mostly white working class Labour voters and calling them xenophobic racists amongst other things the latter being the most polite.

  2. John P Reid says:

    We must keep Kensington, who cares if we lose thd whole working class north, and excepting brexit was in the manifesto, that we won that seat in rhd first place

  3. Vern says:

    I think you could have added another threat here in that the public would begin to see through Corbyn and his leadership credentials. Yes Labour’s share of the vote increased but it’s still way off where it needs to be and that is with a government whom you suggest are doing badly. May and the Tories are completely blindsided by Brexit and yet Corbyn can’t increase his popularity. Why is this? In my opinion Barry Gardiner was the most convincing (even if he was making it up) of all the leaders, MP’s and presenters in 2017 and was key I believe in increasing his share of the vote. But that was then and it’s 2018 now and Corbyn’s infant like behaviour has been laid bare, and that too of the angry children in his Fan
    Club, Momentum.
    It’s important to separate fact from child like rants. Voters are seeing that now. They recognise that since Corbyn and McDonell appeared hate and division has been their MO.. Now thats hardly kinder or fairer politics.
    The working class have been let down by Labour and I’m struggling to see how I could trust the party with Corbyn in charge because he has no concept of working.
    If Burnham still wants to work in politics after his stint as Mayor then Labour may have a leader who I could get behind.

  4. Anne says:

    Thought provoking article.
    I must be one of the 87 per cent of Labour voters who support being in the single market and customs union. I believe this would be best for business and the economy, as well as preventing having a hard boarder in Ireland.
    The childlike rants I see coming from many right wing journalist.
    For one I agree with something that Vern has written – his last sentence.

  5. Tony says:

    “no poll had the Party anything close to the result that we were to achieve.”

    This statement is false although the rest of the article has substantial merit.

  6. Tafia says:

    “I must be one of the 87 per cent of Labour voters who support being in the single market and customs union.”

    Think you mean Labour members – and its 66%.

    Labour’s problem is that in the Labour vote at large, it’s pro EU vote is disproportionatly distributed in seats held by other parties that they can never win and down in the south.

    That is why two thirds of Labour MPs sit in a seat that voted Leave, on a higher turn-out than the general election, and in more than half of those voted Leave by a greater margin than said MPs majorities.

    Labour cannot win an election without it’s Leave vote, and without it’s Leave vote it would struggle to get over 200 seats, most of which would be in the inner areas of urban conhurbations and most definately not in the suburbs. Remeber, for the last few elections what should be Labour’s core vote – the lower end of C1, C2, D & E – have voted Tory.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Exactly Tafia , and take the 1983 result in reverse after the 1975 refunding, and labour not accepting that result, when labour lost a lot of ‘remain’ Votes in the 1983 election it took years to get back, im told

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