The morning after the 2015 election, Labour looked in more trouble than at any time since the 1930s. It was hemmed in from all sides: the Tories in the south, the SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the midlands and north. Hopelessly squeezed with no way out.
Shaun Lawson answers those who say that the only thing stopping a Labour government is Jeremy Corbyn. Originally posted as a Twitter thread @shaunjlawson
In the aftermath, not only the idiot commentariat but many Labour MPs insisted that the only way forward was to accept austerity, accept welfare cuts, and be Tory lite. Ludicrous. Their big idea was to abandon anything Labour stood for at all. It was a suicide wish.
At the leadership election, we had three automatons, petrified of saying anything that sounded like genuine Labour. We had to be tough on welfare! We had to be tough on immigration! We’d lost the economic narrative! And all three were too chickenshit to try and reclaim it.
All this was going on at a time Labour was close to bankrupt, its membership had shrivelled away, it had lost countless millions of working class voters, and Cameron wanted to end trade union funding. Labour faced a very real existential crisis.
Into this breach stepped Corbyn – with Ed Miliband’s fateful decision to turn leadership elections into US-style primaries changing history. Here was someone with real vision, passion, energy. Here was someone who could inspire millions. So he won: deservedly. It was a rout.
Of course he’s an unorthodox leader. No flash or slickness with Jeremy. He’s all about the membership – and much more than that, he’s all about what actually matters. Not Westminster fluff – but people. Millions and millions of them. Their lives, their hardship.
Unfortunately, he still had to deal with an astoundingly clueless PLP who made his life a misery and whose continued misreading of 2015 helped bring about Brexit. Which, much more than anything else, was caused by austerity (which much of the PLP had wanted to support).
So clueless are many of these MPs that not only do they continue to support such horrors as arming Saudi Arabia or Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – but at last year’s election, they very plainly canvassed the wrong people. Hence their shock at the result on election night.
I don’t know what these MPs had been doing with themselves at surgeries and so on – but their obliviousness to hideous, Dickensian levels of Tory wickedness and cruelty mirrored that of the media. It’s remarkable what living in a bubble can do.
But I digress. Throughout 2016 and into 2017, we were told – by the same people who didn’t see 2015 coming, didn’t see Brexit coming, and didn’t see Trump coming either – that Corbyn was leading Labour to catastrophe. That it would be wiped out. That the end was nigh.
This ignored a) His extraordinary, natural appeal/authenticity b) Magnificent manifesto c) Only he could pull together electoral coalition of metropolitan Remainers and liberals, white working class Leavers, ethnic minorities and centrists/soft Tories appalled at May’s govt
And here’s the thing. That’s still the case now. There’s no-one else in the Labour Party who has anything remotely akin to Corbyn’s broad appeal. And I’m afraid the time for Blairite politics has been and gone. Blairism works in benign times; not savagely divided, unjust ones
Blairism, indeed, helped create the situation the UK’s in now. His government broke the trust between politicians and public; massively inflated the housing bubble; ignored inequality; abandoned the working class; and failed to reform our broken electoral system.
If people want to hark back to the days of triangulation, that’s their look-out. But nothing could be less appealing now. THAT is why the Lib Dems are at 6%: in a country where capitalism is flat out failing, centrism does not work.
Nor, for that matter, does it work anywhere else in Europe. “If only we had a Macron”, cried the same idiot commentariat last year. How’s that working out for you? “If only we had a moderate centre-left option!”, cry those who haven’t noticed Pasokification all over Europe.
Labour’s huge resurgence – in members, money, appeal, and votes: thirteen million of them – bucks a global trend. It is colossally to Corbyn’s credit. If the left does not stand for something truly bold and radical, it will lose its core support to the nativist right.
That’s the reality in a Europe riven by austerity and neoliberalism. In a Europe where capitalism no longer works because so few people can access capital. In a Europe where a whole generation of young people have been sold down the river, and jobs are ever more insecure.
Not only that – but in Britain, no Labour leader except Blair has won a proper majority since, get this, 1966. So give over with your “Labour should be 20 points ahead” nonsense. That it’s polling 40% under a real left wing leader is a remarkable achievement.
The battle ahead remains tough. All Britain’s most powerful vested interests are lined up with the Tories – the party of wealth, oligarchies, with most of the media in its pocket. But that battle can and will be won: and with it, the chance to truly remake the UK at last.
Most of the smears – and yes, they have mostly been smears – are because the British establishment, so entrenched for so long, so breathtakingly corrupt with it – is petrified. Shit scared of a genuinely fair country which treats all its people with respect and dignity.
As for Brexit: well, I’m a Remainer and hope we remain. But Corbyn’s strategy remains correct. This is the Tories’ mess, it’s their Waterloo. And while 70% of Labour voters voted Remain, the other 30% are packed into the seats Labour needs to win. That’s electoral reality.
Be in no doubt: Labour will do everything in their power to stop No Deal, which I cannot see Parliament allowing (however complicated not allowing it will be). But at the heart of FBPEers’ fury at Corbyn is a profound misconception.
Remainers argue: “How can Labour claim to represent the poor when Brexit is going to make them even poorer?” This whole thesis is based on austerity continuing and the Tories remaining in government. Tory Brexit will be terrible, yes; Labour Brexit won’t.
The gap between the two parties is wider now than at any time since the early 1980s. They represent opposing economic orthodoxies: one of which entrenches wealth and inequality and punishes the poor and weak; the other of which is redistributive and utilitarian.
If the argument – as it seems to be – is that one of the richest countries on the planet will somehow miraculously not be able to redistribute wealth from rich to poor if its economy is 4% smaller by 2030 than it otherwise would’ve been… well, that is utterly ridiculous.
Portugal is a massively smaller economy than the UK. Its socialist government is doing a fantastic job rebuilding it and redistributing wealth. Uruguay is a tiny economy. Its leftist government has done a fantastic job rebuilding it and redistributing wealth since 2004.
Not only that – but while you won’t get any argument from me about probable economic shock after Brexit, even the forecasts themselves are based on Tory economic orthodoxy. We’ve got so used to it for the last 40 years that we assume there’s no other way! But there is.
Can Labour build a post-Brexit Britain fit for everyone: with fairness and social justice at its core, which ends the housing and homelessness crisis, tackles economic and inter-generational inequality and gives everyone a stake in prosperity and success? Of course it can.
Alternatively, what would happen if Corbyn stood down now? Crash: that would be the sound of his electoral coalition collapsing, members deserting in their droves, working class Leavers reacting in rage, and the Tories making hay in our ridiculous electoral system.
Many centrists clearly don’t understand this new zeitgeist. But that’s how it is. And no, Corbyn’s not perfect. He’s very far from it. I have plenty of criticisms of his leadership too. But he’s not only Britain and the left’s best hope. He’s the only hope.