Saturday, 14 December 2019

Reflections on the General Election

It seemed a cruel irony to have the final seminar of my Utopias course on the very day of such a comprehensive electoral defeat for progressive politics in this country: Boris Johnson very firmly in, Jeremy Corbyn now on his way out.  Our Lancaster MP, Cat Smith, successfully defended her seat, so there was a grain of local comfort in that.  But after the immediate emotional shock of Thursday night to Friday morning, which was deep indeed, how does one make sense of the overall result?

Liar, racist and self-interested buffoon he may be, but Johnson very capably did what he had to do, which was to neutralise the Brexit Party: once that was achieved, he automatically had some forty-plus per cent of the national vote.  Corbyn had the near-impossible task of holding together Remain – his young Labour Party activists and metropolitan supporters – and Leave – the older, northern, white working class for the most part.  I’ve been at local Labour branch meetings at which I felt totally isolated as a Lexiteer, at which the assumption was utterly that Labour was now a Remain party, despite the national leadership’s own, more nuanced position.  To hold these two wings of the movement together would have required a consummate performer, and Corbyn was never that; I’ve been recurrently frustrated over the last couple of years by how lacklustre and energyless he seemed on television.  Add to that extraordinary levels of media vitriol, the anti-semitism issue, and what I think really was a ‘policy incontinence’ which weakened the initial impact of a strong left manifesto, and yes, Labour was indeed in trouble.

Today’s issue of the Morning Star, the Communist Party newspaper, heads one of its election postmortems with a quote from William Morris: ‘Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel.  If our ideas of a new society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the majority of the working people; and then, I say, the deed will be done’.   The ways forward are certainly pointed out there: renewed projects of political education (adult and community education, I can’t help thinking, rather than university-based education); the forging of an activist party engaged in the struggles of its local communities in all their diversity and complexity.  The Labour Party will now need a new leader, but the heritage of Corbynism itself – that absolutely welcome break with ‘New Labour’ towards a class-orientated politics – must subsist; and the mass membership that Jeremy Corbyn inspired to join the Party during his years of leadership will hopefully be strong enough to resist rightwing and centrist calls for class compromise.  Brexit will now get done, and with that behind us, no longer poisoning the national political discourse, Labour politics can move forward again.


Tony Pinkney said...

Paul Mason has produced an excellent pamphlet on political ways forward for Labour. I don't agree with all of it, but it is thoughtful work and the later suggestions of a Political Education Unit and a daily Labour national newspaper are impressive. It's available at:

Kotick said...

Tony, Here's another useful piece, thankfully much shorter than your Paul Mason pamphlet!

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for that link, and the analysis also continues at: