“If 38% of voters genuinely go for pro-IRA anti-nuclear pro-mass-nationalisation Corbyn, UK voters are no longer mature enough for democracy.”
The Twitter comment from Andrew Lilico of the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs sums up how a section of the British ruling class views even the outside chance of a Corbyn victory on 8 June.
For a whole era after Neil Kinnock quelled Labour’s rank and file revolt of the early 1980s, Labour was a “safe pair of hands” for the ruling class. Tony Blair set out to identify Labour as “unequivocally pro-business”, and on that, anyway, he succeeded.
Millions of working-class people became politically demoralised and unable to see Labour as representing their interests even minimally. Voter turnout among under-25s was estimated at 89% in 1964. By 1992 it had gently slid to 75%. It crashed to 38% by 2005 and had recovered only to 44% by 2015.
Policies in the Labour manifesto like a £10 per hour minimum wage and nationalising the railways as franchises come up for renewal have brought Labour denunciation or derision from the wealthy and their ideologues, and a big lead over the Tories among younger voters. The outcome on 8 June depends on how many of those younger voters get to the polls. The outcome after 8 June, if Labour wins or if Labour loses, depends on whether left-minded young people organise, mobilise, become a dynamic factor in the labour movement.
A YouGov Poll from 24-25 May showed the gap between Labour and the Tories down to 5%. Further polls since the Manchester bombings indicate that the Tories’ attempts to smear Corbyn as a “threat to national security” are not paying off. As the polling agency YouGov reports: “If the election were held only among the under-fifties, Corbyn could beat May. And Labour policies are supported across the whole electorate. Capping rents, nationalisation and abolishing tuition fees are popular policies, as indeed are most of Corbyn’s manifesto pledges.
“Scorning Corbyn and his supporters could be perilous… If Labour after this election ejects not only Corbyn but his mission, without a clear idea of embracing both the centre of politics and the frustrated margins, they could be even worse off.”
Taking £50 billion extra a year from the rich, out of their many hundreds of billions in revenues, is not going to create the fractures that they say it will. But modest measures in the manifesto which have enthused Labour activists and voters will require a fight to push them through, even if Labour should win a landslide on 8 June. A real fight over the minimum wage and banning zero hours contracts will mean gearing up trade unions and the labour movement to organise in workplaces currently unorganised, where workers are hyper-exploited and where a revitalised labour movement backed by a left-wing Labour government could begin to initiate real change.
Scrapping the Trade Union Act will help, but Labour’s omission anything on the older anti-union laws pushed through by Thatcher is a glaring gap. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are in favour of the repeal of all those laws against solidarity action, flying pickets, workplace ballots. So, on paper at least, are all the major trade unions. Right-wing Labour MPs have blocked repeal from the manifesto. Union leaders have been silent, and we suspect that some half-secretly prefer “having their hands tied” by laws which limit rank-and-file action. A Corbyn government, or a strong Corbyn-led opposition, will be effective only if they link with organising, mobilising, and action in workplaces and on the streets. The support gained by the Labour manifesto must be translated into real action, and not be drained away in behind-closed-doors battles in the right-wing-dominated Parliamentary Labour Party.
Tens of thousands of activists have been on the streets campaigning for Labour. The campaigns have certainly been a mixed bag, varying from constituency to constituency. A few have been resolutely run and well-organised, with the manifesto and Corbyn’s pledges front and centre. Young people have been drawn in to new activity, new members have been recruited on the doorstep, and many previously disengaged have been brought into the campaign. In other areas the campaign has been long-term activists only, often working with MPs virulently hostile to Corbyn who scarcely mention Labour, let alone the manifesto, or who openly decry the Labour Party’s direction. After the election, there will be a fight both within the Labour Party and about fighting for the manifesto policies on the ground. We need clarity on some of the manifesto promises. What does the commitment to local energy production mean, beyond what is happening already under the Tories?
We should fight for the wholescale nationalisation of the big six energy companies, under workers’ control. How can Labour look two ways on Brexit? We need a Labour Party that really stands by the manifesto promises to secure the same advantages as the single market, and thus fights the Tory Brexit all the way. On freedom of movement, or its emphasis on expanding the security services, the Labour manifesto is wrong.
Activists will fight on the ground and in the run up to Labour’s conference in September to get clear left-wing policies passed and implemented. Despite all that is good about the manifesto, the last two years have been marked by confusion and the old Blairite way of policy-making. Policy should not be the property of wonks, think tanks, or officials in the Leader’s Office. The fundamentals of the ideas and actions we fight for a Labour Government to take up should be formed by democratic debate through the whole labour movement and the institutions of the Labour Party. The Party Conference must be sovereign, democratic, and a real decision-making body.
YouGov and the other polls still predict a Tory victory. Even if Labour’s vote is up on 2015, we could lose seats because of ex-UKIP votes going to the Tories After 8 June, the Labour right wing will seize on any pretext to challenge Corbyn’s leadership and try again, as they did in 2016, to turn the Labour Party backwards.
The fight to transform the Labour Party is still at an early stage. Most of the work remains to be done. We have to work systematically in wards, CLPs and Young Labour groups to discuss and debate policies, and take them out on the streets. That is necessary whatever happens on 8 June.
John McDonnell recalls that in 1992, when he lost his constituency to the Tory Terry Dicks, he and other activists made a point of organising a stall in Hayes Town Centre the very next Saturday. They showed the constituency that they had not gone away and would continue to fight. Whatever the outcome is on 8 June, we must go forward in that spirit.