The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore describes the Tory conference: “May visibly flinching at a direct question, in her babble of repetitive phrases that mean nothing. It is as if she is not really there. There is a vacancy at the top”.
Bookmakers now make Jeremy Corbyn the favourite to be next prime minister. Their second-most-rated, at about 6/1 against, are Boris Johnson, David Davis, and Philip Hammond.
Labour needs a swing of about 3.6% from the Tories (and a continued falling-back of the SNP, Lib-Dems, and UKIP) to win a parliamentary majority. That figure will rise if the new parliamentary boundaries, due to be proposed by the Boundary Commission in September 2018, are introduced before the next general election, but the Tories’ weakness makes it possible they will not be.
3.6% looks slight compared to the 9.6% increase in its vote, over 2015, which Labour won in June 2017. However, the Tories also increased their vote in June compared to 2015.
The Tory-to-Labour swing was 2%. The biggest shift was the 11% drop in the Ukip vote, an unrepeatable movement since its score went below 2%. Labour also gained from the 2% drops which the Greens and SNP both suffered.
A Labour election victory requires a sizeable further shift in voting patterns.
It is far from impossible. The turnout among 18-24 year olds increased in June 2017, but only to 55%, and turnout among 25-34 year olds was still below 60%.
Those age-groups are heavily pro-Labour, and about 25% of the electorate. Bringing an extra 30% of the age bracket to the polls — increasing its turnout to 80-odd% — would bring Labour the extra votes we need.
But it requires mobilisation. Labour increased its vote share by 15% over the election campaign in May-June thanks to a manifesto which was more left-wing than what the Labour leadership had been saying since Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign. The manifesto did not reflect an existing consensus. It won people over because it was to the left of what they expected.
In fact, to be carried through, the left-wing measures listed in the manifesto would need to be supplemented by other left-wing measures to combat sabotage and resistance by the rich, and in any case would mark only a first dose of social improvement, meagre and unstable unless followed up by larger policies.
Larger policies, and a much more effective effort to allow new Labour Party members, especially young members, to organise actively and democratically in every area, are needed to bring the extra swing. Otherwise the Corbyn surge will falter and dissipate its political clout in quarter-measures.
Jeremy Corbyn’s talk, echoed by many on the Labour left, of Labour having reached easy waters where it can now coast in sync with social “consensus”, is off the mark.
“A new consensus is emerging”, said Corbyn, “from the great economic crash and the years of austerity, when people started to find political voice for their hopes for something different and better...
“We need to build a still broader consensus around the priorities we set in the election, making the case for both compassion and collective aspiration.
“This is the real centre of gravity of British politics. We are now the political mainstream”.
The emphasis on mainstream, centre-ground, and consensus encodes a future danger: coalition government.
“Progressive Alliances” in the form of pre-election pacts are off the agenda for now, after June 2017. But what if Labour comes out of the next election ahead of the Tories, but still way short of a majority?
The good response will be the one Jeremy Corbyn voiced after 8 June: Labour should bid to form a minority government, on its manifesto, and challenge minor parties to back it or force a new general election.
It needs to be made explicit now, though: if it comes down to it, Labour forming a strong and combative parliamentary opposition to a weak coalition of Tories and minority parties is the principled and better outcome, as against Labour doing a deal to govern with the SNP and Lib-Dems.
A Labour-SNP-Lib-Dem coalition might introduce dribs and drabs from Labour’s 2017 manifesto, but it would certainly abort Labour’s revival and kill off the radical openings created by the Corbyn surge.
Remember Greece. After its 2015 election victory, Syriza formed a coalition with the right-wing nationalist Anel within hours, and the Syriza left was too taken aback even to protest much. That set the course for Syriza to renounce all its radical potential and become just another neoliberal governing party.
No coalitions! Make Labour anti-capitalist, and fight for an anti-capitalist workers’