We have a Tory minority government. But how long Theresa May, or any Tory, can stay is another matter.
The Tories look likely get a working majority in Parliament, at least on budget and confidence votes, by a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).There will be divisions between the Tories and the DUP, and within the Tory Party as the talks on Brexit proceed and as economic stresses sharpen. The Tories are likely to drop more abrasive policies like reintroduction of grammar schools, but they are in deep trouble.
Labour was right to call immediately for May to resign and to say that Labour is ready to form a minority government.
A Tory minority government will not fall automatically. It will fall if Labour continues the energy from the doorsteps, and recycles it as energy on the streets and in workplace trade-union organising.Labour manifesto planks should be campaigned on now. Organising for the £10 minimum wage, particularly in the service sector where many young people work, can link building the Labour Party with building strong workplace and trade union organisation.
Demonstrations and protests on the NHS and social care cuts should build up unmanageable pressure on the Tories.BBC news (12 June) said 25,000 new members had joined Labour since the election. The Labour left group Momentum reported early on Sunday 12 June that 1,300 new people had joined it that weekend.The 8 June general election was a stunning success for the Labour Party, and a crashing defeat for May’s scheme to hugely increase her Parliamentary majority. At the start of the campaign, the Tory Party had a 20% poll lead over Labour.
Labour’s result was partly down to a reaction against May’s arrogance and dismay over issues such as the “dementia tax”, but much more.The Labour manifesto had serious limitations, and faults, such as renouncing freedom of movement in Europe. Yet in it Labour issued a clarion call against the ideologues of “capitalist realism” who say that poverty and inequality are inevitable, or even the fault of the people who are capitalism’s victims.It pledged to bring the railways, the post, water and the national grid into public ownership; to make university tuition free; to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour; to ban zero-hour contracts; to restore the NHS and social care; to pay for all that and more by taxing corporations and the richest 5%; and to expand workplace rights.Those pledges allowed Labour to increase its vote to 40% of an increased overall turnout (69%), with a net gain of 30 seats.
By challenging the consensus and offering bold, left-wing policies, Labour won back support.
Labour’s advance will prepare the way for renewed interest and commitment to explicitly socialist ideas. During the campaign, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spelled out his commitment to socialism. The election opens up a chance to remake the Labour Party into a strong political voice for working-class people, and extend the left-wing manifesto pledges towards a coherent scheme to change society.
As far as we can tell, most voters saw Labour as the party of “soft Brexit”, and either backed that (seeing “Remain” as now improbable) or saw their preference for “hard Brexit” as less important than the NHS, the minimum wage, and so on. Labour has been able to get away with saying that it wants to “retain the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union” (and yet not to be in them?); with denouncing “bogus immigration targets”, promising to “take our fair share of refugees”, and saying it will not “scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures” (and yet pointedly not supporting free movement in Europe).
As Brexit talks start, especially with May weakened and people from many political quarters saying that her “hard Brexit” is now “dead in the water”, a clearer stance will become not only a moral obligation but also a day-to-day political necessity. The election result saw politics once again polarising around class. The Conservative Party represented the capitalist ruling class; the Labour Party was supposed to represent the working class. In the past, Labour lost support when the Blair and Brown Labour governments ostentatiously went for being “pro-business” and abandoned and even attacked working-class people.
Many became alienated from politics. Some turned to minor parties, of the right (UKIP) or the relatively-left (the Greens). At this election those smaller parties shrank to insignificance, and the Lib-Dems failed to revive.
The contrast between this election, and the almost-simultaneous losses for the Dutch Labour Party and the French Socialist Party, which have continued a Blair-Brown-type line, shows that the “New Labour” approach leads only to a collapse of working-class political representation and of social hope.
Labour can win elections when it fights on working-class ideas that challenge ruling-class orthodoxy. The Corbyn team’s tactics of holding rallies in safe seats, using Corbyn’s facility for speaking “on the stump”, building support through social media, succeeded in the election campaign. Mobilisations to send new activists to marginals made seat gains and helped to close the gap elsewhere. We have new opportunities for the labour movement — which at is best has always been the guardian of a working-class moral authority against capitalist realism — to reassert itself in political life.
Jeremy Corbyn, elected leader in a shock for the Labour right in September 2015, and harassed by them ever since, has increased his standing. Die-hard Blairites in Labour will be forced to shut up for now. New space has been opened for the Labour revival, stuttering and on-off since 2015, to develop further.
We have no exact figures, but it looks as if there was a big increase in turnout among young voters, which had crashed to 38% in 2005, and a surge in young people registering to become voters.The disconnect between many branch and constituency Labour parties, still run by an ageing few, and the majority of the membership, still exists.In every constituency, we should look to build a Young Labour group, integrated with the CLP’s activity, but offering young people a democratic and accessible centre for campaigning, discussion and social activity. We cannot afford to miss the chances to build the organisational strength and reinvigorate the political culture of the labour movement.
We need solid local Momentum groups and Labour Party organisations, which meet regularly and take political debate seriously.The left needs to step up the fight for an open, democratic Labour Party, against the still-strong old regime of bureaucratic manipulation and political purges.
Social media is a powerful tool, but we also need much more face-to-face campaigning on the streets.
Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity exist, in the words of the Internationale, to bring “reason in revolt” into the movement, to forge the kind of class-struggle socialism we believe can arm the movement to win changes such as promised in the manifesto, and to go on to transform society thoroughly. At our Ideas for Freedom event on 1-2 July, activists old and new will discuss the lessons of past labour surges — and defeats — and the ideas needed now.
There are rumours that the new shadow cabinet will feature right-wingers who strove to undermine Corbyn before the election, but are now trying to worm back to top positions by claiming to be converted to unity. Letting the right- wing MPs regain strong positions would give them a stronger base to argue against democratic reform within the party.
The left group Momentum had a good election. Through well-placed use of social media, videos, email, its “marginals” smartphone app, and phone banking, it helped mobilise many Labour members who had joined to elect Corbyn, or after he was Corbyn elected, but had not been active. Yet after the January “coup” by Momentum’s national office, which abolished by decree all the group’s elected structures, to replace them by a National Coordinating Group mostly not elected by the members and having little grip, many Momentum groups stopped meeting, or stopped having meetings where their members could vote on policies, or declined. Momentum needs to be more than the election mobilising vehicle for the Labour leadership. Groups should start to meet again and put pressure for a truly democratic Momentum.
We need a Momentum group or caucus in every constituency, working to bring in new members, to campaign, and also democratically to transform the local party, its debates, its way of selecting candidates and representatives and an amnesty of the “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest of summer 2016 alone, and no-one knows how many hundreds of others, mostly left-wingers, over the last two years. Those members got no clear charges (let alone prior notice of them), no chance to answer charges, no hearing, and no right of appeal. Many of them, including Workers’ Liberty supporters, were active in the general election campaign, or even key organisers in their wards and local areas.
A lot of new or newly-activated members will be shocked to find those campaigners barred from meetings. A new spirit of unity in the Labour Party will be good, but it should start with an amnesty for those expelled without due process, and a fight in each CLP to get it to write to the NEC and demand reinstatement. Meanwhile, there is nothing in the Labour Party rule book to bar expelled members from attending ward and constituency meetings as observers. Left-wingers have been working on a rule change motion for the 2018 Labour Party conference which would stop exclusions of members on the catch-all basis of support for organisations outside the Labour Party (taken literally, this formulation would justify summarily expelling any Labour member who is a member of CND, Amnesty, Friends of the Earth, or such).
The basic criterion for Labour Party membership should be simple: to support the Labour candidate in all elections. In cases of alleged wrongdoing there should be a transparent disciplinary process in line with norms of “natural justice”. Labour Party conference 2016, despite coming soon after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership-poll victory, was dominated by the Labour right. Momentum did nothing to intervene on conference floor. We cannot afford to miss the new chances now given us for conference 2017. The left must organise quickly now to win delegates, particularly youth delegates, and to get parties to send their full entitlements.
Delegates (and nominations for CAC and NCC, and rule-change proposals) have to be finalised by 7 July.Constituency Labour Parties can also, in August or early September, submit “contemporary” motions, which have to refer to events after the end of July. Key issues to get on the agenda include: defending free movement; demanding the repeal of the Thatcher anti-trade-union laws as well as the Cameron law; and nationalising the banks.