It has all been leading to this moment, writes Clarion editor Simon Hannah.
Theresea May has called a General Election for 8 June. Labour will have to support this in parliament as they cannot be seen to be propping up a reactionary Tory government for another 4 years by opposing an election.
May has called the election because she knows Brexit will be a disaster and doesn’t want to face the electorate in 2020 with the economy in free fall. Better to do it now and get it out the way.
Most pundits will look at the polls and predict a Labour wipe out, wild predictions of seats lost will bounce around the newspapers and social media. People will obsess over the polls daily. There will be a vicious Tory campaign of vilification against Jeremy Corbyn in the newspapers, citing his wild socialist views, his “support for the IRA” or all kinds of nonsense to scare voters away. All these things are inevitable.
They should not paralyse us with fear. After all, the polls are used to construct a narrative of unelectability, the anti-socialist witch hunt will be used to isolate us politically. Such as it ever was. Did we wish that we had another three years to fight this on a more favourable battlefield? Of course. But socialists rarely get to choose the terrain upon which they fight – that privilege usually falls to the ruling class.
A certain sense of nervous fear is normal in this situation. After all, the Labour left hasn’t had any opportunities to really shift the balance of forces in the Labour Party. The right still dominate the PLP and the apparatus. This means we are going into the election half cock, without a lot of the policies or candidates we might have wanted.
But none of that matters right now. All that matters is that in every constituency, in every ward, on every doorstep we are fighting for Corbyn to become Prime Minister.
This is not a question of ‘optimism’ or pessimism but fighting the best battle we can on the terrain that we have. The enemy have picked the battlefield and their guns are lined up – on our side we call out every single person who feels inspired by Corbyn and get them out onto the streets. Every door step is a chance to pose Labour as a genuine alternative to the Tories; not as Tory-lite, not warmed over semi-austerity, not draped in the Union Jack or singing hymns to the markets.
This election is not like 2015. We have an avowedly left wing leader, proposing an end to austerity, an alternative to neo-liberalism, a £10 an hour living wage, a new wealth tax, £250bn of infrastructure spending, no more free-trade deals, tackling corporate greed and repealing the trade union laws. We can hope that the National Education Service and other Corbynite proposals get into the manifesto. Momentum needs to play a huge roll in influencing these discussions and producing clearly socialist material that can be distributed if Labour’s own policies falls short.
At this stage it is go had or go home really in terms of policy and also activism. Of course there are lots of criticisms to make of the Labour left’s strategy up to this point – particularly of Momentum’s quite disasterous lack of strategy and pulling punches on issues that were important. Certainly after the election all these issues need to be debated and clarified. But for the next few weeks we pick up the weapons at hand and fight with what we have.
No matter what happens the door that Corbyn has opened offers an opportunity for us all to take this message into millions of homes across the country. For socialists this isn’t merely an electoralist issue of number crunching the polls and possible returns to parliament. This is about the politics of what the Corbyn surge represents, how it connects with other similar movements across Europe and similar crises for mainstream politics. It is through that breach that we pour our energies, to make the case for a wider anti-systemic politics.
In the words of Howard Zinn;
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”
Let’s fight for the most marvellous victory that we can muster.
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Simon is the author of a forthcoming book on the history of the Labour left, published by Pluto in January 2018.
Labour doesn’t “have to” support anything May does, from an early election that will expand a reactionary Tory majority to triggering Article 50. The Labour Party is in horrendous shape (whether you blame Corbyn or the PLP for that doesn’t matter) and now is the worst time from the standpoint of the left to have a general election.