Last Tuesday the Conservative government called for a snap election on the sure knowledge that they held a commanding lead in the polls over all rivals, including an 18-point lead over Labour. From the point of view of anyone who isn’t rich, stupid or insane this has come somewhat of a shock, to say the least. The Conservatives are a dangerous right-wing party, perhaps as much a threat to the well-being of the nation than any mainstream political party has ever been – and are now taking this opportunity to secure their grip over the nation’s throat.
Merely to recount the history of this governing party over the last seven years is provide ammunition enough for seven electoral campaigns. It implemented unpopular austerity measures, for which even the caricature-conservative Home Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith felt the need to resign over. These are ‘reforms’ that, between 2011 and 2014, killed at least 2,380 people. The NHS, chronically short of funds or indeed any government support, continues to limp through every winter as though each one will be the last (and one of them will be, very soon). In the aftermath of the global collapse of capitalism, inflicted on the world by the richest 1%, it has somehow managed to maintain and expand upon yawning inequality. In 2013 it ordered the raid Guardian offices rather than respond to the Snowden files, content in remaining in the ‘five eyes’ intelligence empire that spies on everyone. It handled the Brexit referendum by fucking it up spectacularly: it set a referendum question so vague that no one knows how to interpret the answer; set up two fake and hideously-led temporary political parties (‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’) which in turn polarised the entire country; put the resources of the state into supporting ‘Remain’ despite having a duty to remain impartial; and, finally, described the free vote as an “existential choice” – inadvertently describing 51% of the country as terrorists. Speaking of terrorists, the Tory government attacked Libya, armed Saudi Arabia, and has bombed so many people in Syria that airstrike watchdogs are failing to catch up with the mountain of civilian corpses left in its wake. Theresa May has also been a prominent ally of Donald Trump, exulting in his recent decision to unilaterally attack the Assad government. Oh, and her party illegally overspent on the 2015 election, adding outright fraud to the litany of moral and legal crimes it has committed over the years.
That barely took me any time at all, and that’s just scratching the surface. But in intellectually sterile, barely functioning, depressed-repressed nightmare of 21st century Britain, no one has managed to make political capital of the situation (except the SNP in Scotland, at the expense of Labour). Pointing out the Conservatives’ legacy of utter chaos and evil has been left to social media and the grassroots left movement. The prevailing opinion, especially when it appears on TV, is that Labour are all set for annihilation – and with it any nascent opposition movement under the genuinely left-wing Jeremy Corbyn.
Unlike Ed Miliband’s failed election campaign in 2015, there is every incentive now for British voters to flock to Labour. Corbyn was the only major politician to oppose Trump’s insane decision to attack Assad (advocated even included Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader!), and the only one to have campaigned wholesale against austerity measures and any one of the Tory catastrophes listed above. It is hard to overstate the potential for someone who can effectively take this message out to the public – the anger is there if you look for it. It should come as some comfort, as well as a demonstration of this point, that his election as leader was a masterclass in spontaneous demonstration, the mobilisation of the young, and the exploitation of social media. Since his election Labour’s membership has gone up by hundreds of thousands (gaining my membership along the way). By contrast, Miliband in 2015 was an awkward, curious figure with no hard and fast principles and a terrible PR team. Nor did he have the urgency of a Brexit negotiation down the road, with the prospect of an awful, ridiculous right-wing regime behind the wheel. Corbyn has always been seen as a rather sceptical EU Remainer, to be fair, but that conflict is arguably in the hearts of every British person – serious, clear-cut partisans are in the minority. Not for nothing is May a similar figure.
Which brings us to the main accusations levelled against Corbyn, endlessly and daily by pundits and politicos from up and down the country: that he is not a leader, and that Labour under him is a mess. Frankly, anyone willing to pay attention to Labour’s year-long civil war could expose this for the bullshit hackery it really is. When Corbyn originally won the leadership election in 2015 the right of the party hyperventilated about the Trident nuclear missile defence, NATO and a far-left coup. Corbyn, ever the diplomat, refused to railroad anything through based on his personal principles, which in any case would have achieved nothing in the right-wing British Parliament. Nor did he pursue vendettas against any of the Shadow Cabinet that resigned; he merely won his second leadership election, consolidated his mandate, and continued to press the Conservatives on policy. It has always been blindly obvious that attacks by right-wing Labour figures like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alistair Campbell and the war-hawk Hillary Benn undermine the party as a whole. In refusing to be led, they have allowed their opponents to frame Labour as being ill-led.
This self-defeating attitude had even affected supposedly left-leaning figures like Owen Jones, who as recently as last month posted a YouTube monologue arguing for Corbyn to go (despite a massive Labour mandate, the possibility of a snap election at any time and the comments contributing to a lack of optimism). What’s more, he failed to capture the essential vulnerability of this right-wing argument: if Corbyn starts to enjoy electoral success, all criticisms of him must surely fade away. None of this has contributed to a particularly encouraging start; Labour activists now sound like Republican soldiers preparing for a final stand in the Spanish Civil War. This election is not being treated like the opportunity it is: to deal a major blow to the cocksure right-wing elites who think they own the country, maybe even to remove them from power completely. There’s no reason it can’t happen, and there’s every reason it should.
Early indications are that the Labour campaign already has the right instincts: Corbyn came out swinging on Thursday against the ‘establishment experts’ and promising to ‘overturn the rigged system’. These aren’t just soundbites from a fledging politician, as with Barack Obama in 2007/8 – he’s been campaigning against the right his entire life, and has the voting record to prove it. Victory may just be 6 weeks away, and with it a telescoping series of victories: a moral victory against the petty quibbles of the Labour Blairites, an electoral victory against the Tory dominance over Parliament, and a victory for the public against plutocrats and war criminals. The cost, should we lose, is more death, destruction and disintegration. Lives are literally at stake.
All we have to do is take the case to the electorate. All the electorate have to do is vote in their interests. All the Blairites have to do is shut up.
James Preece is a member of the British Labour Party.