Lessons of the election: Don’t mourn – organise!
By Rob Sewell
All the reactionaries are crowing. Donald Trump expressed particular delight at the result. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN!” the US President wrote on Twitter. “Johnson secures crushing UK election victory,” exuded the Financial Times, as the pound rose on foreign exchange markets.
Johnson’s Tories, together with the billionaire press, have carried the day. While it is a setback for Labour in terms of seats, the vote for the Tories increased by only 300,000 compared to 2017 – hardly “crushing”.
Commentators have repeatedly been trying to exaggerate the picture by saying that this is the worst result since the 1930s, which is untrue. Although the party has fewer seats now, Labour won a bigger vote share this time around than in 1982; and Corbyn won more votes than Blair did in 2005.
Nevertheless, the Tory media and the Blairites are trying to use this setback to derail the Corbyn revolution. Using the most vitriolic language, they are demanding that the Labour leader stand aside immediately. We must avoid this trap.
Leaving Scotland aside, the Tories managed to hijack the general election and transform it into a Brexit election, with Johnson promising to “Get Brexit Done”. This served to colour everything, and largely determined the outcome of the election.
It is therefore not a complete surprise that Labour lost a swathe of seats in the north, the Midlands and Wales. This included such seats as Blyth Valley, held by Labour since 1935; and Wakefield, held by Labour since 1932. In these places, many working-class voters were desperate to get Brexit done and move onto addressing other urgent issues.
Clearly millions of people, especially the young, are deeply disappointed – devastated – with the election result. Friday 13 December will be remembered as ‘Black Friday’: the day that Johnson managed to wangle his way back into Number 10.
There was a wise philosopher, Spinoza, who said, “ours is not to weep nor to laugh, but to learn”. We need to learn the lessons of this defeat.
Labour had every opportunity to win this election, but Brexit proved to be extremely divisive. We said in advance that the more the class issues in the manifesto were obscured, the more likely it was that Johnson would win the election. It was a huge mountain to climb.
Going into the 2017 election, Labour accepted the Brexit result and talked about defending workers’ rights. That position won over many Labour leave voters. Labour fought the election on a radical manifesto, with Corbyn as Labour leader. This campaign achieved the biggest rise in the Labour vote since 1945. Clearly Corbyn, Brexit, and left-wing policies were not a problem for voters then.
So what changed? The main change was to pose the Labour Party as more of a Remain Party, promising a second referendum. This allowed the Tories to paint Labour as blocking Brexit and defying the democratic mandate. MPs were seen as ignoring democracy, resulting in growing frustration and anger.
This in turn allowed the Tories to position themselves as the real Brexit Party, carrying out the will of the people. This unfortunately placed Labour in the camp of an establishment that wanted to stop Brexit. The Tories were also ably assisted by Farage, whose party stood in these ‘Red Wall’ seats and sucked votes away from Labour.
This disastrous change was imposed on the Labour Party first and foremost by Blairite MPs, who waged a noisy campaign to commit the party to a second referendum. They then linked up with the Liberal Democrats and others to frustrate Brexit, which they succeeded in doing.
The responsibility for this defeat therefore rests with the Labour right-wingers, starting with Sir Keir Starmer. This caused the maximum confusion – part of the plan to discredit Corbyn, who came across as weak and unclear.
Unfortunately, they were aided in this by the soft lefts – figures such as Clive Lewis, Emily Thornberry, Paul Mason, Owen Jones, and others, who went on demonstrations for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’. This was also true of John McDonnell, who allowed the party to be pushed in a more Remainer direction.
All of this helped prepare the ground for the present defeat. Those calling for a second referendum were blind to the fact that the 2016 Brexit vote was partially a cry for help from those left behind. They saw it as a desperate solution to their problems. They wanted their lives fixed.
Labour should have stuck to the 2017 position and explained that, on a capitalist basis, being inside or outside the EU would make no fundamental difference. The working class will continue to be exploited and oppressed unless and until we break with capitalism and fundamentally change society along socialist lines.
Brexit therefore decided this election, with many previous Labour voters holding their noses and “lending” their votes to the Tories in order to “get Brexit done”.
Needless to say, the idea that Johnson and the Conservatives can resolve the issues facing working-class communities is an illusion. Johnson is all bluff and bluster. The Tories will not solve their problems; in fact, they will make them far worse. The Tories have been in power for the last decade – a decade of austerity and falling living standards. Now they will be preparing for a whole new onslaught against the working class.
This election was probably the dirtiest in generations. Corbyn was subjected to an avalanche of slander, along with the vilest of character assassinations by the establishment and their media mouthpieces.
The BBC will be forever known as the British Bullshit Corporation, a reliable voice of the billionaire class. Commentators, such as Laura Kuenssberg, have played a disgusting role in attacking Labour and Corbyn, whilst simultaneously giving the Tories an easy ride.
As ever, they were joined by the daily sabotage of the Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party. These careerists act as a Fifth Column in the party. Their only role is to keep the Labour Party safe for capitalism.
The Labour right wing have attacked Corbyn ever since he was elected, always with full coverage in the capitalist media. They launched a coup in 2016 to get rid of him, where 80% of the PLP – 172 Labour MPs – voted to remove him. The coup failed miserably, but this did not stop them continuing to discredit him.
Every time you turned on the TV there would be this or that Labour MP attacking Corbyn. If they threw enough mud, they hoped some would stick. He was called a terrorist sympathiser; a Moscow stooge; a Czech spy; and (of course) an anti-Semite.
The slander of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and Labour involved not only the Blairites, but also the Chief Rabbi (who said Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations made him “unfit for high office”), the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hindu and Muslim religious leaders. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Centre warned that Corbyn represents the biggest global threat to Jews!
The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) was also used to attack the Labour leader, leaking contrived statements on anti-Semitism to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which is scandalously investigating the Labour Party for its supposed anti-Semitism. The JLM, a supposed Labour affiliate, even issued a public statement refusing to campaign for a Corbyn government. In effect, they were openly backing a Tory government instead!
All of this can only be regarded as treachery and sabotage by the Blairites and their friends. In this, they had the full backing of the capitalist media and press, who consistently provided the Tory Party with ammunition to attack Corbyn.
To add insult to injury, prominent Blairites announced that they could not vote Labour under Corbyn. Blair said that although he would still vote Labour, others might want to switch to the Lib Dems or Tories. Lord Mandelson, one of the key architects of the New Labour project, called in for Corbyn to be replaced.
Before he split from the party, renegade John Woodcock MP, said he would “not countenance ever voting to make Jeremy Corbyn Britain’s prime minister”. Both he and former Labour MP Ian Austin urged people to back Boris Johnson, warning that Corbyn would be a risk to national security.
This view was reinforced by Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, who showed complete disdain for Corbyn in recently leaked recordings. In reality, he was simply stating what other right-wing Labour MPs also believe.
Without a shred of doubt, this is a right-wing conspiracy, embracing the billionaire establishment and their Blairite friends. Its aim is to destroy Corbyn and undermine the Labour Party.
They now cynically attack Labour’s left-wing manifesto as the “longest suicide note in history”, when in reality this (and the party’s mass grassroots campaign) was the only thing preventing a greater defeat.
Another reason for Labour’s defeat – despite the marvellous campaign by activists, mobilising in marginal seats – is the rotten legacy of New Labour. This runs deep in many working-class communities.
The betrayals of Blairism have led to a deep distrust towards Labour. There remains a large degree of scepticism amongst many workers, who have become understandably distrustful of all politicians and their promises. “You can’t trust them. They are all the same. They are all out for themselves” – this was the common refrain heard on so many doorsteps in this election.
This is the result of the right-wing domination of the party, especially in local councils, where Labour has helped carry through the cuts. This is especially the case in Scotland, where the Blairites ruined the party.
Labour members should rise up against the latest campaign to oust Corbyn. The Labour leader should not stand down under this pressure. We say: stop the witch-hunt against Corbyn!
There certainly should be a thorough discussion throughout the movement, and an inquest led by the membership. However, all the evidence points to the disgusting role of the Blairites.
The Corbyn revolution is not complete. The Labour right wing hope to destroy the Corbyn movement and seize back control. The Labour leadership has endlessly tried to placate the Blairites and offer olive branches. They fear a break with these traitors. But this has been a big mistake. The party needs cleansing of all careerists and Tory infiltrators.
At the 2018 Labour conference, 90% of delegates from local parties wanted to proceed to introduce the mandatory reselection (open selection) of MPs. But this was blocked by the trade union leaders. Even Jon Lansman, the self-appointed leader of Momentum, went along with this.
But genuine democratic accountability would have made all the difference in sorting out the wheat from the Tory chaff. It would have united the PLP behind Corbyn and the mass movement around him. It would have united the party against Johnson and the Conservatives.
This work still needs to be done. This electoral defeat – and the hysteria of the Blairites – mean that this is an urgent task. It should be placed on the agenda of all Labour Party meetings in the New Year. The trade unions also need to be brought on board. Unite the Union officially has a position in favour of mandatory reselection, but this needs to be implemented in practice.
Marxism looks at the long view. It analyses the processes as a whole. History does not proceed in a straight line. The whole period is enormously volatile. The centre ground is disappearing. This reflects the deep crisis of the capitalist system.
There will be swings to the right along the way. But these will prepare the way for even bigger swings to the left. This will continue until the working class finds a way out, by breaking with capitalism.
Today, all the reactionaries are celebrating. But this will be short-lived. In the words of Sir Robert Walpole, the Tories may be ringing their bells now, but tomorrow they will be wringing their hands. Now they have a big parliamentary majority, they have no excuses. They will reap the whirlwind.
This Johnson Tory government will be a government of crisis. It will not last its full term. A new world slump looms. This is going to transform the situation.
The working class, blocked on the political front, will tend to look towards the industrial front. This can be seen already by the struggles of postal workers and rail workers. Workers and youth will take action in the workplace and on the streets.
Events, events and more events will transform consciousness. There is no possibility of stability, as we see internationally with revolutions breaking out from Chile to Sudan to Lebanon.
We urgently need to build the forces of Marxism to provide a backbone to the movement; to provide determination and a perspective to change society. We need clarity. We need a class analysis to guide us. We need a Marxist voice for Labour and youth. We appeal to you to join us and help us build this.
The Tories’ success will evaporate like a raindrop on a hot stove. It will prepare the way for a massive shift to the left in society – and ultimately for the socialist transformation of society. We need to build, to organise, and to prepare the necessary forces to achieve this.