Labour and the anti-austerity left
THE LAST FIVE YEARS HAVE SEEN the emergence of an anti-austerity left, within Britain and across Europe. In some places, the emergence has taken place to the left of Social Democracy; so Syriza has replaced Pasok in Greece. The attitude of the Socialist Party in Spain to working with Podemos suggests that a similar process may well be happening there as well.
In England, the Corbyn leadership campaign has resulted in an anti-austerity emergence taking place within Labour. However that was after the General Election. At the time of the last election, Labour was not an anti-austerity party, as was shown so graphically in the leadership broadcast when the leaders of the three anti-austerity parties – the SNP, Plaid and the Greens – worked together so effectively, leaving Miliband looking isolated and alone. Indeed, the success of the SNP in Scotland, and the big gains made by the Greens in England, helped galvanise the rank and file revolt that led to the emergence of Jeremy as party leader.
This raises the question of the nature of our relationship to these forces. The SNP won the General Election in Scotland on a platform well to the left of Labour – and have within their ranks many of the best activists north of the border. The maiden speech by Mhairi Black, in which she paid tribute to Tony Benn, illustrates that today’s SNP is a very different creature from the party of 20 years ago, and has within it many people with whom we should be co-operating.
But this is not the only reason why our relationship to the SNP is so crucial. At the last election the main issue which the Tories were fighting on in their poster campaign was not the economy, or immigration, or Europe; it was Labour’s relationship to the SNP. It was very clear that there were only two options for government at the last election. One was a Tory government (with possible Lib Dem support). The other was a Labour - SNP alliance. When Miliband rejected the option of co-operating with the SNP, he rejected the possibility of a Labour government. And the electorate drew their own conclusions.
That was the brilliance of the Lynton Crosby campaign. At the next election, assuming there is still a United Kingdom, we will need to fight the SNP for every seat we can win. But after the election is over, we will either need to work with them to put together a progressive government, or we will hand power back to the Tories. And that means we have to counter the Tories’ toxic propaganda on the SNP before, not after, the election. We have to make a public statement of our willingness to work together.
As for the Greens, they won a million votes at the last election on an antiausterity platform. Their MP Caroline Lucas is far closer to Jeremy on policy than most of the PLP. Some of these votes will come back to Labour, but by no means all. If we want to maximise the number of progressive MPs in Westminster after the next election, it would be wise to begin talking now on strategies of co-operation. That is why I welcome the interesting ideas presented by Davy Jones in Briefing. Our task is to put together a majority in Parliament for an anti-austerity programme – and that involves building alliances wherever we can.