Only Labour can unify the opposition to May
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A DIFFICULT MONTH for any Labour leader, but Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors within and beyond the Labour Party could not resist piling on the pressure over the parliamentary vote to trigger Brexit. Despite the sense of denial among some, actually Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary tactics on this were about right. To have opposed the referendum result in principle would have sent a clear message to those communities which voted Leave, due to years of marginalisation and lack of representation, that they were going to continue to be ignored and disenfranchised. If Labour is to reconnect with these voters and bury the myth of a metropolitan elite out of touch with the regional grassroots, it has got to listen to the anger and frustration that generated this Leave vote.
But it has got to do more. If the May government has any Brexit plan at all, it is to prioritise clamping down on immigration at the expense of retaining any access to the European single market - a classic hard Brexit, bad for the economy, jobs and workers’ rights. The battle over the terms of Brexit goes on - but on a myriad of other fronts, this is a weak government that can be called to account again and again.
As England and Wales suffer the worst mortality rates for 50 years, the party leadership can, as it already has done, continue to expose the open crisis in NHS funding and social care. Public services from education, to transport, to prisons and social services, are being cynically run down in preparation for further marketisation. The private sector understands that this is a government that cares nothing for ordinary people - hence hundreds of companies choose with impunity not to pay the minimum wage.
The challenge for Labour now goes way beyond holding the government responsible for its multiple failings. The years of neglect under New Labour, and the austerity of Tory-led governments for the last seven years, have fuelled a cynicism in which the fear and hate-mongers of the Leave campaign could thrive.
Despite a new leadership and a massive surge in membership, much of that cynicism remains directed at our Party, which in local government has routinely passed on vicious budget cuts with scant murmur of protest, let alone any sign of organising a fightback. If we are to win back voters in the traditional heartlands, the enthusiasm that saw Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader - twice - has got to be used to transform the Party into a campaigning movement that can unify all the discontent and partial struggles against government policy into one force. We have to set out policies that can inspire hope and belief in a realistic prospect of fundamental social change in millions of people.
Jeremy Corbyn is an inspiring man of principle to lead this movement - but the task is too big to be left to one man. Across the Party and the broader movement, we need to renew our structures and make them fit for the huge job in front of us. The new anti-Trump movement shows what’s possible: building on February’s demonstrations in dozens of UK cities, a broad, inclusive movement is now being forged to challenge the illegitimate US President.
Labour activists too can build unity in action with a broad range of social forces to lead mass opposition to Trump’s best friends - this Tory government - and prepare the way for a real, credible alternative at the next election.