THE TORIES’ VERY PUBLIC CRISIS CONTINUES, with centrists calling for the right wing to be thrown out, and the right saying Theresa May must go if the party gets smashed in May’s local elections. Yet neither side in this unedifying battle has credible leadership candidates to put forward and both are united in their horror of a Corbyn-led government, so this crisis may fester for some time yet.
Labour needs to be ready for an election whenever it comes. It’s neck and neck in opinion polls with the Tories, but that’s some way from the kind of lead we need to win with an unstoppable mandate. Nor will the next election be a re-run of the last, when the Corbyn phenomenon and a hugely popular manifesto blindsided a government that was convinced it was strolling comfortably to a re-run of 1983.
This time they will be ready. We can expect a dirty fight, with the Tories using the race card, playing up fears of national security and attempting to weaponise patriotism against us. We need to be equally prepared. Firstly, we need to continue to develop policy. There were quite a few contradictions in the 2017 manifesto, not least the commitment to maintain Trident, which need unpicking. Existing policy needs updating and radicalising on all fronts. But we also need to widen the conversation to take our party beyond its traditional comfort zone of the public services and the economy, so that we have something to communicate on every feature of national life. We must hegemonise every area of policy, underpinned by a consistent application of our core socialist values, exposing the Tories everywhere as the purveyors of a discredited, self-serving ideology.
Secondly, we need to transform our party into a movement that can not only take Labour to power, but ensure it can carry through its programme. The current review on party democracy is an important aspect of this. It has the potential to bring about the biggest democratic overhaul of our party in its history, bringing new life into the women’s and BAME sections, strengthening democratic accountability throughout the structures and emphasising a membership-led organisation at all levels. But this is only part of a broader change that needs to occur - the party needs to be recast as a campaigning movement that can actively engage with tens of thousands of the new members who have joined in the last two and a half years.
Related to this, we need to work with and strengthen the social movements that have provided the backbone of opposition to this government. Environmental activists, anti-war movements, disability groups, campaigns on women’s, migrants’ and other rights, local initiatives against hospital closures or other service cuts - all have formed a solid foundation from which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership draws its strength. But none can celebrate any lasting victories throughout the last eight years of Conservative-led government - yet their continued strength will be a vital factor in ensuring both the election of a Corbyn government and that it delivers on its promises.
The approaching local elections also pose a challenge. In some cases, the selection of left wing candidates will see a break with the pro-private sector policies of the past. The successful campaign against the Haringey Development Vehicle underlines the potential of what can be achieved even within the existing financial constraints imposed by central government. But in many areas, thanks to selection contests held deliberately and unnecessarily early to prevent new members from standing or even voting, the candidates are the same old purveyors of cuts and privatisation that we’ve stomached for the last 20 years. But, make no mistake, if Labour were to take an electoral hit of any kind in May, all the pressure would be back on the national leadership to compromise and moderate its policies and the relative truce in the PLP since the 2017 election would be over. The stakes are too high to sit out these local elections.
Lastly, the left has got to understand that Jeremy Corbyn is not their property alone. There are now many people in our party who are not traditionally from a left wing background, but who passionately want a Corbyn-led Labour government. The left, often more accustomed to in-fighting than being a force for unity, needs to build the broadest possible coalition of support for our policies. There needs to be a working relationship between left currents in the Party - Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour Representation Committee to start with. It also means working closely with our allies in the trade unions to build support for our agenda.
We have the best possible chance for a socialist Labour government in generations. Let’s make sure we’re ready to take it!