THE GENERAL ELECTION has opened a new period in politics and it looks like being exciting. The ‘winner’ of the election looks increasingly like the biggest loser. And the ‘loser’ looks increasingly like the real winner
Let’s remember that the election was called for cynical party political reasons by the party which had previously insisted on a fixed term Parliament in order to... stop parties calling elections for their own party interests. So far, so cynical.
May expected to gain an increased majority and, importantly, as much time as possible to allow the chaos of any Brexit negotiations to settle down before a return to the polls in 2022.
Her other strategic aim was to crush the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party and the very idea of Corbynism. By this I mean not Jeremy Corbyn’s actual or immediate policies, but the idea that politics could head in a different direction - the very idea that there can be an alternative to the way things are.
After two years of Labour infighting the opinion polls supported her expectations. Commentators rushed to predict how crushing the defeat would be and, I suspect, most of us worried at various times that we faced an impossible climb. But the campaign began to turn the tide almost immediately. It was obvious from the start that Jeremy loved being out campaigning - it is one of his strengths. May, on the other hand, appeared wooden and lost, desperately avoiding speaking to any real people and most definitely any face-to-face debate.
The press threw everything they could at the Labour campaign - and particularly at Corbyn and McDonnell. It was obvious to all informed opinion that May was in for the thumping majority she expected. So she put on her wings and prepared to fly back to Downing Street. But wax still melts if you get too close to the sun. On election night the exit poll applied the first heat and the temperature increased with each result.
May and the Tories have come crashing down to earth with an angry bang. Instead of triumph, humiliation. Instead of stability, total and utter chaos.
Labour’s remarkable recovery will have boosted the morale of everyone involved in our movement. It has shown that we can resist, we can put radical ideas to the public and win support. Young people in particular have demonstrated a brilliant ability to cut through or ignore all the garbage spouted by the Daily Mail - indeed they largely don’t even see it.
We are left with a minority government in utter crisis. At the time of writing, May looks like the obvious loser in a chess game, desperately trying to avoid the final move of the game and looking increasingly forlorn as she plods around the board.
In these circumstances, Labour needs to prepare for the various possibilities we face, including a general election in the near future. Here are a few quick suggestions.
- Build campaign resources in the marginal constituencies: We should build Labour Party membership and organisational capacity in the marginal constituencies. That should include full-time workers able to prepare on the ground for an election whenever it comes.
- Immediate demands in Westminster: The Tories have no mandate for many of their policies. We should demand an immediate end to the public sector pay freeze and to any further cuts to public services.
- One Million Members: We should aim to build quickly towards a million Labour Party members. There must be structures put in place to welcome them into the Party and encourage participation.
- Step up the campaign for party democracy: We want unity but we also desperately need democracy in our party. The next few months need to see a clear plan to democratise all aspects of the party structure: conference, the administrative machinery and selection processes.
The Labour Party should be run by and for its members - and that includes the hundreds of thousands who have joined to support Jeremy Corbyn. The mass expulsions, purges and suspensions need to end.
The election has shown that anything is possible. Those who appear to be in solid positions of power can suddenly and dramatically be weakened - in this case by the intervention of the electorate. This project - of rebuilding our movement with radical and socialist policies - is still in its early stages. Onwards.
is General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union