DISTRESSING though Labour’s polling may be, shadow housing secretary John Healey is right to point out that giving up on forming a government is not the answer.
The Fabian Society may believe that seeking to build a coalition with smaller parties is a more realistic goal than winning an outright majority.
But politics is not mathematics and the Fabians’ advice is rooted in their politics. Here it is assumed that elections are won on the “centre ground” and accommodating to it is the best way to win.
The Conservatives share no such delusion. They have repeatedly tacked hard to the right.
Seven years ago, taking power after an economic crash caused by the reckless gambling of the rich, they blamed Labour and public spending and set about demolishing the welfare state.
The damage they have done is colossal, comparable to the destruction of British manufacturing and the normalisation of mass unemployment by the Thatcher governments of the 1980s: our health service is fragmented, part-privatised and collapsing under debt, a higher education now comes with a price tag in the tens of thousands and we have a social security system that hounds people to their deaths or simply leaves them to starve.
The May government talks of forcing companies to publish lists of foreign employees, checking people’s passports before treating them in hospital and fighting the next election on a promise to abandon our human rights obligations.
Centre ground it isn’t. The Tories have grasped a truth that still eludes the Labour right and the Lib Dems: people are angry.
Angry at an economy that only rewards a tiny few, while their working lives grow longer, their jobs more insecure and worse-paid, their children are sinking into debt before they even start work and shrinking pensions combined with the cost of social care make old age a terrifying prospect.
Whatever a gaggle of mutinous MPs might suggest, there is absolutely no evidence that Labour’s prospects would improve if it returned to mimicking Tory economic policy.
Most people support renationalising the railways and the utilities, want stronger controls on the banks and higher taxes on big business, or so the polls tell us.
Most people, as we learned last summer, are not in favour of remaining in the European Union, and so presumably not in favour of retaining the anti-democratic restrictions it places on public ownership and investment.
Labour must not retreat on its left economic agenda or connive at undermining the result of the EU referendum, which alliance with the Liberal Democrats would probably involve.
Instead it must seize the opportunity to ramp up the radicalism of its challenge. It is not only Britain that is in crisis: the status quo in the United States and across Europe has lost all credibility.
Morbid symptoms such as Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen should not blind us to the reality that the discredited Establishment was driving us to the brink of ruin through endless war, rising poverty levels and potentially catastrophic climate change.
Socialists and trade unionists must recognise that there is no bargaining with that trajectory. No concessions we can win from our rulers will stop the progressive disenfranchisement and impoverishment of working people.
The task facing Labour’s left leadership is not easy. Wall-to-wall media hostility is compounded by a restive parliamentary party where many MPs are wedded to the old order: the public’s impression of a weak and divided party then translates into direful poll results.
But no Establishment makes itself easy to overthrow. Jeremy Corbyn’s instinct that the enemy’s big guns must be overwhelmed by a mass social, street and workplace movement remains correct.
Our job is to assess how we can best contribute to building that movement and get to work.