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Editorial: After the election, what next for the labour movement?

WHEN THE dust settles on Britain’s first December election in a century the left and labour movement cannot afford a moment’s rest.

The Morning Star’s print deadlines mean voting is still ongoing as we head for the presses — but however the chips fall we are in for a tremendous struggle. In four-and-a-half years the state of the left has been transformed.

Two completely contrasting visions for our future were on the ballot paper. Labour’s offer went further than two years ago, it stood on a more detailed and more radical platform and has a programme that can not only make an immediate difference to the most vulnerable but presages a more permanent democratisation of our society.

In important respects that vision is already winning. The Conservatives cannot inspire activists as Labour does, and the existence of a mass Labour Party is itself a huge achievement. In contrast, as Labour revealed last month, one-third of Britain’s 151 billionaires have donated to the Tory Party.

Labour is also the only party presenting policies to the electorate, with other parties focused on spreading fear, building on four years of misrepresentation and smears against Jeremy Corbyn and knowing they can rely on a mass media which acts as a propaganda arm of the Establishment to amplify attacks on Labour, distort the party’s message and try to disorient and demoralise its supporters. Even by 2017’s standards the partisan Tory bias of the media has been breathtaking, leaving the BBC’s already strained claim to impartiality in tatters.

Win or lose, that’s been an education in the nature of class power for millions. Few will now fall for the idea that major newspapers and broadcasters are interested in the truth, rather than in perpetuating an unjust and unsustainable economic system.

And it’s not just the media. The role played at times by army officers (briefing in 2015 that a Corbyn election win could provoke “mutiny”), spooks (with their claims that Corbyn is a threat to national security), civil servants (claiming to the press that the Labour leader is too old and frail to be PM), foreign powers (such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that the US was working to prevent a Corbyn victory) and by scores of MPs has brought shadowy forces out into the sunlight. 

The British state has not been neutral as to whether Labour or the Conservatives should form a government. Millions have seen that. And the mantra that Corbyn represents an outdated ideology with no appeal to the electorate has been shattered. The parties of the status quo, which include the Lib Dems and SNP as well as the Tories, cannot fight Labour on policy.

That places us in a much stronger position than four years ago. But the strength of resistance isn’t neutralised by being recognised. The British ruling class is determined to stop a socialist transformation of our country. That reality faces us whether we are dealing with a Labour majority, a Tory majority or a hung parliament.

In the last two scenarios, enormous and immediate pressure will be put on Labour to remove Corbyn as its leader. In a hung parliament there will be forces saying a less controversial leader who would be acceptable to the likes of the Liberal Democrats would allow Labour to form a government — but as Kevin Ovenden has observed in this newspaper, such a government would be one restricted to a minor realignment of the status quo in the interests of certain sections of the capitalist class.

A Tory win will be seized on by pundits and the Labour right to announce once again that Corbyn is an electoral liability, despite Labour’s greatly improved performance since he took the helm. The grotesque bias of the media wouldn’t feature in narratives as to why Labour didn’t win. Nor are Labour Remainers likely to acknowledge any responsibility for a loss of support in Brexit-backing areas.

Defence of the left leadership would in those circumstances be just as essential as in a hung parliament. The left has made great advances in Labour, but could lose a lot of ground quickly, especially on peace and anti-imperialism where messages have been mixed even from Corbyn’s existing shadow cabinet.

A Labour majority would rightly be cause for celebration, but the battle would not be won. The Establishment will do all it can to frustrate delivery of the manifesto. Public ownership will be fought in the courts, as will efforts to kick private companies out of public services. Action on climate change will face determined opposition from the corporations growing fat off the ruin of our planet. And the fact that the Establishment has a substantial fifth column inside the parliamentary Labour party has been demonstrated repeatedly. Mass grassroots pressure will be key to delivering the Labour programme.

All scenarios require an intensification of left activity, bearing in mind that the electoral arena is only one part of the struggle. Labour’s mass canvassing operation has proved an impressive strength of the campaign, but it is clear, as Laura Smith put it a few days ago, that “the hunger for class politics in our working-class communities” is one that hasn’t been satisfied. 

Labour needs to move from a mass party of activists to mass social movement, developing the kind of local presence that will effectively counter the economic and propaganda power of the elite because people in every town and city are connected to the movement itself. There have been moves towards this, through the People’s Assembly in some areas and through particularly effective trade union community campaigns such as those fought around school cuts. 

Mobilising material help for the vulnerable (through shelters and foodbanks) and organising for defence or extension of community assets — from hospitals through libraries to bus routes — can be ways in which the labour movement makes a concerted effort to embed itself in the life of every working-class community in the land. The process of building a socialist alternative to our broken system will take time and patience. 

The power of the ruling class is formidable, but it has lost control of British politics, and the appetite for an alternative is huge. Our biggest tasks lie ahead. 

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