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Editorial: Turn a historic Tory defeat into a change of course for Britain

BRITAIN has just inflicted the worst defeat on the Conservative Party in its history.

Two-thirds of their MPs have been swept away in a night, leaving the smallest Tory contingent at Westminster since the party’s foundation in 1834. Jubilation at the outcome has, for socialists, been sweetened by the sight of some of the most odious politicians in the country lose their seats, from former prime minister Liz Truss through anti-union fanatic Grant Shapps to Victorian play-actor Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The result is an emphatic rejection of a rotten government and its policies. Our sights must now be set on changing the country’s course: reversing the tide of authoritarian legislation, including the anti-strike and anti-protest laws; ending the longest decline in real-terms incomes in 200 years; riding to the rescue of collapsing public services.

Some of that is in Labour’s programme as it enters office with a huge majority, but not much. The left needs to put pressure on this government from day one, not just to ensure manifesto commitments to abolishing anti-union laws and boosting workers’ rights are kept, but to drive it to break with Tory spending rules which will hobble any attempt to resolve crises in healthcare, education, local government and many other sectors.

The Labour right have their counter-arguments ready. Keir Starmer rehearsed them in his victory speech. Labour has only regained the trust of the British people because he has spent four-and-a-half years changing the party, smashing the left.

It’s nonsense. As elections analyst Professor John Curtice observes, Labour’s sweeping win is down to the rejection of the Tories, whose vote has collapsed. 

Its vote share, at 35 per cent, is not just lower than at any of Tony Blair’s election victories — it’s considerably lower than the 40 per cent Labour bagged when it lost the 2017 election under Jeremy Corbyn.

It rose significantly in Scotland, where the SNP has been in meltdown for over a year. But in England Labour’s vote is unchanged from 2019 — a year of catastrophic defeat — and in Wales it has actually fallen since then. Starmer himself got only half as many votes as he did in 2019.

Sour grapes? No, and many on the left who have long resented the Tories’ repeated ability to secure commanding majorities on a minority of the vote are delighted to see the A-team of British capitalism shredded by the system they have always championed.

It’s about being clear on the balance of forces. One, Labour has not become more popular because it has shifted right. It has not become more popular at all. That contrasts to the 2015-17 period, and makes the case for a bolder programme.

Without that bolder programme, one which might actually address the manifold crises that brought down the Tories, we can see a very grim future in the rise of the far right, with Reform UK being the main recipient of lost Tory votes and polling a strong second to Labour in parts of the country. This places a responsibility on the labour movement to force Labour left, or risk the collapse of a majority based on a low vote share, a metaphorical house built on sand.

There is no need to despair. Reform UK may have won five MPs: but the election also returned four independents on a peace in Palestine platform — one demolishing the once formidable majority of Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South — along with four Greens.

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as an independent was a highlight of the night, a win for popular mobilisation against the party machine, and secures in Islington North the services of an outstanding champion of peace and socialism whose voice will be sorely needed at Westminster in a darkening world.

It is time for change: but delivering it is up to us, not the new occupant of No 10.

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