As Labour descends into a squabbling mess, Vida Adamczewski marks her return with a rallying cry for left wing solidarity.
Here Labour stands with Corbyn and, despite the cheering (some from this corner, I’ll admit) it is already clear that he is going to struggle to do the one thing that could return power and support to socialism: create a party that will unify the left under one, big, red banner.
The fact is that UK politics is not just about the two major parties. There are all sorts of one-issue parties, grass roots movements, internal party divisions (was I the only one that thought that Liz Kendall had confused left and right?) and pesky outriders lurking about. In this complicated climate, the left tends to be more susceptible and prone to splits than the right. This is probably because the right is united behind some fundamental beliefs: free market capitalism is good, money is nice, business is the answer and that the poor must just work harder. The left has reached no such consensus, nor such a clear ideology. Or, rather, it has but people are rapidly losing faith in it because this fundamental aim has come to be treated as an inconvenient obstacle to populism and an unsubstantiated fairy tale. First and foremost, we need to reconnect with what we really believe in: cooperation, empathy and equality.
Instead of backing one horse together in this first-past-the-post two horse race, the left finds itself splitting into tiny parties that focus on one issue as opposed to challenging the whole system. In part this is due to a status quo shift (referred to as the “Overton Window”) dramatically to the right in the last few decades since Thatcher’s reign, which has allowed the Tories to push through policies that once only their most extreme members championed, keeping their members on the peripheries happy and stopping the party from splintering, but has left Labour broken and divided.
The left have found themselves compensating for this shift by chasing the Tories further and further to the right in a desperate attempt to keep the gap between the two sides as minute as possible. Apparently this would endear Labour to the people. In hindsight, while New Labour was very good at winning elections, those elections were not successes for the left but arguably undercover successes for the right. Labour left their more left wing members frustrated and floundering for a party to call home. Lefties who love the NHS flocked to the NHA (National Health Action Party), the frustrated environmentalists joined the Greens and now, with the formation of the Women’s Equality Party, it seems that Labour is losing feminists too. It is the existence of smaller parties that don’t take votes from the Tories but almost exclusively from Labour that helped gut Labour in the election this year. And Labour has no one to blame but itself.
Even Ukip eats away at Labour because of its everyman approach and politics of fear. Issues like unemployment, Ukip blames on immigration. Labour must fight against these myths and propose alternative, convincing ways of solving the problem. Labour must also address immigration maturely, because it’s a serious concern for much of the population. They need not subscribe to Ukip scaremongering but must not shy away from the issue. Yes, Ukip also took from the Tories but the Tories have proved better at defending itself because they never fail to present a solution to the problems raised that is consistent with their neo-liberal ideology. Labour must present its counterpart – solutions based on strengthening industry and returning power to the workers. We do not need to reduce the number of immigrants; we must increase the number of jobs!
When Labour set up a special unit to deal with the threat posed by the Greens in the May election, it was obvious Labour had failed to cotton on to the reason that its voters were joining alternative groups standing on the same side of the fence. They are looking elsewhere not because of what Labour does stand for, but what Labour doesn’t stand up for anymore. No amount of campaigning was going to convince people to vote for a party that they agree with already but don’t trust or believe in. Labour would have been better off trying less hard to distance itself from the smaller left wing parties and rather expended more energy establishing its principles and policies and how different those are to the Tory agenda. Labour must stop alienating passionate people with its own apathy, lethargy and passivity.
The NHA shouldn’t need to exist because Labour should already be a party that seeks to protect and improve the NHS. There shouldn’t need to be a Green Party because Labour should be equally conscious of environmental issues and how best to combat them. There should not need to be a Women’s Equality Party because Labour should have a comprehensive, intelligent and informed set of policies to tackle pervasive, systemic sexism. Labour keeps on forgetting to say that socialism should and can be a system overhaul that solves problems of environmental responsibility, gender equality, social justice and protection of the welfare state. We need to reengage with socialism’s diverse and incredible power to solve myriad problems – the problems that at the moment divide us, should be brought together as shared fights, shared aims, united over those issues because we are united in our fight for a socialist world. I am a reluctant Labour supporter because it seems to me that if we ever want to oust the Tories with this (flawed and failing) electoral system, we are all going to need to vote for the same left wing party, we are all going to have to back ONE horse. But if we can’t agree to all vote Labour, then Labour has to hold its hand out to those smaller parties they will vote for.
We need to stop reacting to what the Tories do and establish ourselves as an actual alternative. Instead of trying to lessen the gap between the right and left, we should embrace the fact that we need not be anything like them. If we imagine the Overton Window, the boundaries of the status quo, as a rope in tug of war, we need to pull hard against the right and towards the left if we actually ever want to see significant change in this country. Perhaps Corbyn will do this, but he must be able to heave with the combined strength of the whole party and those smaller parties too.
Labour needs to unite the left otherwise we face splintering into manifold small entities that hold little power in a Parliament that is not chosen with proportional representation. If we don’t, the Tories will strengthen while the left deteriorates into squabbling sects that all agree with each other but are too stubborn to admit it – that’s all that will be left.