Labour's much better-than expected support raises the distinct possibility of its victory in the next election. The significance of the Labour surge is not, as most media commentary suggests, a question of a shift in the balance of political power in parliament. It is much more profound than that. Labour's campaign let the proverbial genie of class politics out of the bottle.
For decades that genie has been kept prisoner. First, under Thatcher's momentous attack upon the trade union movement and her declaration that there was 'no such thing as society'. Second, under Blair's third way progressive policies were framed as benign gifts to the poor, to be delivered in a context where Labour was Labour were, in Peter Mandelson's infamous words, 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'.
Blair's New Labour discouraged any revival of working class militancy. For example, he famously opposed and beat back the Fire-Fighter's strike for a £30K a year wage. Thirdly, following David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition, austerity was imposed with a vengeance, with working class communities bearing the brunt.
During the election campaign Corbyn was relentless in his critique of the wealth-gap in the UK. The campaign gave confidence to the millions of people, who voted Labour, that an alternative to austerity is possible.
The hung parliament represents a breathing space for Labour, and a chance for it to consolidate and strengthen its base. A core ingredient of Labour's victory was the unprecedented volunteer mobilisation across the country to campaign and canvass for the party. While the hugely successful Bernie Sander's campaign was built over two years, Labour's election campaign was put into action in less than two months.
The question is, how can Labour increase the momentum of this campaign so that it can prevail when it faces a better-organised Tory party at the next election?
There are a number of things that Labour can do. I must continue to expand its membership. Given the success of the campaign it is not unrealistic to aim for a membership of one or even two million people. Such a base, with each member contributing financially to the party, would generate the resources to finance its momentum.
However, membership and support for the party cannot be based, simply, on the electoral cycle. The culture-ideology of self-seeking individualism has sunk deep roots in the UK. Labour needs to help generate a counter-culture of solidarity and community. Labour party branch meetings are places to discuss local and national politics. But they must be much more. Tens of thousands of artists, intellectuals, and musicians support Labour. Branch meetings can be a place for a counter-cultural flowering, supporting myriad cultural events (for example, showing films such as I Daniel Blake with discussions).
A counter-cultural flowering represents an ideological insurgency. The Tory mantra during the election was that Labour are fiscally irresponsible and that there is 'no magic money tree' to pay for Labour's projects. Let us leave aside that, in response to the global financial crisis, the Bank of England and the UK Treasury collaborated to create £375 billion of new money through quantitative easing. There is a real need for something approaching a Labour party membership and supporter education which explains the rationale of alternative economic and social policies.
In addition to challenging dominant cultural and political narratives, there is a need for a combination of defensive and offensive campaigning, at the local and national level. Defensive campaigns will range across issues such as defending the NHS and schools against cuts and privatisation. Offensive campaigns will probably include those to reinstate free education, to cease arms-sales to dictatorships (such as Saudi Arabia) to protect the environment, and ensure clean air for all.
Crucially, struggles and strikes by workers need to be supported and stimulated. Theresa May leads the weakest Tory party government since the Edward Heath. Strikes will not only contribute to weakening it further, but can also be part of the generation of a solidarity-based counter-culture.
The Labour party sees itself as a family. The massive surge in support for it during the election represents the political crystallization of the yearning for a different form of government, democracy and society. The five points above could represent the first steps of Labour's permanent reformation. When it gains political office that reformation will need to be ramped up all the more.Suggest a correction