Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The general election results show how a Labour majority is possible

There has been general relief and celebration on the left about Labour's general election result. Labour narrowed a twenty point gap to three and scored its best general election result in almost two decades. Against overwhelming odds, the left fought back against the rising tide of a reunified right and it paid dividends. But most importantly, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour has shown how the party can build a path to a majority government very soon.

All this comes with very serious caveats (which will be discussed below), but at last we have the tantalising prospect of a Labour majority. What does that prospect rest on?

Firstly, Labour has a large, young, enthusiastic base  - and demographically speaking it's set to expand. Almost thirteen million people turned out to vote for Labour. Not much lay between Labour and the Tories in vote share (only 2.5-3%). Huge turnout among the young indicates a positive showing for Labour in future.

Labour won some southern and southeastern seats outside of London and turned some - like Hasting for Amber Rudd - into tight marginals. The south of England was previously desolate terrain for Labour and it still looks challenging. But many more seats than anyone had predicted will be competitive come the next election. 

Equally important, Labour showed it can bring back UKIP voters from brink of Toryism with a populist economic message and prevent collapse in Wales. The vast majority of UKIP voters went blue last week, but Labour only needs a relatively small swing among these voters for a Tory collapse to become a real prospect. 

Slower is progress in Scotland - but when Labour looks likely to form a government, support in Scotland will grow (as it did in this campaign). The better Labour looks in England and Wales, the more distant the prospect of independence, the more Scottish voters will come back to Labour. Basically, Labour has to win the social-democratic, unionist vote back from the Tories and the SNP. Labour has to win several more seats north of the border - but far fewer than originally thought.

The basic lessons are twofold: maintain the high levels of turnout in urban, young, densely-populated areas and win over more cautious, conservative voters in less urban areas with an economic populist message. Corbyn has proved he is the candidate for both jobs. If an election takes place in the next twelve months, there's every reason to believe a radical-left Labour Party can win it. Let that sink in. Nothing like it will ever have happened before in western politics.

Now the caveats: the Tories would have scored a landslide this election if it hadn't been for the energetic campaign fought by literally tens of thousands of activists of the left. The right has consolidated within the Tory party. The deep strain of reaction in British politics is organised and angry. Their impending, crushing victory was only narrowly averted by our great efforts.The right could yet rally behind a nationalist Brexit and a hard-right, anti-immigrant platform supported by all the major tabloids and vicious Tory government intent on saving itself.

Labour could also fall back if Corbyn and the Labour leadership aren't able to pull forward on a radical platform. The manifesto was perfectly attuned to 2017 - but the party itself is full of weaknesses. The Parliamentary Labour Party is still very right wing and, at the same time, uncomfortable with any change to the status quo. Corbyn needs to be clear that Brexit is going ahead, that the plan to rebuild the country is independent of the Brexit negotiations, and that there is no room in the party for anti-migrant xenophobia.

The danger is great - but only because we have never been so close to victory. There are very few who doubt that a Labour majority government is now possible. The way to make it possible is to sustain the enthusiasm of the 2017 election campaign - channel it into anti-Trumpism, anti-racism, unity and solidarity against austerity, and campaigning for a clear Brexit programme which is good for workers of all backgrounds. 

In the next twelve months we can have a Labour government - and a social majority for a socialist manifesto. 

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