While the General Election did not result in the formation of a Labour government, it marked the achievement of something much deeper: Jeremy Corbyn has cleared the way, the party’s inner struggle for direction is won.
Since the decline of the Blair and Brown administrations, Labour’s reality of being a broadchurch has resulted in a crisis of image and identity. On paper, the opportunity for wide ranging discourse and plurality is a healthy one. In practice this caused the slow abandonment of the party’s fundamental principles in favour of fragmented disharmony.
In 2010, a faction, or tendency alarmingly coined ‘Blue Labour’ was conceived by Maurice Glasman, Labour life peer in the House of Lords. Blue Labour rejected the free-market economics of Blair but – with a focus on faith and flag – promoted the return to a more socially conservative working class and a dim view of immigration. Glansam even accepted the benefits of the party opening up to EDL supporting white workers in pursuit of power.
This simplistic sense of pre-1960s nostalgia would undermine the possibility of any fruitful pragmatism coming through, such as decentralisation of government. Mirroring the empty romance of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ ideal, Blue Labour showed no practical ability to build and underpin an actual rise to power. This was proven during Ed Miliband’s tenure as Labour leader. Miliband, who made Glasman a peer, drew from these ideas in order to form his unsuccessful One Nation Labour branding (another Tory inspired concept).
A year later, the remnants of New Labour put forward a rethink of the party’s transformation to ‘third way’ centrism in the form of The Purple Book. Miliband unsurprisingly composed the foreword to this collection of policy proposing essays which largely praised Glasman’s thinking.
The ‘Purple’ name refers to a middle ground between traditional socialist, ‘Red’ Labour and the ideas presented by Blue Labour, as well as the type of middle class, moderately conservative voter the party should look to get on side. The problem with this, again, is the continued fixiation with proposing a copycat brand of Cameron conservatism and appealing to the Tory voter and Rupert Murdoch. Miliband all but admitted these flaws when stating during the 2017 campaign that he was proud to be associated with Corbyn’s radical manifesto and wishes he had put forward something of that ilk in 2015.
Similarly, Blairite heavyweight Lord Mandelson conceded through gritted teeth following the election that the party’s unexpected gains have put Corbyn in a position of being leader “for as long as he wants”. Those in the party who doubted and actively tried to sabotage Corbyn now seemingly have no option but to actually support their leader and get behind what was right under their nose the whole time: a growing popular movement fit for government.
For the Many, Not the Few was – is – a mobilised movement that exists in spite of the likes of Murdoch, succeeding solely on small donations from ordinary people who believe a more equal society is possible. In spite of the Conservatives spending around £1m in anti-Corbyn social media propaganda and a grossly biased press, the Labour leader and his followers earned the party its largest vote share increase since Clement Attlee’s stunning 1945 landslide. And, in an unprecedented shift to a grassroots, bottom-up distribution of power, the party is on course for a membership of 1 million.
Furthermore, a recent poll from former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Ashcroft, found that 50% of 35-44 year olds voted Labour, with 30% voting Tory. Progressive policies like free school meals for all, a National Education Service for all and a £10 living wage saw the party jump from 25% to 40% in the polls over a period of 7 weeks, with Corbyn’s basic message of equality and decency galvanising not just idealistic young lefties but the middle aged, the old and critically – a portion of former UKIP protest voters.
This came as a surprise to the British commentariat class who readily accepted that all of the near 4 million people who voted UKIP in 2015 cared only for Brexit, so would naturally vote Conservative. What they failed to account for was that the anger of voters towards the neoliberal elite – which saw the recent rise of hard-right populism in Europe and the USA – could be channeled in a more progressive way. Corbyn coming from the left means nothing to the average person. He offers people an alternative politics, May certainly does not.
Another significant aspect of Corbyn’s longevity is his steady reclaiming of a Scottish electorate that for a number of years felt betrayed. Scots on the left who don’t particularly identify as nationalists – while in a very different boat as the ex-UKIP voters – too see in Corbyn an exciting alternative. Scottish Labour, brought back to life by Corbyn in the election, must now unite behind his approach and end the anti-SNP unionist love-in with the Torys. Akin to the blue and purple thinkers, they must focus on what makes Labour electable. And that is returning to its roots.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay recently pointed out that had Scottish Labour’s campaign focused more on Corbyn’s radical movement, it could have doubled its number of seats. Nevertheless the Scottish wing can take heart from increasing its seats in Westminster from 1 to 7 and look to the future. A future that would benefit considerably from ousting Kezia Dugdale in favour of a genuine socialist.
With the Conservative Party in disarray, stumbling to a deal with the party political wing of the Orange Order in order to form a government, the Labour Party’s road back to power is clear. The wilderness years of half-hearted rebranding and soul searching are over. The public will never feel any affinity with such murky, unnecessary changes. MP’s on the party’s right have never really been sure what it is they want to represent, now it is set for them. They have two options: get in line and into government or break away into a soulless third way party with ‘small c’ Conservatives.
Then raise the scarlet standard high. Beneath its shade we’ll live and die. Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.