The counter-revolution is about to begin. The quiet voice of progressive Britain will soon re-assert itself over the baying and the booing of the far-left mob. For this fightback to succeed, however, it will need to be based on a carefully constructed new alliance, both for moral and strategic reasons.
There has been much praise for the triumph of Emmanuel Macron in France on this website and others. We should take comfort from the defeat of extremists in a country that these islands once liberated from fascism. But we must be careful not to draw the wrong lessons from that victory, for to do so would be to invite further defeats for the centre-left in this country.
Look what is happening to – and is about to happen to – the Lib Dems to see where the path back for the centre-left is blocked. The Lib Dems deserve qualified credit for railing against the hard Brexit that Theresa May is intent upon. There is a huge swathe of centre-ground opinion in this country that is not being represented by the Tories or the Labour Party, but the Lib Dems are failing to represent it themselves because: A) Their clarion call sounds hollow and B) Their appeal is too narrow.
The worst mistake progressives could make at this point in history would be to double-down on dismissing the righteous anger of the parts of this country that have been left behind. Yes, these are the places that overwhelmingly voted for Brexit. Yes, you may be uncomfortable with the social conservatism that drove them to do so. But you would be a fool – an unconscionable fool – to continue to tell them that they have simply misunderstood the problems they face and that all they need is more time to come round to your way of thinking.
Our electoral system requires a particular type of alliance-building. The centre-left in this country cannot do as Macron did in France and outmanoeuvre millions of angry people in a straight, two-person shoot-out with one dangerous extremist. We do not have a presidential system here and first past the post demands delicate alliance-building, the like of which was successfully crafted over many years under that heinous election-winner, Tony Blair.
A new centre-left alliance – which I believe is already emerging – will combine the best ideas of the liberal left and the real-world analysis of movements such as Blue Labour. The brilliance of New Labour was that it accepted the social conservatism inherent in this nation, but allied it to a brave, modernising project. Attlee achieved the same when he allied patriotism with a new deal for a victorious nation. So, too, did Wilson when he combined the rhetoric of ‘new technology’ with a call to take the whole country with him into a brave new world.
If the centre-left chooses to retreat further into the nation’s cities after this election, then it will simply hand the next decade to the forces of the right. That doesn’t need to happen. It is perfectly possible to ally the concerns of working people in our smaller towns and rural areas with the aspirations of metropolitan liberals. We can do so by talking about modernisation that takes all our people forward, not just the inhabitants of trendy parts of our inner cities.
There will be a small window of opportunity for Labour to capture this mantle after the election. If Labour wants to carry the torch of the centre-left once more, it will need to act very fast. We cannot afford another period of introspection and group therapy. For if we fail to come to our senses, public pressure will cause something in our political system to snap and Labour will simply become not part of the our nation’s future, but an echo of its past.