Editor’s Note: Lord of the Rings references appear to have become a feature of recent LV articles. I heartily approve.
Watching Labour activists readying themselves for another election battle on the 8th of June, I was oddly reminded of the ending scenes of Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers. Rohan is facing seemingly insurmountable odds, backed up against the wall almost literally and staring defeat. Gandalf out of nowhere arrives and the plunge into the abyss is staved off for one more film.
Gandalf isn’t coming for Labour this time. And this fellowship of progressives from different ends of the left and centre left spectrum aren’t being led by someone who knows what they’re doing, like Aragorn. It’s like giving Pippin the leadership and expecting him to not bumble along aimlessly.
All right, enough with the Lord of the Rings analogies (I’ll save The Dark Knight for next time) but the point stands. Labour face extremely difficult odds and our best hope is simply crisis management. The margin of defeat here is crucial; a Tory majority under 100 is a lot better than what has so far been forecasted for the party. It’s brutally grim for us.
A glimmer of hope lies in the unconvincing performances of Theresa May. She simply hasn’t inspired as a leader. The Tories have not managed the Brexit negotiations well, the plunge of the NHS into a deeper misery has created fresh concerns and all along the country, hospitals are suffering, schools are being poorly funded and living standards are soaring.
Labour have already laid out many policies, including the £10 minimum wage, universalising free school meals, regional investment banks as well as the mandatory tax rises for the super-rich. None of these are policies that the public disagree with and yet we’ve been here before with Ed Miliband: popular policies does not correlate with election success.
The policies have to be combined under a broader Labour vision that is genuinely progressive in helping the lives of all. The Tories speak of uniting the country yet Labour must show it through both words and policies. That means bringing both sides of the Brexit divide together, uniting the working and middle class and knitting in solidarity the increasingly estranged white working class and minorities. Say it, show it and then explain why the Tories are failing.
Under the Conservatives, the economy is still in a state of peril made worse by the looming uncertainty of Brexit. Secure employment feels like a luxury, the debt and deficit still high, inequality widening, living standards declining, working poverty mushrooming. High inequality slows growth and stifles economic recovery. Labour have to show this, and then show their alternative.
Investment is not only fair economics but also sensible economics: a slow but charted recovery based on developing infrastructure leaves the country in a secure position to climb out of debt. The argument often goes that NHS and public housing requires a strong economy but that will not come from the Tories’ ideological approach to it. Labour need to deliver an electoral performance that shows how a Keynesian-based intervention approach based on investment and redistribution accelerates growth and helps the country. And if the Tories are so obsessed with fiscal saving then why not clamp down on tax avoidance from the super-rich which starves the economy of a huge amount of revenue? At a time when the NHS is on its knees and public services in massive decline, can the country afford to continuously give the super-rich a free pass? This is the argument that Labour needs to carefully make.
Secondly Labour need to understand the value of progressive patriotism and the message of taking back control in an age of rampant insecurity. Canada have pulled it off somehow, taking national pride in their liberalism. Britain has a history of inflicting injustice, yet within the country the working class have often been a resisting force against unchecked capitalism and a greedy ruling elite.
The victory of feminists, socialists and liberals over the years have owed to the strength of collective action, to the power of large movements fighting for rights and freedoms. It’s not patriotic to dismiss half the country as “Remoaners”. It’s not patriotic to cut the NHS and BBC or cut funds for schools.
It’s not patriotic to leave British people working to earn their poverty. It’s deeply unpatriotic to continue diminishing workers’ rights, leaving British families effectively at the mercy of multinational corporations. In fact, how can the Tories talk of handing control back to British people when many are in poverty, insecure jobs?
It’s extremely unpatriotic and deceitful to talk about threats facing this country whilst cutting military and police budgets required to deal with it. Labour must show it’s tough on crime and terrorism. It has to lend its favour with liberal reformist Muslims attempting to battle extremism rather than appearing too soft on radicalisation.
Lastly, go on the offensive about Labour’s achievements in government. We are the greatest progressive force in British history for a reason. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown achieved a lot. The legacy of New Labour should never be remembered solely for the calamitous invasion of Iraq. And in failing to defend our record in government, we failed to give the public a reason to trust us this time. We must do better.
None of these suggestions is necessarily a roadmap to victory. The polls are too horrific to give reason for even a sliver of optimism. I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence, or mine for the matter, by suggesting we can win. We’ll be lucky to still consider London a safe city at this rate. This isn’t actually Rohan in Helm’s Deep. This is Faramir and Gondor in their doomed effort to hold Osgiliath as Mordor come pouring in.
And as Gandalf said later, “courage is your best defence now.” All Labour activists can do is bravely meet the fate laid out for us by Jeremy Corbyn.