Dr. Amelia Morris
For those on the Left, today is a crushing blow. As the exit poll results came in, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Being out on the doorsteps these past few months, I had let myself become hopeful and felt like there was a change in the air. The visibility of the suffering caused by the government is now inescapable – whether it be the high numbers of homelessness on the high street, or the public services that are buckling under the strain of cuts – and it truly seemed as though people were ready for something different.
A lot of people will place the blame of this defeat with Jeremy Corbyn, and say that the party lost its way by embracing the ‘far left.’ However, it is naive to think that *if only* we had another leader, with more ‘sensible’ centrist policies, that the establishment would have been kinder. In reality, our country is controlled by the right-wing media, and they have a vested interest in annihilating any politician who is left-wing, or even left-of-centre. For instance, in 2015, Ed Milliband was mercilessly ridiculed, branded a ‘communist’ and nicknamed ‘Red Ed‘ and a ‘Marxoid Creep.’ In response, he leaned into anti-immigration rhetoric (remember the mugs?) in an attempt to appease the right and prove he was ‘tough,’ and lost the election anyway. Additionally, it is funny to think about it now, but in 2005, even the Centrist’s pin-up – Tony Blair – was likened to Stalin and Mao.
This election, it was clear the media are in the pockets of the Conservatives and the billionaires, to name a few examples: BBC journalists falsely claimed that a Labour activist punched Matt Hancock’s aide in the face, a BBC reporter commented that Boris could get the majority “he so deserves,” Question Time was edited to positively reflect Boris Johnson, The Daily Mail and The Sun’s consistent onslaught of Labour (including The Sun’s direct instruction to Vote Conservative) or the false comparison between Jeremy Corbyn not watching the Queen’s speech and Boris Johnson’s lies about privatising the NHS.
The Labour manifesto was brave, empathetic and feminist. It resisted the gaslighting narrative that austerity was inevitable, and that we simply need to accept that 4.1 million children live in poverty or that food banks are a normal part of life in 2019, in one of the riches countries in the world. It was hopeful, and we should not feel ashamed of this, or try and disown it now. In 2018, the UN described the Coalition’s policies as a “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population” that had led to conditions similar to the Victorian workhouses. For me, the ‘middle of the road’ approach is fine in usual circumstances, but what about when the road is on fire? As Raoul Martinez argues:
We need to stand firm in the notion that a shift to the right, to appease the Centrist Dad, produces more of the same. It is a palatable option for those who think that we can work with neo-liberal economics, but if the years since the economic crash have shown us anything, it is that the selfishness embedded in the neo-liberal project will take us for everything that we have. It is for this reason that I am really proud of Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott, Rayner, to name a few. They refused to take left-wing ideas off the table, and have galvanized proper conversations about ‘what if?’ and ‘you don’t have to accept this.’ We can’t let this slip away.
But also, it is important to listen to people. It is clear that, in a lot of cases, this election was about Brexit. Whilst I think Labour’s stance was correct in its nuance and its attempt to bring the country together, it was impossible to cut through the soundbites of ‘Get Brexit Done’ or ‘Cancel Brexit,’ and I spoke to a lot of people who felt “betrayed.” We must reflect, then, on why it is that people feel left behind. I’m not sure I have the answers to this, but I am certain that diluting politics that would bring about real and radical change is not the solution. Rather, we need to reassess the way we communicate these ideas on the ground, and the way we resist the establishment rhetoric and increase awareness of class consciousness.
Most importantly, we need to collectively organise, both locally and nationally. Join a union, volunteer, march or support a foodbank. We have to remember that we are a movement, and that real change never occurs without sustained struggle.
First we grieve, and then we organise.