What just happened and what on earth do we do now?

by Tom

First published: 08 May, 2015 | Category: Politics, Vision/Strategy

A guest post from David Wearing.

I will try and be constructive on what is, by any measure, a truly horrible morning. 

We’re now going to have to recognise the scale of challenge.  Yes, we were right to criticise Miliband for pandering to the anti-immigrant agenda and for proposing an austerity that, while considerably milder than the Tory version, would still have caused a lot of unnecessary suffering.  What else can you do but oppose that?

But let's be under no illusions about the symbolism of what just happened.  This was a punch in the guts for the entire left, inside and outside Labour.  Miliband was savaged by the press and the wider establishment (even, anonymously, from within his own party) for his efforts to move Labour a bit to the left of New Labour and more in tune with European social democracy.  It was a punishment beating intended to show that even an ambition as modest as that is completely out of bounds and impossible to achieve.  This is the 'common sense' that Fleet Street and Westminster will now establish.  This is what your colleagues, friends and relatives will tell you when you try to articulate a left wing point of view: 'it can't be done'.  And how will you respond to that?  True, Labour were killed in Scotland by a party pitching itself as confidently social democratic, pro-immigration and anti-austerity.  But how they lost in England is a different matter.

Either way, it's clearer now than ever that any party political project (or any political project) to the left of neoliberalism will need to be built on an enormous mass movement to overcome the formidable forces that stand in its way.  This means years of work.  Not just in terms of party organisation, but in building the array of supporting grassroots institutions, and perhaps above all in having conversations and debates with millions of people outside our own circles, trying to persuade them, not just of our view on individual issues, but of our wider interpretation of how politics, power and the economy work. 

That final task will require a recognition, not common on the left, that the things that seem obvious to us don't seem obvious to others, and that the kind of language we find ourselves using – the jargon and so on – is alienating to people who don't speak it.  We will need to speak plain English.  And we will need to listen.

Now whether you pursue this project with the dregs of the left in the Labour Party, the tiny Greens, or try and start yet another new left party... who knows?

But we will need to try things we haven't done before, to get out of our comfort zone in terms of practices and habits, to think creatively about new types of organisation and communication. 

And perhaps the biggest challenge of all is that, while pursuing this long term strategy, we will have to respond to current, serious emergencies where – whether we're ready or not – the timescale is months, not years.  That means the assaults to come on things like maternity pay and support for the disabled, where we will have to defend those people in the Tories' crosshairs however we can.  But above all, it means mobilising very effectively and very fast on global warming, an issue on which the left almost across the board has, frankly, been pathetic up till now.

So, nothing optimistic to offer from me, I'm afraid.  But hopefully something realistic and constructive.  I take for granted that we're going to keep fighting – but it is now very much a question of how we go about doing that.

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