“We can’t return to the politics of the past. Our transformative agenda is principled and popular, while triangulation and soft pedalling will only take us backwards.” – Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
Our editor Matt Willgress looks at the year ahead and says now is the time for us to look ahead and fight back against the Tories’ reactionary agenda.
As we enter 2020, the first thing the left and labour movement must do is understand the scale of what we are up against.
Boris Johnson’s Tory government is set to launch a massive offensive on all fronts. In the short time since his election we have already seen a draconian attack on working peoples’ right to organise, the parking of promises to end austerity made for electoral purposes and a reactionary attack on Britain helping child refugees.
But we have seen nothing yet from Donald Trump’s ally in 10 Downing Street, who will combine extreme Thatcherism at home with a slavish adherence to Trump’s aggressive, far-right foreign agenda.
Such a prospect means that the left cannot engage in self-indulgence but must instead rise to the challenges ahead.
We need to start organising resistance to Johnson’s agenda right now, and be ready to stand with those communities, trade unions and popular causes that will make a stand against the Tories’ reactionary agenda.
As well as seeking to support, reach out to and organise with new allies, we must also defend all the gains made in the labour movement.
It is false to argue that work inside the Labour Party to maintain and deepen the socialist advances made in recent years and building movements in our workplaces, communities and the streets are in some way counterposed or contradictory.
As Tony Benn argued again and again, both are essential and supplement each other.
Alongside this, if Labour is to win again, we need to defeat the twin dangers of a re-emergence of Blairism on the one-hand and “blue Labourism” on the other.
As part of this discussion, we need to win the argument that vacuous centrism can’t defeat Johnson and Trumpism. On the latter point, it is worth pointing out that the short-lived Change UK party not only included some of the most prominent critics of the rebuilt, post-2015 Labour Party and its leadership, but also copied the policies and political style that many within Labour remain tied to. These include, but are not limited to, a failure to challenge the Tories’ ideologically driven austerity.The total failure of the Change UK project — despite the massive free promotion and easy ride given by much of the media — should act as a warning sign to those keen to ditch Labour’s opposition to austerity and alternative “investment not cuts” agenda.
Alongside this, if we are to unite communities in all their diversity, there must also be no room for the politics of scapegoating migrants for the problems caused by Tory austerity.
It’s important to note that even in 2019, having lost votes from our strong performance in 2017, Labour received more votes in total than in the preceding elections in 2010 and 2015. We need to regain and add to these votes, not lose even more by following the disastrous centrist lead of social-democratic parties in countries such as France, Greece and the Netherlands in recent years.
As Rebecca Long-Bailey MP said this week, to do this: “we must rebuild trust, not only in our party but in the idea that change really is possible. This means we cannot return to the politics of the past. Our transformative agenda is principled and popular, while triangulation and soft pedalling will only take us backwards.”
Long-Bailey was spot on when adding that “there are many lessons to learn from the defeat, but it’s clear we didn’t lose because of our commitments to scrap universal credit, invest in public services or abolish tuition fees.”
My final point is that the left is a major force in British politics at the present time, but we can’t take this for granted, as those who want to dampen resistance to the Tories’ reactionary agenda will seek to divide, demoralise and defeat us.
And while resisting these continual attacks, we must be vigilant not to fall into the trap of discussing politics on grounds set by our opponents but to fight the Tories and promote our own alternative, positive politics.
The latter must include not only the alternative economic programme to austerity, but also why we need an anti-war government, why we must build international solidarity and why the fight for equality and liberation for all is an integral part of socialist politics.
Unity in action on the left is essential. And, as part of this, we must develop the social movements and extra-parliamentary campaigns that can build, link-up and co-ordinate resistance.
As Richard Burgon MP said in his New Year’s resolution we have to “work to build the widest unity across our party and our movement to take the fight to the Tories,” and “continue to proudly stand up for our anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-war internationalist politics.”