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Socialism has again come to signify for large numbers the possibility of a real alternative to the status quo – Laura Smith

“The establishment’s fear is the fact that large numbers of people are looking for something better than the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics for so long.”

Laura Smith

We are pleased to publish below Laura Smith’s speech script from our recent event on In Attacking Corbyn, the Establishment is Waging War on Socialism

In 2017 I won the seat for Crewe and Nantwich-a seat that they say is key for whether or not you can form a government. Back then it felt amazing, and we could see on the doors the positive response towards our policies, and more than anything people were sick and tired of the status quo. Fast forward 2 ½ years and the truth was the whole thing was a total mess up here and Labour had lost trust on the doorstep.

This was mainly because of Brexit, without a shadow of a doubt. People had hooked on to what they saw as the offer of change and anti-establishment unbelievably from the tories.

But guess what. If you throw mud at something for long enough that mud will stick.

That’s what had happened with Jeremy Corbyn. 2 years of constant briefing the press, and character assassination had worked. My answer to people on the door who were hateful towards Jeremy was always to try and get them back on to the policies, and explain what was presented about him was not the person that I knew.

But it didn’t matter. I also know full well that some MPs were quite happy canvassing and criticising Jeremy. It was constant throughout my time in Parliament. How can you expect others to vote Labour if that is the way we portray ourselves? Now we need justice with regards to the labour leaks and accountability not hypocrisy.

Of course, this whole thing has been incredibly personal towards Jeremy and I have no idea how he or his family have coped. The reality is it will happen to anyone who sets out to change things in favour of the many and this is why it is so key that solidarity and collective building is fundamental. And do you know what? It hasn’t been, and we have to learn from this and do better. We all have to accept our failure in this as well – socialism always had to be more than about parliament and more than just getting a leader. It has to be about a united and focused grassroots.

For us as socialists, the establishment’s fear is the fact that large numbers of people across the west are looking for something better than the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics for so long. But the rising popularity of socialism demands more than just cheerleading and if we do not bring people along with us we will just end up preaching to the converted. The fact is the public are on the side of keyworkers, decent education, access to jobs and housing. People are ambitious but they are deprived opportunity.

There is a myth of modern democracy that it was handed down from on-high. In fact, the ruling class resisted extending the franchise at every turn – and it was socialists who fought them for the right to vote.

We should reject faux-radical pronouncements that dismiss voting as inconsequential and, instead, merge the fight for universal suffrage with the fight for socialism and radical democracy. We need to sort out local democracy and empower our communities.

Mass disenfranchisement is still deeply rooted in the country’s political system. Unless people start to feel and see a reason to engage they won’t. Politics has to be about people and not about big business, Parliamentary shenanigans and protecting something that hasn’t worked for the vast majority of people.

In the decade since the 2008 global financial crisis, and in the context of a rapidly escalating climate emergency, millions of people have begun to challenge the legitimacy of a capitalist system that has singularly failed to offer them a secure future. And socialism, once considered a relic of history, has once again come to signify for large numbers the possibility of a real alternative to the status quo.

But we can’t just throw people into the fight without first getting to see that the left has a genuine interest in better for them. People feel that they are just a political football. Get them to see that politics is everything and everything is politics first and foremost. The Tories’ long campaign of depoliticising has worked. Now more than ever we have to be loud about the reasons why we are being plunged into this huge economic crisis, that we were seeing before the pandemic.

We can’t let socialism fail again. The planet can’t afford it, and neither can the people on it. We also can’t see the 2019 election defeat as the end. There are a lot of things that go into making sure we move forward, but one of them is looking at the socialisms of the past and learning the lessons. It is important to understand it will take time. It won’t be a quick fix. It is undoing a whole history of oppression.

This is why political education is so key and why it was wrong that we did not focus on it as a movement before. That starts by transforming our meetings. By investing in new ideas and to stop hoping for a fair hearing from a media owned by the very people who benefit from what is there now. Groups are already doing this across the country and they are right to do so. I am part of a great example in Manchester and that model should be rolled out.

We cannot rely on the mainstream newspapers in anyway shape or form currently. The research shows that, since 2015, Labour’s Ed Miliband and Corbyn have been “subjected to sustained, personal attacks from most of the highest-selling titles”. Examining 2019 coverage revealed a “large proportion of newspaper items” featuring “Labour sources had a clearly negative slant”. 

To give an example, ex-Labour MP and Tory Lord Austin got “three times more coverage than Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson during the 2019 election. Why? Because it was more damaging to Labour.

We need to be clear that capitalism will enable wealthy individuals and organisations to amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests. Jeremy Corbyn was smeared by swaths of the mainstream press because he wanted to dismantle media monopolies and redistribute wealth. We all will be called all the names under the sun because we want the same. We have to grow strength and fightback. We rolled over like kittens far too many times.

So what do we do? There is life outside Twitter and if we don’t stop looking in and start looking out instead then nothing will change. Many new buds are appearing over the scorched earth and we need to invest our energy in them, creating new and exciting ways forward. I am involved in No Holding Back alongside Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett and that is incredibly exciting, and we have already undertaken a huge nationwide listening campaign talking to CLPs, trade unionists, and members of the public. Give us a follow if you are not already on @noholdingback as it is projects like this that can lead the way.  Sign up and support organisations and publications like Tribune and Labour Outlook, groups like the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the Stop the War Coalition, and become active in a trade union. When Labour membership increased we failed to get members into a union and this is a fundamental mistake if we are to build strength.

Organising has to happen in a relevant way. Campaigns need to run constantly and engagement with the public is vital. We all donate to the foodbank, and many people help out, but who is campaigning actively against the policies that mean that huge sways of the population are having to rely on them?

We also have to make links with one another – Covid-19 has meant we are isolated physically but we have organised on line. That cannot stop. Finally I would say we cannot keep reacting to what the right wing want. We need to get clear our messaging and stick to it. And we need to get some discipline. Brexit destroyed us and ripped us apart. We let those who never want to see a truly fairer society dictate the fights – never ever again!

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