“We need to take a leaf out of the England football team’s book and be unapologetically progressive.”Mish Rahman, Labour NEC.
Uniting people across the country with a vision for transformative change, and building lasting links with our communities – these are the strategies for electoral success against Johnson’s hard-right Tories, writes Mish Rahman, Labour NEC.
Labour’s win in Batley & Spen was a huge relief. Despite George Galloway wracking up 8,000 votes, and Labour’s worry lack of connection with the local Muslim community, the Party scraped through with a 300 vote majority, holding on to the seat by the skin of our teeth.
Kim Leadbeater was a fantastic local candidate. Her community ties and enthusiastic campaigning – alongside the fantastic work of hundreds of grassroots activists – were clearly a decisive factor in retaining the seat. The small margin of victory shows that if it wasn’t for their efforts Labour would have been facing a second by-election defeat in the space of two months.
We can’t pretend that this was a general election winning performance. Labour’s vote share dropped dramatically and if transferred to a general election would see us lose dozens of seats across the country. This result is in no way a vindication for the leadership, and should instead be a stark warning that unless we turn things around we are on course for a seismic defeat in 2024. Rather than a victory lap, what the party needs now is humility and to acknowledge that we have plenty of lessons to learn.
The early signs aren’t good. Comments in the wake of the by-election, where an unnamed Labour source boasted to a Times journalist of winning despite ‘losing the conservative Muslim vote over gay rights and Palestine’, give the impression that the Labour right will continue to push ahead with its failed strategy. Muslim voters, who are an essential part of Labour’s voting coalition, have been smeared as racists and homophobes because they had the audacity to feel let down by a Labour party which has taken them for granted.
This is not building a new coalition – it is demolishing the one that already exists. It seems like no lessons have been learned. For some reason, the brains around Labour’s current operation seem to think that by briefing against Muslims, letting high profile individuals accused of Islamophobia back into the party on the sly without any process, and disassociating the party from other “woke” campaigns be it BLM, LGBTQ or Palestine and Kashmir, is the route to electoral success. It isn’t.
Labour needs to stop listening to focus groups and start talking about what we believe. The truth is that, if Labour is to have any chance of succeeding at the next general election, it needs a vision that will unite rather than fragment this coalition. How?
Labour needs to signal that it is on the same side as working people and argue that workers, not billionaires, should control how society is rebuilt after the pandemic. We need to take a leaf out of the England football team’s book and be unapologetically progressive. Let’s craft a clear, transformative vision that can unite a broad working-class coalition, from workers in small towns to students in the big cities and begin to turn the tables on a Tory government that has turned Britain into a cash cow for mega-rich privatisers. Big socialist polices are overwhelmingly popular with the public. Let’s use the policy developed over the last 6 years to build an electorally potent vision that can undermine the Tories and boost Labour’s support.
But we can’t pretend that there is one trick to ending the Labour Party’s long malaise. The promise of Keir Starmer was that he could waltz into number 10 by looking ‘prime ministerial’. We can see how that is playing out. Beating the hard right Tories is a task we shouldn’t take lightly. The 2019 election result is a reminder of how difficult it will be. Winning power is just not that easy.
With Scottish independence on the horizon, the Party faces an uphill battle to form a government. Combine the potential breakup of the union with a continuing dominance of the right-wing media, and a Tory attack on democracy including Voter-ID laws, a relaxation in electoral spending regulations, changes in constituency boundaries and repressive laws targeting the right to protest and strike, and it becomes evident that for our party to succeed we will need to overcome some serious hurdles.
There is no point in minimising or ignoring this challenge. It is not going to be easy. But if there is any force in society that is capable of taking it on then it is our movement. We have the ideas and the policies as put into practice by the Community Wealth Building councils in Preston, Salford and North Ayrshire, and shown by the continuing popularity of our 2017 election manifesto (and far more of the 2019 manifesto than the right-wing press would have us believe). But in order to fully prepare ourselves for the battles ahead, we must do more to build our movement from the bottom up.
That means doing things like building strong CLPs with close connections to working class communities like those in Liverpool Walton, Broxtowe and Worthing; experimenting with what the left can do using Community Wealth Building in councils across the country; supporting movements like BLM and Kill the Bill that push back against the right and change the political conversation; and growing working class organisations by getting unionised as workers and tenants.
Right now, Momentum members across the country are leading exactly that kind of hard work. Over the last year we’ve built a network of 250 councillors; campaigned against evictions; democratically chosen a platform of socialist policy; provided legal defence to suspended members; won elections for the National Executive Committee, the Women’s Committee, and the Young Labour Committee; started new education programmes for future councillors and grassroots movement leaders; campaigned against evictions; begun the long process of organising a trade unionist network; and re-founded local Momentum groups from Sheffield to Newcastle and further afield.
If we want the Labour Party to be the socialist, election-winning machine we need it to be, then it’s down to us to make it happen.
Mish Rahman is an elected Members’ Representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee and serves on Momentum’s National Coordinating Group.