A BEGINNING, NOT THE END – THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION

by Chris Jarvis

In a couple of hours, polling stations will close, and the fate of the United Kingdom will have been decided. Throughout the night the gentle trickling of results will sprinkle their way in, as the aftermath of the most fascinating election for a generation will begin to unravel. Psephologists will debate the relative merits of their predictions, political spin-artists will argue their respective parties have actually done quite a lot better than they expected, and the hacks (myself included), will drift further into the early hours, wearing out their laptop keys.

Right now, we know that the election campaign has been riddled with ups and with downs. We’ve seen Labour climb steadily in the polls, narrowing the Tory lead from over 20 points to single figures; two atrocities claimed the lives of 34 people; campaigning was suspended twice; the Tories launched a manifesto into a whirlwind of negativity; UKIP’s support collapsed; and Labour proposed a political programme further to the left of any Government in four decades. Any one of those alone would make this election remarkable. Combined they make it unique.

Any one of those alone would make this election remarkable. Combined they make it unique.

What we don’t yet know is who will be forming the 57th Government. Most signs, most pollsters, most forecasters predict that the Conservatives will still be in power tomorrow, with an increased majority, but the reality will come to light over the course of the next few hours. How much damage has been done to the Tories by their shambolic and unpopular manifesto? How much will stances on Brexit determine and shift voting preferences? How effective have the attacks on the Labour Party, and on Jeremy Corbyn, been in shaping opinion? How far will the SNP fall in Scotland? Will young people buck the cliché and turn out in significant enough numbers to alter the course of the election?

These questions will soon be answered. For now, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on where we have come from, and what the result will mean. In clear terms: a Conservative Government, whether it be a majority, minority, or some form of coalition, would be an unmitigated disaster for the country and for the world outside of our shores. An extreme Brexit, steeped in environmental de-regulation, free market jingoism, and intensified border control. A more penetrating and controlling state, with strict internet regulations, and curbing of human rights. A cruel and callous policy regarding the elderly, with the abolition of winter fuel allowance, an end to the pension’s triple lock, and forcing older citizens to pay more for their care. Continued and unabated austerity, coupled with a fetishisation of market forces, driving inequality and exploitation yet higher. That is the stark reality of what the UK could look like should the Tories win.

( © Rui Vieira/PA Wire )

If that comes to pass, there is no doubt that the left will have failed to present a compelling enough argument, failed to reach enough people, and failed to overcome the barriers to success in UK elections. But that failure may well be only half of the story.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party, he was decried as ‘unelectable’, labelled as ‘extreme’, and written off as a reference point – in the future – for a moment when Labour lost its grip on reality. Few will be making that argument now. Whatever else happens tonight, Labour will have achieved the highest share of the popular vote under in any General Election since Tony Blair was leader of the Party. Up against a barrage of propaganda from right wing media outlets, in light of a character assassination from the Tory Party, aching from the wounds of dozens of knives placed firmly Jeremy’s own back, carefully placed by the New Labourites in the Parliamentary Labour Party, and creaking under the weight of incompetence in certain parts of the Party machine, that is a phenomenal achievement. That will not only demonstrate that a left-wing Labour leader can experience as much electoral success as one of the right, but will also set the groundwork for building a real and effective alternative to the Conservatives for the next election.

Tonight we’ll find out who has won this battle, but tomorrow we’ll set the ground for the long war.

Because the real work will begin after polling day. If, as seems likely, we have a Conservative government, the real work for the future begins with doing everything in our power to bring that to an end as soon as we can. For some, that will mean to continue to reform the Labour Party, to continue to push it to the left. For others, it will be through engaging in Unions, building civil society networks and organising in our communities.

But that work will be all the easier if the Tories in Government are weak; if their majority is small or doesn’t exist at all; if there are more progressives in Parliament, be they Labour or Green; if there are more of us who continue to mobilise for an alternative. Real change doesn’t come overnight, it doesn’t come through one election. It comes over decades. Tonight we’ll find out who has won this battle, but tomorrow we’ll set the ground for the long war. The sooner we are ready, the sooner we will win.

Featured image by Sara Harrington


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