For the third time in a year an earthquake has rocked the political establishment, upsetting polls, pundits and precedent alike. Yet this time, unlike the division and isolation of Brexit, or the utter horror of Trump, we instead have hope. Snatching insurgence from the jaws of implosion, Labour and the broader left have risen to the edge of power. Yet whilst the election result was an excellent start, surviving the challenges our society faces will require much more. We need to build a movement which aims for nothing less than a complete transformation of our society. It is crucial now that we do not succumb to hubris or allow ourselves to be absorbed by the internal Conservative party debates – we need to use the time granted by their division to plan, organise and mobilise the movement that will transform Britain.
This means Labour needs to reassess how it operates. Progressive alliances have become a reality in a handful of seats but remain a buzzword in the rest. They must now be seen amongst the left as viable, collaborative long-term projects. Labour must properly engage with other parties, taking seriously their criticisms and concerns, agreeing programmes and policy that can be worked on together, and considering standing down in key seats where they are not the largest left-leaning party. There’s nothing progressive about an alliance where one side takes and gives nothing back.
Labour has no God-given right to working class or left-wing votes. Many actors – parties, individuals, outside organisations – have vital roles to play in offering different expertise and mobilising different groups of citizens. Labour is the largest amongst these and therefore should play a central role, but it cannot win this fight on its own.
The claim that we cannot change anything if we’re not in power is a myth
We need a renewed focus on training and equipping our current activists, who in turn need to engage ever-larger segments of the public on a regular, sustained basis. It is not enough to convince someone to vote a certain way in one election – we need to be transforming as many people as we can into regular, passionate activists. Our recent success has shown the left can do this on a considerable scale. Now we need to go bigger. Time, money, energy and hope can all be significant barriers to increased political engagement and obviously we’re not going to have everyone occupying an oil tanker every other weekend, but we can craft a political movement that is more accessible, more engaging, and pays particular attention to training and equipping new members.
This also means there need to be regular opportunities for activists to flex their campaigning muscles. Only turning up on the doorstep a few weeks before each election can feel disingenuous; Labour and the broader left need to continue campaigning on important issues outside election time, locally and nationally. The claim that we cannot change anything if we’re not in power is a myth. Grassroots citizens’ campaigns can, have and will shape communities and nations. Labour and other parties need to be networking with relevant grassroots groups and agitating up and down the country for change, especially whilst the right is on the back foot. We’ve shown that when we’re on a war footing we excel, so let’s keep up the pressure, building our communities and social bonds as we go along.
Renewing the internal democracy of our organisations would help engage new members and make for better decision making, and a strategic push for proportional representation would likely engage more people in mainstream politics, engender more collaboration between like-minded parties and threaten the Tories’ ability to hold most of the power on less than half the vote.
As we do this, we need to ensure our ideas remain fresh, and our prognosis accurate. Whilst it marked a great stride forward, Labour’s manifesto left a lot of challenges unanswered. We need to challenge the stagnancy and aloofness of academic institutions and disciplines in order to ensure the engines of social, political, technological and economic change are open minded, diverse and relevant. We must multiply and emulate the achievements of movements such as ‘Rethinking Economics’, set up by a global group of disgruntled economics students campaigning to make their discipline more open, accessible and accountable; and the Lincoln Social Science Centre, with its inspiring model of free, democratic higher education. Left-leaning students, academics and citizens need to launch campaigns to transform academia where it is wanting and support it where it works for real progress.
We also need a better way of communicating these ideas, and for that we need radical, unwavering, independent media. Sites such as this one, Bright Green, openDemocracy, Novara Media and so many others are key to transforming society. Go write for them, share their links, attend their events, or set up your own site with a new niche or an angle they haven’t covered. The mainstream media in the UK is hopelessly biased and often fails to fulfil its main role of speaking truth to power. We need to build our own media that takes up that slack.
All of this holds true even in the best case scenario. Even if the Tories implode over the next few months, if another election is called and Labour achieve a majority, this will merely be the start of a new set of battles. Welcome as it was, Labour’s manifesto was far from a panacea: under a government run along its lines inequality would still be at growth-sapping, democracy-eroding levels; climate change, whilst challenged, would still be an existential threat; technological upheavals would still threaten to oppress the many whilst liberating the few and the majority would still be deeply distrustful of politicians and politics in general. To be sure, all of this would likely look much worse under May (or Boris, or whoever), but we need to do much more than just be better than the Tories.
Not all of us can engage in everything, but that’s the point. We will do what we can, where we are, in a million small acts coalescing around key strategic goals, transforming political debate and reality. Our challenge is nothing less than changing the world, within our lifetimes. With a radical, wide-ranging academia, communicating with bold, independent media, which both help fuel a progressive coalition of political parties and grassroots movements, who have an army of well-trained activists engaging in regular, key campaigns, what could stand in our way? There’s work to do, so let’s crack on.
Featured image credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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