Prepare for after June 8
With only one week to go, a better Labour result than in 2015 might help persuade Jeremy Corbyn to stay on a leader, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists
Jeremy Corbyn has strengthened his hand
Recent opinion polls showing Labour narrowing the gap behind the Conservative Party have caused great excitement on the left and provoked a whole batch of scare stories from the right - not to mention a fall in the value of sterling, as investors worry about the possibility of a marginal increase in taxation on businesses under a Corbyn government.
For example, the May 30 Survation poll had the Tories on 43%, compared to Labour’s 37%, with the Liberal Democrats on 8% and the UK Independence Party on 4%. The average of all recent polls has the Conservatives slightly higher and Labour slightly lower, on 44% and 36% respectively. But what really caused left optimists to go into overdrive was the May 31 YouGov poll, published in The Times, which claims to be “the first constituency-by-constituency estimate” of the likely results on June 8.
While YouGov admits that its projections are subject to a “wide margin of error”, it finds that the Tories “could be in line to lose 20 seats and Labour gain nearly 30 in next week’s general election”, according to The Times commentary. That would mean Theresa May would be short of the 326 needed for an overall majority. YouGov’s model has the Tories winning 310 seats, compared to Labour’s 257 - a gain of 28. However, if you read on, you find that the projection “allows for big variations”, with the Tories ending up with somewhere between 274 and 345 seats.
Meanwhile, a more conventional ICM poll, also published on May 30, has the Conservatives on 45%, with Labour on 33%, leading to an increased Tory majority of 76 - rather less optimistic for Labour. And a clear Tory victory is what the bookies predict - every one of them showing May as odds-on to be the next prime minister.
Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the Conservative lead over Labour has narrowed considerably, with Labour’s support in the polls now higher than its actual share of the vote in the 2015 general election, when it picked up 30.5%, compared to the Tories’ 36.8%. The big losers are, of course, Ukip, whose share was 12.7% back then - two-thirds of its 2015 voters look set to desert it, mainly for the Tories. It is possible that a small proportion of Labour’s increased showing comes from its former supporters who deserted it for Ukip in 2015 and are now returning to the fold, but it seems certain that the great majority of 2015 Ukip voters will now opt for the Tories.
By and large, Labour seems to be picking up support amongst the ‘don’t knows’ and it also seems to be doing rather better among women voters, amongst whom the Tory lead is narrower, according to latest polls. And amongst young voters Labour is actually ahead.
However, we should realistically expect a Tory victory, as both Conservative and Labour figures are predicting - the latter usually in private or anonymously. For example, the same Times article quotes “a Labour figure in the Midlands”, who says that, “while the Tory social care blunder had helped, Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity continued to deter natural Labour voters and the party would be losing rather than gaining seats in the region”.
Despite that, we should make it clear that a better result for Labour under Corbyn than was achieved under Ed Miliband - definitely a distinct possibility - would be excellent from the point of view of those fighting to transform Labour into a united front for the entire working class. It is evident that the reason why we cannot win a majority at this time is not the personal and political shortcomings of Jeremy Corbyn, but the sabotage of his leadership carried out by the Labour right (such as the “Labour figure in the Midlands” mentioned above, no doubt).
An increase in the popular vote for Labour next week would put the right on the back foot and hopefully instil fresh confidence in the likes of Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, who have been busy back-pedalling on previous long-held progressive positions in a futile attempt to appease the Parliamentary Labour Party and the right in general. Such an outcome would add momentum to the necessary fight to rid Labour of those saboteurs.
Although Corbyn in particular generally comes over as confident and assured when being interviewed by the likes of Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman, his series of (often dishonest) retreats when questioned about his radical and leftwing past is highly embarrassing for left partisans.
For instance, in the May 26 BBC interview, Neil hit the nail on the head when he said of Corbyn’s former position on Ireland: “You basically supported the armed struggle for a united Ireland, but, now you want to be prime minister, you have to distance yourself from that.” Corbyn’s response was simply to deny it: “I didn’t support the IRA.” Rather, as he told Paxman in the May 29 interview for Sky News and Channel 4, he was working behind the scenes calling for “peace and dialogue” - that was why he attended solidarity events with Irish republicans apparently.
True, he has insisted that the Manchester bombing can be linked to western foreign policy, but he no longer condemns all imperialist military interventions for what they are, preferring nowadays to vaguely state that foreign policy “can become a breeding ground for terrorism”. He told Andrew Neil that war should only be resorted to in “exceptional” circumstances and “we” certainly shouldn’t “go in” to places like Iraq “without a plan”. It would be much better to have a “stronger presence of UN diplomacy”.
Neil pointed out that it was “only three years ago” when Corbyn called Nato “a dangerous Frankenstein organisation that should be wound up”. But now he says we need to “work within Nato”: Corbyn told him that under Labour “we” would be “a committed member in order to produce peace, justice and democracy”.
It is the same with the renewal of Trident - Labour is “going to support that”. True, Corbyn (almost) admitted that what he personally believes could still be different - when Neil read out to him some of his previous statements, he answered: “My position is well known.” But, of course, because it is official policy, Corbyn’s Labour is committed to renewing Britain’s weapons of genocidal destruction.
And Corbyn is now insisting on “managed migration” - Labour would “not allow companies to bring in low-paid workers” to undercut wages, he told Paxman. Which meant that under his premiership immigration “would probably come down”. After all, as he told Neil, “If we train people properly, the need to bring in skilled workers would obviously reduce.”
However, in my opinion what he told Paxman in relation to the monarchy took the biscuit. The former Newsnight presenter asked Corbyn how he squared his record as a republican committed to the abolition of the monarchy with his duties as a possible prime minister. Corbyn replied light-heartedly: “I get on very well with the queen!” And he added, in all seriousness: “I don’t think she should be brought into political discussion”.
Both interviewers confronted Corbyn with the realities of his leadership of the Labour Party. Paxman alleged, “You can’t get your own politics into the manifesto”, while Neil declared, “So many of your own MPs don’t trust you.” His response was basically to skirt round those allegations, making general points about Labour’s ‘democratic decision-making’ and the need for unity.
Well, after June 8 the ante will be upped. Corbyn has stated that he will stay on as leader after a Labour defeat - let us hope he is as good as his word, on that at least. Labour’s civil war will not be over and the right - although, as I say, dealt a blow if Labour achieves a better result than in 2015 - will still be on the lookout for fresh opportunities to dislodge him and return Labour to safe, Blairite territory.
We must be prepared for that. We need to step up the battle to defeat the right once and for all - to capture Labour for the working class through a thorough-going democratisation. We need to win all unions to affiliate and revitalise every party organisation behind a socialist clause four.
Our membership - at over 500,000 the largest of any party in western Europe - must be mobilised. It is good that Corbyn’s election campaigning has drawn in thousands at mass rallies. Despite the opposition of groups like the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales, we need even more of those enthusiasts to join the fight where it really matters - in every Labour Party branch and constituency and in every trade union.