Turning the other cheek
Demoralisation or fightback? That is the main question after June 8, writes Eddie Ford
With Theresa May robotically saying “strong and stable” at every single opportunity, this general election campaign so far has proved to be less than thrilling. But, leaving that aside for now, there have been some very worrying regional polls for the Labour Party - all of which strongly indicate, as we have long predicted, that the party is heading towards a crushing defeat on June 8.
Despite a lot of the left believing the myth that Scotland is an eternal Tory-free zone, an ORB International poll shows that the Tories are significantly ahead of Labour there with 27%, as opposed to Labour’s 16%.1 At the moment, as our readers will know, the Scottish National Party has a near monopoly in Scotland when it comes to the House of Commons, with the three major all-Britain parties having only one seat each. But that was a bit of a freak result, thanks to the marvels of the first-past-the-post electoral system - it was never going to be repeated or bettered, except in the dreams of nationalists.
Obviously things could change, but, when you factor in other polls, it is more than reasonable to expect that the Tories will emerge after June 8 as the second party in Scotland, picking up between five to seven seats (perhaps even up to 10, if they have a very good night). Meanwhile, it seems like the Liberal Democrats will gain two seats and the SNP will lose about nine or so. With regards to Labour, you can do the maths. Just as ominously, if not more so, it looks almost certain that Glasgow will fall to the SNP on May 4 in the local elections - the first loss of control since 1980. Interestingly, since the 1930s onwards Labour control of Glasgow has been punctuated by periods of rule from the Progressive Party (or ‘Progressives’) - essentially a lash-up between the Unionist Party (ie, Scottish Tories) and Liberals to keep Labour out, something that happened all over Scotland until the PP was dissolved in the late 1970s.2
Anyhow, it looks like there will be no revival of Labour in Scotland, but rather of the Tories instead - not that this should not surprise us, even if it may come as a slight shock to dewy-eyed leftwingers in England who believe everything they read in Socialist Worker. Quite inevitably, Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the Brexit vote was to immediately raise the prospect of another referendum on independence, given that Scotland voted to stay in, and to come out in clear opposition to Brexit - unlike Labour, which trots out the indistinct and rather pathetic formulation, ‘We respect the vote, but …’ Meaning that the SNP can pick up those anti-Brexit votes, while the Tories are now well positioned to pick up those who are anti-European Union and Labour could be squeezed out - neither fish nor fowl. What is it trying to say about Europe? Your guess is as good as mine.
Ditto in Wales, of course. According to another ORB poll, the Tories are on a fairly incredible 56% - making the party now stronger in Wales than in the ‘Tory heartlands’ such as the south-east, where they have 50% support.3 If true, this will be the first time the Conservatives have had a majority in Wales since 1859, when the franchise was massively restricted - only one in seven men had the vote and, of course, no women. This obviously represents a huge political change. Then again, Wales voted ‘leave’ by 52.5%, so Theresa May is trying to capitalise on this fact. By contrast, Labour is only on 32%. Similarly, in London, generally regarded as cosmopolitan and more leftwing - but here we have the same phenomenon. The Tories are on 43% and Labour has 32%. Again, quite a remarkable figure.
Needless to say, Labour looks set to take a drubbing on May 4, which will see 2,370 seats contested in 27 county councils, six English unitary authorities, one metropolitan authority and two mayoralties - there will also be votes for six new “combined authority” mayors in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the West of England. As previously mentioned in this paper, Labour could lose around 125 council seats - which would be the worst local election results for an opposition party since 1985, excluding the years when there was also a general election. On the other hand, the Tories seem on course to gain more than 100 seats - chiefly at the expense of the UK Independence Party, which is on the road to nowhere (it would be a minor miracle if Ukip ends up with any MPs after June 8). The Lib Dems too could see a net gain of about 100 seats - possibly retaking control of Somerset and Cornwall from the Tories, the party clawing back support in the region despite a majority Brexit vote.
Labour will be particularly judged by its performance in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire - it currently controls the latter and is the largest party in the other two counties. Of the councils which are up for grabs, Durham looks like the only place where it is certain to maintain control - but watch this space.According to some pollsters, Labour might be able to mitigate the embarrassment with victories in the elections for the new ‘metro mayors’ in Manchester and Liverpool - but that is not much consolation, if it happens.
When it comes to the wider, national, picture, the polls are consistently grim for Labour. ICM’s weekly poll for The Guardian still has the Tories ahead by 19-points - getting 47% to Labour’s 28% (with both the Lib Dems and Ukip on 8%).4 The same poll also had some questions on the general campaign so far. Questioned about whether the leaders were running a good or bad campaign, Theresa May was the only one to get a positive rating (41% good, 22% bad) - whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings were almost a mirror image (21% good, 40% bad), with ‘Dr’ Paul Nuttall getting the very worse results (8% good, 31% bad). As for the Financial Times’s ‘poll of polls’ tracker, which calculates a time-weighted average of seven pollsters’ most recent polls, it currently gives the Conservatives an 18-point lead over Labour (47% to 28%).5
Perhaps the most interesting findings - or depressing, depending on how you look at it - come in a recent YouGov poll, which shows that 48% of those who voted for Ed Miliband in the last election will be taking their votes elsewhere, whilst the Tories will retain 77% of theirs.6The Lib Dems and Ukip will only hang on to 47% and 43% respectively. It almost goes without saying that the unusually high rate of ‘churn’ between political parties is directly linked to the Brexit vote.Breaking down the results by the vote in last year’s referendum, it can be seen that many ‘leave’ voters are coming over to the Tories from Ukip - and to a lesser extent Labour - while many ‘remain’ voters are drifting toward the Lib Dems from Labour. There is also a small, but significant number of ‘remainers’ who have switched to the Lib Dems from the Greens. Chris Curtis, YouGov’s political researcher, pointed out that if these voters were to drift back to the party they voted for last time, then this would “disproportionately help” Labour - but if they start to move towards the Conservatives, just like other voters have, “we could be heading for an even bigger Tory victory than many currently anticipate”. Showing the Zeitgeist, Coral’s latest odds for the election have the Tories on 1/20 and Labour 12/1.7
Now, there is still quite a long way to go, but it is for Theresa May to lose this election, as opposed to Jeremy Corbyn winning it - something that looks extraordinary unlikely at the moment. The fact of the matter is that, from the moment Corbyn looked like he was going to win the Labour leadership contest in the summer of 2015, there has been a civil war raging in the party - with one rebellion after another, orchestrated resignations, massive leaking, knives in the back, attempts to give Corbyn a nervous breakdown. You name it, the Labour right have tried it - with the full backing of the media, of course.
Corbyn’s response to this has been almost Christ-like - by which I mean the Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible: the one who always turns the other cheek, lets people rob him, urges his compatriots to pay their taxes to Caesar, passively accepts brutal Roman occupation, loves his enemies, etc. Needless to say, this writer does not believe a word of it - the genuine Jesus of Galilee was an apocalyptic revolutionary communist who wanted to totally overturn the established order, not the creepy other-worldly figure depicted in the holy book.
But this is how Corbyn seems to be behaving - they attack him and he offers up his cheek for another slapping. He appeases the right, having them in his shadow cabinet, he even appeases the right when it comes to the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign - that despite there being not a shadow of doubt about the involvement of the Israeli embassy, the US Christian right and the active connivance of Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (which, despite its name, is a Zionist organisation). Absurdly, all of this has been conclusively proved - not by Corbyn instigating his own investigation - but by an outside party, Al Jazeera. His reaction to the fabricated smears about ‘anti-Semitism’ was to give a speech to the Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting at the 2016 Labour conference - where, instead of denouncing Israel as a colonial-settler project and declaring his solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians, he described Tel Aviv as having a “happy atmosphere”. And a few days before told a reporter from the Jewish News that he admires Israel’s “verve and spirit”.8 Talk about love thy enemy. Labour Zionism is nothing to do with international socialism and the world solidarity of the working class - it promotes sectarian division and chauvinism. Unlike the Jeremy Corbyn of today, the Jeremy Corbyn of 1984 was well aware of this - hence his support for a motion calling for severing the ties between Poale Zion (ie, Jewish Labour Movement) and the Labour Party.9 Can we have this Jeremy Corbyn back, please?
Meanwhile, a number of Labour parliamentary candidates who have said that, when it comes to their local publicity, Jeremy Corbyn will not feature. Or, when questioned as to whether Corbyn would make a good prime minister, have refused to give a straight reply. You would have thought that they would actually fight a bit more, as it must surely matter to them in terms of results - being evasive on the doorstep is hardly going to increase their chances of getting elected. But you will not see such reticence from the Tories, who will play the Corbyn card for all it is worth - saying, like Boris Johnson, that the Labour leader is a “mutton-headed old mugwump”, a threat to national security and a friend of terrorists.10 And the Labour right are treacherously joining in these Tory-led attacks, whether it be the likes of Tony Blair or Lord Roy Hattersley.
But for us in the CPGB, at least, the main issue is not so much the final details of the result, as we have a pretty good idea of them already. No, the real question is what happens after June 8? Sadly, like visitors from another planet, a lot of the left appear to have genuinely believed that Corbyn would sail to victory if he adopted a few leftish economic policies like the £10-per-hour minimum wage, renationalisation of the railways after the franchises have run out, promises of more money for the NHS, introduction of four new bank holidays, banning unpaid internships, etc - whilst gibbering on about fairness and niceness that could come from the lips of any Tory.11 Predictably, Corbyn’s programme of managing capitalism - far less ‘radical’ than anything we saw in 1945 - has not proven to be popular with the post-Brexit electorate, as reflected in the dismal poll ratings. Regardless, the CPGB calls for a Labour vote, with active backing for proven leftwing candidates.
So what is the left going to do under these highly unfavourable circumstances? The very real danger is that the hundreds of thousands who joined because of Corbyn are going to become demoralised and eventually drop out. Or alternatively, as we urge, they will put the blame squarely on the right - not the Labour leader. It is not as though we do not have criticisms of Corbyn - when we called for a vote for him in the leadership election, it was despite his politics, not because of it. His election opened up an opportunity for the left to democratise and transform the Labour Party. But, at the end of the day, the right has been sabotaging Corbyn from day one - and should therefore be held responsible for the election defeat. Marxists in the party must redouble their efforts to win the argument and drive out the right.