Only those in the deepest clutches of political denial would disagree with the view that the Labour Party is in trouble. The fundamental threat to the Labour Party’s electoral challenge has reached such an extent that even President Obama has decided to weigh in on the ongoing debate, describing the party under Corbyn as “disintegrating” and losing any place in “fact and reality”.
While I am by no means an uncritical devotee of Jeremy Corbyn, however, I must take issue with this diagnosis. The new SDP-style split first seen as an inevitability for the last fifteen months of Corbyn’s leadership has not materialised, the rebels on the backbenches have fallen largely silent, and while there remains a huge electoral mountain to climb, in numerous policy areas, Labour has been taking the right steps to diagnosing the problems at the heart of British society, and finding effective solutions for them.
The key voters that Labour needs to win over—the middle class small business owners of Middle England, and the white working classes of the post-industrial Northern heartlands—may appear miles apart, but in so many ways they share a common identity as victims of the globalised economy. The white working classes have seen their traditional industries and communities torn apart and left behind, forced into unfulfilling work in precarious zero-hour contracts and service sector jobs.
Middle class small business owners have also felt the immense squeeze from the new globalised economy, with many dreams of start-up enterprises never getting off the ground because of it. For both groups, Labour can be their champions, and already the party is taking steps in the right direction to meet their needs, and to provide answers for their concerns, something the Tories are consistently failing to do.
As socialists, Labour must never abandon their commitment to the empowerment of the working class, and a commitment to worker’s representation on company boards would be a huge, revolutionary step to ensure this. Vote Leave’s slogan of “Take Back Control” is already beginning to be reclaimed by the left and used to campaign for the rights of workers.
But the aim of socialism is not just an egalitarian society free from exploitation, but also free from the restrictions that prevent people fulfilling their full potential. Labour is re-establishing its position as the champion of small business owners and “aspirational” classes just as much as the traditional, working class voters. A national investment bank, a higher minimum wage and moves towards a universal basic income, as mooted by John McDonnell and Jonathan Reynolds, are huge steps in the right direction in facilitating the aspirations of small business owners, freeing them from the limitations of globalised capital and big business competition, allowing the people that truly power our economy to get the help they need.
The immensely positive effects of a simplified and streamlined system—cutting back the horrendous bureaucracy of the welfare state—through UBI would also of course to do immense good for the worst off in our society, as well as calm the fears of fiscally conservative voters, fearful of welfare overspending. Labour has an immense opportunity with these policies, presented as the effective kickstarter policies for the economy in a post-Brexit Britain, utilising the full potential of British workers and business owners, to seize the economic narrative, and win the support of key voting demographics.
In social terms, the party’s working-class heartlands are deeply traditional and communitarian, with recent reports detailing the huge levels of cultural divide in some of the country’s most diverse areas. Here, moves towards an emphasis on fair movement of labour and an effective fund for areas most effected by immigration has also done much to win back the social narrative, at the moment dominated by right-wing populism. This is not an abandonment of Labour’s social liberalism, but rather putting into more effective practice the core beliefs in community and collectivism.
Things are certainly not perfect. There are vocal and extreme elements on both the left and right of the party in this debate on social media, and both crucially have failed to come anywhere near a sensible or credible solution. Neither ‘The Red Flag’ nor D:Ream are going to win back the voters of Middle England or the post-industrial northern heartlands left behind by three decades of neoliberalism. But these remain a minority view.
But the truth is, Obama is wrong on this. Labour is more in touch with the realities of the economic and social situation that any other party, but it must do more to re-establish its connection to the electorate, to speak in their terms and to gain their trust.
Fundamentally, Labour wins when they can strike the difficult balance between being true to themselves, and appealing effectively to the electorate. It is beautifully simple and often frustratingly difficult in equal measure. Labour is connected to reality, to the fundamental struggles of everyday life in Britain. But what it needs to do now, is connect to the electorate.