Some thoughts, in an entirely personal capacity of course….
The Conservative victory at the general election is a major setback for working people. The bumbling bigot Johnson will whip up prejudice and launch further attacks on our services, livelihoods and environment.
This was not a Trump-like victory. Trump mobilised a base organising mass rallies, for example. By contrast, Johnson boycotted debates and hid in a fridge!
The Tory share of the vote was 43% (up 1% point, gaining 300,000 votes) with no Boris surge. Compared to 2017, when Labour surged to 40%, the turnout was slightly lower and Labour’s vote fell by 2.5 million and its share to 32%. Substantial parts of Labour’s vote went to the smaller parties.
The savage media onslaught against Corbyn and Labour exceeded everything to date. This was not limited to the traditionally Tory press. At the BBC, which covered the campaigns in a scandalously biased way, it was as if all pretence of impartiality had been completely abandoned.
In the light of this pernicious press campaign, some people are likely to conclude that there’s nothing that can be done in the face of such forces. Worse, others could even accept the idea that it’s necessary to move towards the right to become ‘acceptable’ to the capitalist media and to ultimately win elections.
This is not true. In fact, every single ‘centrist’ defector from Labour and the Tories embarrassingly lost their seat. Corbyn got more votes than Miliband in 2015, Brown in 2010, or Blair in 2005. Socialist ideas have not been and cannot be buried in a period of global crisis.
The colossal swing of voters aged under 44 towards Labour, and particularly young people under 24, is the music of the future. The youth climate strike movement has the potential to grow rapidly with Johnson in government.
The right will argue that this defeat shows that it is impossible for left ideas to win support at the ballot box. Yet the ideas which Corbyn put forward were popular and will become more so.
However, in this complicated period it is not enough to just have some popular policies. For them to be implemented, it’s necessary to have a mass organisation capable of getting round the capitalist media to take them directly to the whole working class.
This means building an organisation which is not focussed solely on elections and parliament, but which is also campaigning all-year-round in defence of ‘the many not the few’. It requires being actively connected with struggles such as those currently being waged by postal and university workers and the climate strikes movement. Labour has not been sufficiently transformed from its Blairite past for it to have been capable of that kind of approach on a consistent basis in the last months or years.
The Tories’ real agenda is a savage right-wing assault against the many on behalf of the few. The Tories in general and Boris in particular lack a stable social base of support. This is clear when you compare this government to those headed by the likes of Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil or Modi in India.
In Britain, we have seen up to half of voters changing their allegiance at election time in recent years. This was a prominent feature in this contest, with many traditional Labour voters ‘lending’ their votes to Johnson in the hope that he delivers on his promise to “get Brexit done”. The endless Brexit saga has undoubtedly frustrated millions of people who want it to be sorted out. This weariness and cynicism was tapped into by Johnson, who promised a return to normality.
Under this government, it is likely that the ongoing youth climate strikes will continue to be built and mobilised. Young people understand the need to fight not just the climate emergency, but the big business interests that lie behind it.
Public services face further catastrophe and collapse. NHS waiting times are at a record high, Accident & Emergency departments are in meltdown, and hospitals are at full stretch. If or when a deal is reached on pharmaceutical companies’ access to the NHS then there will be further anger and the basis for further struggle.
Social care has been cut to the bone and cannot recover under a Tory government, while huge cuts and privatisation have left the probation service unable to cope. A Tory law-and-order ‘lock-them-up’ response will worsen the already profound problems in the prisons. There will be community resistance to attacks on public services.
With the election of a more blatantly right-wing populist Tory government, there is a serious risk of bigotry and discrimination increasing. This could mean a rise in physical attacks on all those that the Tories seek to single out. This would be tacitly encouraged by the government and Tory MPs, as they try to shore up their shaky electoral base with anti-migrant policies, and potentially even through attacks on women’s reproductive rights.
The kind of struggles we saw in the US against Trump’s immediate attempts to introduce discriminatory policies – with the huge women’s marches and airport protests against the so-called Muslim ban, will come here too if Johnson goes down the same road.
There is a very real danger of increased divisions between migrant and non-migrant workers. Some of the smallest trade unions have shown that the most oppressed workers can be unionised and mobilised in struggle for equal pay and a living wage. This is the best answer to the divisive narrative of migrants ‘undercutting’ wages
In this election, Labour saw a repeat of what happened following the Scottish independence referendum, losing seats in a number of its traditional ‘heartland’ areas. These losses have a number of causes. Among them is the ongoing issue of the role of Labour-run councils in passing on Tory austerity. Their continued slashing away of services, along with the legacy of Blairism, has contributed to declining turn out and growing disillusionment with Labour over a long period.
At this stage, it is not clear what Johnson’s government’s education policy is in relation to higher education. Their manifesto was deliberately quiet on the issue. The Augar report suggested a reduction in undergraduate fees to £7,500, which, if implemented without any compensating funding, would be a disaster for many universities. The current restructures and threatened jobs would be the tip of the iceberg were this to happen.
There’s also the possibility of a forced reduction in the number of students across the sector by limiting loan access to those with A level results deemed to be sufficient for them to progress to a degree course. This would be a major attack on access to higher education, but would also mean problems for those institutions at the wrong end of the league tables, often those universities making the most effort to widen participation.
More immediately, UCU’s dispute over pay, equalities, workload and pensions will need to take a firmer approach to the campaign than it arguably would have done under a Corbyn government. This could make the strikers more determined to hold out for significant concessions. An escalating programme of strike days is planned to take place in February if no deal is reached.
Whilst many of our members will be terribly disappointed with the election result, this will not stop working people fighting injustice and campaigning for a better life.
It’s important to remember that we all need to be organised in trade unions which are democratic and prepared to collectively stand up for their members.
We will not let our heads go down and give up over this setback. We’ll learn the lessons of this defeat and organise for the future.
Ivan Bonsell, in a personal capacity