When we describe what has vanished under years of neoliberalism and compare it to what Labour promises, we can see that the whole Labour enterprise is quite modest, writes NICK WRIGHT in the Morning Star 12 December 2019
THIS Friday 13, we will be able to make a provisional analysis of the election results. We cannot predict — on the morning of polling day — much about the result except to suggest that it will not present a simple picture and that any speedy analysis will be equally speedily dismissed.
Looking back on the campaign, I have recorded some of my encounters with electors on the doorstep, in the market place and in telephone canvassing.
These are necessarily impressionistic. They are drawn from my personal experiences in one North Kent constituency and are offered as a picture into the way in many people seem to think about politics.
One pensioner, a former miner, a life-long Labour voter was absolutely emphatic he would never vote again.
Pressed on Labour’s manifesto he thought it perfectly fine but not enough to compensate for what he described as Labour’s betrayal over Brexit. He wanted to get things off his chest and had absolutely no illusions about parliamentary democracy.
This was the most class conscious and political example of what — in one very large, partly sold-off, council estate canvassed early in the election — was a substantial demographic.
Typical comments came from people who said they would “no longer vote Labour,” “would never vote again,” that “politicians are all the same” and that they no longer “did politics.”
This was not the full picture but it was a very distinctive feature of the early canvassing. One rather alarming aspect of this experience was the tendency by some dogmatically right-wing Labour veterans to blame this slice of the the working-class electorate for their diminished loyalty to Labour without reflecting on the contrast between the Blairite language of aspiration and the reality for these people.
By way of contrast there were some very encouraging encounters. One young woman, a health service professional and a Green Party member was emphatically intent on voting Labour over the NHS and railed against the Green Party tie-up with the Lib Dems.
She was a good example of a biggish slice of young people moving into what was once a solidly working-class grid of still affordable terraced houses.
A few were Lib Dems moving left, and a number were environmentally conscious people switching both ways between Labour and the Greens.
One middle-aged man, an unemployed IT professional who had moved south to find work and described himself as a firm Remainer, rejected the Lib Dems in favour of Labour because of what he described as their “flouting of the majority vote.”
On the other hand, his neighbour, an intemperate and unemployed father of two, was intent on voting for the Brexit Party despite being gently informed that Nigel Farage’s crowd had stood down in favour of the Tory candidate.
It was striking that for people who put Brexit at the centre of their thinking, we heard just as many people blaming Corbyn for abandoning the pledge to respect the referendum result as we heard others criticising him for being a closet Brexiteer.
Set against this was a picture of real enthusiasm and commitment from a wide spectrum people for Labour’s manifesto. This was a slow-burn feature, less dramatic than in the 2017 election and somewhat dissipated by what some people thought was too complicated a picture.
One Labour-supporting retired senior civil servant — 35 years under a variety of governments — thought that the Civil Service would struggle to implement such a torrent of new measures.
He thought that Labour should have presented a simpler, more structured timetable with a strategic vision over more than one parliament.
And he didn’t disagree with the suggestion that some resistance should be expected while a deep restructuring of the senior Civil Service might be necessary.
Every constituency has its own dynamic, as does every Labour campaign. We are contesting a Tory-held mixed urban and rural seat with a still substantial Labour vote that has been neglected for many years.
It has been badly served for the last two elections by a lacklustre career candidate parachuted down from London by the party apparatus.
This time we had an energetic working-class female candidate, rooted in the estates, well known as a campaigner and with an impeccable back story and a recognisably local accent.
These things are important. Labour needs to look and sound more like its electorate. She doesn’t have many Tory friends and they won’t be getting any confidences from her.
We built a strong team enthused by a recent local election campaign which saw two new and excellent Labour councillors elected and the Tory majority annihilated.
Strengths were an unremitting focus on marginalising the Lib Dems. This was aided by a frankly duplicitous and crashingly inept Lib Dem campaign that wasted a quite reasonable local candidate who seemed imprisoned by an insufferably arrogant bunch of middle-class dilettantes.
The Labour campaign easily won the poster war, although the extensive rural bits of the constituency featured expensive Tory hoardings among the cattle and crops.
The Labour campaign covered every working-class housing area with canvassing and leaflet drops. It was strengthened by a batch of formidably good organisers who thought politically, identified weaknesses in the opposing parties and played to our candidate’s strengths with a lively social media presence.
The Labour and Green campaigns played off each other, reinforcing a positive vibe on environmental issues while the poisonous effect of the Greens’ national level link-up with the Lib Dems was mitigated by an obvious lack of enthusiasm for it by local Greens.
Weaknesses were a lack of organised trade union involvement, an archaic canvassing routine, a fuzzy message for working-class Brexiteers and a too perfunctory approach to the most marginalised part of the population.
It was notable that enthusiasm for Labour was most marked in people who were in work. Not surprisingly this included teachers, students, public servants and NHS staff, but an encouragingly significant number of early-morning commuters, many in work clothes and high-vis jackets, gave the thumbs-up.
One guy even produced his Labour Party card at an early-morning leaflet drop at the railway station.
One of the many paradoxes of this election is the truth that class issues lie at the heart of the conflict and that the contending forces — more clearly than in any election almost within living memory — clash around policies that express with startling simplicity the different class interests at play.
Yet some of those who would most benefit from Labour in government are the most indifferent.
Win or lose, the disengagement from politics of a big slice of working people needs to be tackled.
Extraordinary efforts are going into the effort to divert and displace the advance of the Labour Party from opposition to a party of government.
Since the second world war, in fact since forever, the deal has been that Labour can, on occasion, take a turn at government.
This is on the clear understanding that the measures it introduces stabilise the existing order with measures which guarantee social peace or at least prevent the irruption of class conflicts.
Thus we saw in the post-war period a massive public housebuilding programme. This was supplemented by a universal health service, a free public education system that progressively included all up to 18, free higher education for an increasingly large number of young adults and a system of social security and old-age pensions based, at least in theory, on a contributory national insurance scheme.
We saw industries that had deteriorated under private ownership but which were essential for the realisation of profit by the main manufacturing enterprises taken into public ownership and recapitalised by public money.
Railways, coal, electricity generation and supply, gas, steel production and road transport were all based on substantial state holdings and public administration.
The whole edifice was built on the surpluses which reconstruction generated, on preferential trading with the nominally independent empire and on a limited system of progressive income tax which increasingly drew in the whole of the working population.
This was not a revolution. No capitalist interests were interfered with except for the wider benefit of the capitalist class as a whole and sweetened with generous compensation.
This partial modernisation of British society was carried through without the foundations of private ownership and the realisation of super-profits being much affected.
This was the social order which today’s pensioners grew up with and which, to a greater or lesser extent, formed their picture of the world. It was a political world in which class and employment status were fairly reliable predictors of political identity.
Much of this has vanished in what was more a counter-reformation than a counter-revolution.
Young people are right to ask why their parents could be housed in spacious homes to which even present-day “executive” housing on newly built private housing projects does not compare.
They are right to ask why affordable private rented accommodation has vanished and why rents are on a one-way escalator.
They are right to ask why they are saddled with debt for an education that a generation ago was substantially free and grant aided.
They are right to ask why the universal system of unemployment insurance devised to carry through the unemployed until a job could be found has been replaced by a punitive system designed to drive down the average cost of labour power. Or why a modestly funded system of social security designed to protect the unfortunate and afflicted has been replaced by a 21st-century workhouse regime.
They are right to ask why they are compelled to give monthly loans to privately owned utility companies in exchange for access to gas, electricity and water when their parents and grandparents enjoyed these services delivered by publicly owned enterprises to be paid for only when billed.
When we describe what has vanished and compare it to what Labour promises we can see that the whole Labour enterprise is quite modest.
This naturally raises the question of why so much effort is going into preventing a Labour government.
In his passage on moderation, the Irish revolutionary James Connolly wrote: “Some men faint-hearted ever seek / Our programme to retouch / And will insist when e’er they speak / That we demand too much. / ’Tis passing strange, yet I declare / Such statements cause me mirth, / For our demands most modest are: / We only want the Earth!”
Labour’s demands most modest are. If contemporary capitalism cannot compare, then it must give way.