While the week before, a You Gov poll pointed towards a 68 majority for the Tories, on 2 December an ICM poll put them on 42% and Labour on 35%, just seven points behind. A Survation poll on the same day put Labour on 33%, a gap of nine. The press talk now is of the possibility of a hung parliament.
The most unpredictable election is still unpredictable.
The election has become polarised. The LibDems are being squeezed to the benefit of Corbyn’s Labour Party, whereas they had hoped to mop up ‘remain’ [i.e. remain within the European Union] voters. In the latest polls, nearly half of voters who voted remain are now voting Labour.
This is the opposite of what pro-remain elements in the Labour Party, including the leadership of Momentum, expected. They anticipated a flood of voters away from Labour to the LibDems. They joined the right wing of the Labour Party in pressurising Corbyn to take up a remain position.
Very many young people voted remain from an anti-racist, internationalist viewpoint, a rejection of the racist right who led the leave campaign. Now, with the possibility looming of a Boris Johnson majority, backed by Nigel Farage, the same revulsion and fear can drive young people to vote for Corbyn.
What the ‘left’ around Corbyn misunderstood or forgot or ignored, was the millions of working-class people who felt betrayed by all the main parties; who have suffered under the blows of austerity for nearly ten years, losing pay, job security, benefits, homes and services, and who expressed this rage in the Brexit vote.
In 2017, Corbyn gained 3.5 million votes once the manifesto came out, a big surge in support but not enough to win the election. That could happen again. Of the nearly four million registrations, a majority were young people under the age of 35. But there are still millions missing from the registers – in December 2018 there were nine million missing. That will be lower now, but it’s still a lot that won’t be voting.
It is absolutely clear, but totally to be expected, that the entirety of the capitalist establishment, the press, the bosses, and the pro-capitalist politicians at the head of not just the Tories but the LibDems, the Scottish National Party (SNP), and of course the right-wing of the Labour Party itself, are all doing their damnedest to attack Corbyn and prepare for his removal.
The billionaire press is proven to be overwhelmingly biased against Corbyn. A study by Loughborough University found that Labour faced overwhelmingly negative coverage, dropping to -75.79 in the third week. This compared to a positive +29.98 for the Conservatives in the first week, and +15.87 in the third week.
It has been clear to Socialist Party members, campaigning hard for socialist policies on our street stalls, at universities and workplaces, that the manifesto is starting to get through. Issues like Corbyn’s call to halt US trade talks till the NHS is off the table have an effect.
But the election didn’t have to be on a knife edge like this. The big question is the way many working-class people fear Corbyn could betray them on Brexit and on other issues too. The ‘red wall’ of Labour ‘heartlands’ is not solid. The allegiance to Labour of past generations had a material base, when workers saw ‘their’ party build the NHS and council houses and create a social safety net.
Rather than saying he will be neutral in any referendum, Corbyn should have come out fighting for a Brexit in the interests of working-class people, as the Socialist Party has argued. He should have laid out clearly that he will fight for a Brexit deal that rejects all the EU laws that demand privatisation, restrict state aid and enable low wages. That he will fight for a deal that will allow him to nationalise, and to invest. It is a fight on the class politics that will make the difference – and you can’t be neutral in that.
It is very difficult to win an election in three weeks. The Socialist Party has argued all along that once Corbyn was elected Labour leader there needed to be a fight – to kick out the Blairites and transform the Labour Party into a truly anti-austerity mass party, and to build a mass movement to fight for socialist policies.
Imagine if Jeremy Corbyn had insisted on Labour councils stopping passing on Tory cuts in councils. Imagine if had called the trade union leaders together for a council of war against the anti-trade union laws and austerity, and had called massive demonstrations. Imagine if he did that now regarding the postal workers, whose union, the CWU, was barred by the law courts from taking strike action despite a huge vote by members in favour.
After the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, Corbyn stood out hugely from the rest of the politicians. But imagine if he had worked with the local community and trade unions to mobilise masses of people, and put a resolution to change the law in parliament, they could have really taken over the empty homes.
Mobilising people to canvass in marginals or high-profile areas, like the attempts to unseat Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith, is good, and the social media campaign is enthusing young people, but it is not the same as a mass party being really mobilised to fight for itself and its programme. It is not the same as meetings of workers and an organised plan of attack in the workplace.
The Socialist Party is fighting hard for a Corbyn-led government with socialist policies. But we have to be prepared for any number of possible outcomes. Whatever happens, there will be no stability and a fight will be necessary.
If there is a hung parliament, exactly how things would play out would depend on which is the biggest party, whether Johnson resigns or whether there is a vote of no confidence, etc. One possiblility is for a ‘centre’ grouping to coalesce against Corbyn – for Tony Blair’s proposal of a coming together of ‘moderate’ Labour and ‘independent-thinking’ Tories, maybe with the LibDems and the Scottish National Party (SNP), to come to fruition.
However, it is also possible that a Labour minority government could be formed, with support, perhaps, from the SNP.
One thing is clear, if there is a Corbyn victory, with a majority of MPs voted in for Labour, it would only see a minority of MPs actually in favour of Corbyn’s programme. A key reason for the need to have fought to democratically remove the Blairite MPs is because they will surround Corbyn after an election and be the first line of attack in the inevitable sabotage being prepared by big business against a Corbyn government.
Right-wing newspapers, like The Sun, have mercilessly and grossly attacked Corbyn because they don’t want their billionaire and millionaire interests affected by a government that attempts to take steps in the interests of working-class people.
The more sober end of the capitalist press, the Financial Times, lays things out more clearly. On 28 November, Martin Wolf complained that Corbyn’s manifesto doesn’t say anything positive about profit. He writes, “its hugely expansionary programme is likely to trigger capital flight and currency collapse”.
This is the other reason why a mass movement is necessary, because there will be a fight to win the implementation of the policies people want. We have warned many times of the lessons of the Syriza government in Greece, swept to power on an anti-austerity wave, but which completely capitulated under pressure from capitalist representatives in the EU and in Greece.
In such circumstances, Corbyn should put his programme before parliament and before the working and middle classes. He should demand that it is supported in parliament, and if not, call another election, mobilising a mass movement around that programme.
It will be necessary to prepare to go further than the current plan to nationalise rail, mail, energy and broadband. When the bosses squeal that nationalisation hurts “ordinary small shareholders and pension funds”, that needs to be answered with pledges to protect pensions and provide compensation on the basis of proven need.
When sabotage is posed – for example, an investment strike and a flight of capital from the country, as was carried out by the capitalists in Greece – it would be necessary to enact capital controls, to nationalise the banks and major companies, and establish state control of foreign trade. That would enable the vast wealth to be democratically planned for the benefit of all.
If there is a Boris Johnson victory for the Tories, Vernon Bagdanor, professor of government at Kings College London, writing in the Guardian, makes the assertion: “The path is clear: Brexit by the end of January and five more years of Conservative government.” Far from it!
Masses of people will be disappointed when Brexit is not ‘sorted’ so easily, when the mountain of trade deals pile up. And when there’s another economic crisis, and there’s no jobs or pay rises or extra nurses or hospitals.
There could be immediate disappointment and despair. After 2017, there was despair about the prospect of five more years of Tory rule, but another election was called two years later. There were also youth protests through last summer.
Inevitably, the rage will come out, but it will not be straightforward. It is incumbent on the workers’ movement and socialists to campaign for that to be an organised form of class struggle. Having failed to win politically, workers could move to build on the already fairly widespread industrial action being taken or rumbling under the surface during the election campaign – the industrial action by university workers, the RMT rail workers, postal workers and low-paid precarious migrant cleaners.
It will be essential to put forward a working-class oriented socialist programme, to fight any potential rise of racism or scapegoating of migrants, which could divide workers.
The crisis facing the British capitalist class is immense. There could be major splits in both parties. Out of this process a new anti-austerity, working-class party is possible. If there is a split in the Labour Party, resulting in a party with a smaller number of MPs, but with members fighting on socialist policies and with the support of trade unionists, it would have a greater impact than a bigger party compromising to keep its pro-capitalist wing on board.
We would argue for such a party to be opened up on a federal basis to all anti-austerity and socialist forces, including the Socialist Party. It would pose the question to trade unions about what kind of party they want to support and build. The left-led trade unions could ensure that in any new party the voice and weight of the organised working class in the trade unions was reflected.
This unpredictable time will not be over after the election. The fight then begins for a socialist programme that can take the wealth off the 1% and transform lives.