Taking stock


We share the widespread feelings of disappointment and dismay on the left at the outcome of the General Election, an obvious disaster for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

To paraphrase Red Pepper (below), whatever we do next – understanding the horror, the urgency, the scale and complexity of the challenge ahead – we must stand by the core principles of the Corbyn project: an internationalist socialism rooted in grassroots struggle for justice and equality.

Jewish Voice for Labour was born out of the hope which the Labour Party’s new direction since 2015 has offered, and the need to be active in its defence. Without a doubt the outcome of this election will require JVL, like all those on the left, to thinks intensively and constructively about our role in the new political landscape.

We are not going to rush to judgment as so many have done, showering blame like confetti. Instead we offer here a few of the more reflective responses we have seen so far and will revisiting the subject in the days and weeks to come.

[updated 14 Dec]


What do we do now?

After knocking on so many doors, the movement built in support of Jeremy Corbyn needs to stay present particularly where people feel abandoned or under attack

Red Pepper, 13 December 2019

This defeat is painful. Not least for those who will be hit hardest. Over 130,000 people have already been killed by a decade of ‘austerity’, while climate change is displacing swathes of people in the global south. Over the next five years, a Tory government will attempt an all-out assault on the most vulnerable and the left cannot abandon them now. There will be calls for Labour to return to the centre ground of politics, but post-2008 the ‘moderate’ left has become irrelevant in most countries – offering working people little materially, having nothing to say about the challenges of 21st century democracy.

Jeremy Corbyn has had Red Pepper’s support from the start because he shares the political principles that guide us. He reminds us that parliamentary politics should be driven by principles, not PR and spin – not personalities, corporate lobbying, or the concerns of a wealthy elite. By bringing socialism to the fore in 2015, Corbynism began to build a real alternative which served the Labour Party well during the 2017 election campaign.

Brexit clearly threw Corbynism off course, but we cannot simply blame Brexit for defeat in this election. We all need to look deeper. Why do so many people feel that life just can’t get any better? How do we get over an atomisation eroding the fabric of our communities?

After knocking on so many doors, the movement built in support of Jeremy Corbyn needs to stay present particularly where people feel abandoned or under attack. The 2019 election campaign was one of the biggest ever mobilisations of the UK left and we can build on that, taking action between elections – fighting back, supporting one another through the tough years ahead and helping the most vulnerable survive. Tens of thousands of people were willing to graft hard during this election campaign – imagine, if we all continued to give just a few hours per week of coordinated action, adapting the infrastructure of the campaign, then perhaps we will see the movement in far better shape before we next head to the polls.

Whatever we do next – understanding the horror, the urgency, the scale and complexity of the challenge ahead – we must hold true to the core principles of ‘Corbynism’: an internationalist socialism rooted in grassroots struggle for justice and equality. Although Jeremy’s leadership advocated the importance of listening to people, the party’s parliamentary representatives were unable and largely unwilling to allow Labour supporters a real say in the way that the party was run. Those around the leadership, the PLP and the unions need a renewed understanding of where their support lies – within the social majority, rooted in those bearing the brunt not only of post-crash austerity but decades of jarring neoliberalism.

As a life-long human rights activist, Jeremy has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the marginalised, advocating for peace and fighting for justice and equality – visible examples include his 1984 arrest protesting outside the embassy of apartheid South Africa, or his 2010 campaign alongside the family of Jimmy Mubenga killed my racist border guards. As a new decade is about to begin, a huge movement committed to justice, equality and peace – birthed under Corbynism – must pick up his baton. As Jeremy has always understood: we are nothing if we are not standing with the oppressed.

No False Consolations

by Richard Seymour @leninology, published by novarmedia.com, 13 December 2019

This is our defeat, and we have to own it. As if we have a choice. And we know what this means. The body count from austerity and the hostile environment will multiply. An already fairly awful society is going to get brutally worse. And it is difficult to see how this won’t feed into yet more violent racism and hatred of foreigners predicated on zero-sum ethnic competition.

Labour’s vote has been reduced to just slightly more than Ed Miliband’s total, but – thanks to the wipeout in the north and the distorting effects of first-past-the-post – it has fewer seats than Michael Foot. There are many false consolations to go around if we want them. Just over 10m votes is roughly what Tony Blair got in 2001, and more than he achieved in 2005. Despite everything they threw at us, we got more votes than Miliband. Many of the seats we lost are held with tiny majorities, and can be won back. Every single centrist melt defector is gone. Jo Swinson is gone. We won Putney and held a lot of marginals. We would have won more if it hadn’t been for those divisive Lib Dems and Greens. And there is always ‘the streets’.

If our enemy was a weakened Conservative party chasing the centre-ground, 10m votes for Labour wouldn’t be terrible. But our enemy is a Conservative party driven to the hard racist right by the Faragites, and enjoying an electoral revival as a consequence. And, following the wipeout in Scotland in 2015, this the second major loss of historic heartlands over a national question. Labour has mishandled both, badly. And the resulting breach is of historic significance, even if it’s possible to repair the damage and win back many of the seats lost. In this context, the fact that the centre has been crushed by the same enemy is scarce consolation.

It is no good arguing, either, that the Lib Dems and Greens divided the vote. That’s what they do. They stand their own candidates, because they are separate parties. The Liberals were particularly obnoxious liars in this election. But our job is to persuade some of their voters to support us. It is never a good sign when people start drinking the ‘tactical voting’ kool aid around election time. It’s an even worse sign if we take one look at seats like Blaenau Gwent and shake our fists at the Liberals. The bottom line is that at least 3m people who voted Labour in 2017, simply didn’t vote in 2019. That was the big shift. Not to the Liberal Democrats, not to the Greens, not even to the Brexit party, many of whose votes would otherwise have gone Tory. We lost millions to abstention.

We thought the ‘ground game’ would be decisive. We thought we had pretty good data, and the canvassing was encouraging toward the end. We thought the polls were missing something big. In fact, the huge canvassing and ‘get out the vote’ operation appears to have helped in London and a number of the marginals which we won in 2017. We kept places that we normally wouldn’t if we were losing, like Enfield Southgate, Canterbury and Bedford. We held Battersea and won Putney. Yet it fell completely flat elsewhere. If the ‘youthquake’ happened at all, then it probably happened only in big cities and university towns. The worrying thing is what could have happened even in those cities if it weren’t for that ground operation. Yes, comrades, it can go lower.

This is the election result that would have happened two and a half years ago, were it not for the success of that Labour campaign and that Labour manifesto. Labour was weak in its historic heartlands, where it had been losing ground for decades. New Labour had done nothing to stop the erosion-tending-toward collapse of local industry, trade unions, employment and incomes. The Brexit vote had completely reanimated the right and rebuilt its popular support. And the combined Tory-Ukip vote in the rustbelt would have been over 50%. Despite what some deluded commentators concluded, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 surge was not proof that another leader would have won with a 20-point lead. It was a big deviation from the established pattern of Labour’s vote since 2001, and we have now seen a reversion to the political mean.

This election, though centrists will be loathe to consider what this means, wasn’t about a revival of the political centre. They were crushed by the same juggernaut of disaster nationalism that just brutally savaged the left. Those who cleave to a centre-seeking approach will unite over little of substance. They will present no coherent answers as to how one can defeat disaster nationalism, and not be ripped apart by Brexit culture wars, if not by some variation of the 2017 formula. But they will all agree to treat the election as a referendum on Corbyn’s leadership and, by extension, the dominance of the left within the Labour membership.

It is absolute truth that ‘Corbyn’, qua media persona, was an issue for some voters on the doorstep. However, that simply pushes the question back. Why was ‘Corbyn’ more of an issue this time? What did people, who didn’t care about the IRA allegations and the ‘security risk’ trolling two years ago, and who had already voted for a left-wing manifesto, and who seem to be fine with most of the policies, object to? What had changed in the wider political context? What had changed about his leadership? Why did some of these voters suddenly have trouble deciding what Corbyn stood for? I predict there will be no convincing answer from those who want Labour to veer right. They will repeat the same shibboleths they’ve been uttering since 2015. They will learn nothing.

What should we learn? For most of the Labour left, the main line of analysis is that we screwed up on Brexit. By opting for a second referendum, we were too easily portrayed as betraying a democratic mandate. Several weeks into the campaign, it was noticeable that people like Grace Blakeley were sending out warning messages about the collapse of Labour’s support in the north. I dare say the Brexit party’s campaigning helped the Tories here. Not by taking a lot of Labour votes per se, but largely by amplifying Tory messaging: namely, that Labour had betrayed Brexit.

We should be careful here. There was no ‘good’ position on Brexit. Just because you have found a problem doesn’t mean you have found a solution. Or, indeed, that there is one ready to hand. Part of the problem appears to be that parliamentary victories against Theresa May and Boris Johnson – regarded as ‘playing a blinder’ by the punditry – were received poorly by a lot of leave voters. They saw the political establishment stopping Brexit. The anti-parliamentary rhetoric initiated by May, and turned into a foghorn blast by Johnson, was operating on real discontents. But how would Labour have justified voting through May’s deal? How much support might that have lost? How many people would have been utterly demoralised and ‘done with Corbyn’ at that point? How many voters would have gone Lib Dem or Green then? Would ‘tactical voting’ have saved us?

Besides, there is another issue of how policy has been communicated. At a certain point, with regard to Brexit, constructive ambiguity ceased being constructive. There was a need to outline a definite agenda for Brexit. Labour went into the European elections barely campaigning, and running on the idea of reuniting our divided country. Which was not the mood. We then went into the general election with a second referendum position, decided on quite abruptly after three years of saying no second referendum. And we only clarified the position – that Corbyn would be neutral – mid-campaign. Several MPs refused to say, when asked, which side they would back, knowing either answer would be a trap.

There seems to be no obvious solution on Brexit, nothing that would not be taken as ‘treason’ by someone. This is why Labour did not want this to be a Brexit election. And it succeeded to an extent in shifting the conversation. Despite what some claim, austerity is not ‘over’. It’s an ongoing crisis. And only the kind of agenda that Labour sought to get elected on could feasibly undermine the social bases of Brexit nationalism. The problem is, the election was called because parliament couldn’t make a decision on Brexit, after three years in which the Brexit vote had been radicalised. Nationalism is such an established script in this country that its abstractions can be experienced as intimate, concrete. Whereas the policies in Labour’s carefully drafted, carefully budgeted and yet ambitious manifesto, offering specific help, were so remote from everyday experience of the government, that for a lot of voters it felt abstract and utopian.

Disaster nationalism has just cut through the Labour heartlands, and there is no obvious solution. The seat losses may be reversible; as Momentum suggests in an email to its supporters, the margins of Tory victory being small. But the swings were huge, and the breach is historic. To rebuild any kind of Left in these constituencies, after decades of neglect and local Labour rule being pretty useless, will sadly require more than a six-week election cycle and a passionate campaign run by heroic volunteers. It’s no consolation that we probably have ten years of vicious Conservative government in which to do that rebuilding.

Richard Seymour is a political activist and author. His latest book is The Twittering Machine.

This was an election of two illusions

Jonathan Cook, jonathan-cook.nt, 13 december 2019

The first helped persuade much of the British public to vote for the very epitome of an Eton toff, a man who not only has shown utter contempt for most of those who voted for him but has spent a lifetime barely bothering to conceal that contempt. For him, politics is an ego-trip, a game in which others always pay the price and suffer, a job he is entitled to through birth and superior breeding.

The extent to which such illusions now dominate our political life was highlighted two days ago with a jaw-dropping comment from a Grimsby fish market worker. He said he would vote Tory for the first time because “Boris seems like a normal working class guy.”

Johnson is precisely as working class, and “normal”, as the billionaire-owned Sun and the billionaire-owned Mail. The Sun isn’t produced by a bunch of working-class lads down the pub having a laugh, nor is the Mail produced by conscientious middle managers keen to uphold “British values” and a sense of fair play and decency. Like the rest of the British media, these outlets are machines, owned by globe-spanning corporations that sell us the illusions – carefully packaged and marketed to our sectoral interest – needed to make sure nothing impedes the corporate world’s ability to make enormous profits at our, and the planet’s, expense.

The Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC have all worked hard to create for themselves “personalities”. They brand themselves as different – as friends we, the public might, or might not, choose to invite into our homes – to win the largest share possible of the UK audience, to capture every section of the public as news consumers, while feeding us a distorted, fairytale version of reality that is optimal for business. They are no different to other corporations in that regard.

Media wot won it

Supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and Waitrose similarly brand themselves to appeal to different sections of the public. But all these supermarkets are driven by the same pathological need to make profits at all costs. If Sainsbury’s sells fair trade tea as well as traditionally produced tea, it is not because it cares more than Lidl about the treatment of workers and damage to the environment but because it knows its section of consumers care more about such issues. And as long as it makes the same profits on good and bad tea, why should it not cater to its share of the market in the name of choice and freedom?

The media are different from supermarkets in one way, however. They are not driven simply by profit. In fact, many media outlets struggle to make money. They are better seen as the loss-leader promotion in a supermarket, or as a business write-off against tax.

The media’s job is to serve as the propaganda arm of big business. Even if the Sun makes an economic loss, it has succeeded if it gets the business candidate elected, the candidate who will keep corporation tax, capital gains tax and all the other taxes that affect corporate profits as low as possible without stoking a popular insurrection.

The media are there to support the candidate or candidates who agree to sell off more and more public services for short-term profit, allowing the corporate vultures to pick hungrily at their carcasses. They are there to back the candidate who will prioritise the corporations’ interests over the public’s, quick profits over the future of the NHS, the self-destructive logic of capitalism over the idea – socialist or not – of a public realm, of the common good. The corporations behind the Sun or the Guardian can afford to make a loss as long as their other business interests are prospering.

It’s not the Sun wot won it, it’s the entire corporate media industry.

BBC’s role exposed

The real revelation at this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.

But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.

All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.

The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital only: the Conservative party and New Labour.

Hollowed-out society

The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.

To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.

In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even to a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.

Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.

Shrunken moral horizons

The second illusion was held by the left. We clung to a dream, like a life-raft, that we still had a public space; that, however awful our electoral system was, however biased the red-tops were, we lived in a democracy where real, meaningful change was still possible; that the system wasn’t rigged to stop someone like Jeremy Corbyn from ever reaching power.

That illusion rested on a lot of false assumptions. That the BBC was still the institution of our youth, that it would play reasonably fair when it came to election time, giving Corbyn a level playing field with Johnson for the final few weeks of the campaign. That social media – despite the relentless efforts of these new media corporations to skew their algorithms to trap us in our own little echo chambers – would act as a counterweight to the traditional media.

But most importantly, we turned a blind eye to the social changes that 40 years of an unchallenged corporate-sponsored Thatcherism had wreaked on our imaginations, on our ideological lives, on our capacity for compassion.

As public institutions were broken apart and sold off, the public realm shrank dramatically, as did our moral horizons. We stopped caring about a society that Margaret Thatcher had told us didn’t exist anyway.

Large sections of the older generations profited from the sell-off of the public realm, and policies that flagrantly disregarded the planet’s future. They were persuaded that this model of short-term profit, of slash-and-burn economics from which they had personally benefited, was not only sustainable but that it was the only possible, the only good model.

The younger generations have never known any other reality. The profit motive, instant gratification, consumer indulgence are the only yardsticks they have ever been offered to measure value. A growing number have started to understand this is a sick ideology, that we live in an insane, deeply corrupted society, but they struggle to imagine another world, one they have no experience of.

How can they contemplate what the working class achieved decades ago – how a much poorer society created medical care for all, an NHS that our current one is a pale shadow of – when that history, that story of struggle is rarely told, and when it is it is told only through the distorted prism of the billionaire-owned media?

A rigged political system

We on the left didn’t lose this election. We lost our last illusions. The system is rigged – as it always has been – to benefit those in power. It will never willingly allow a real socialist, or any politician deeply committed to the health of our societies and to the planet, to take that power away from the corporate class. That, after all, is the very definition of power. That is what the corporate media is there to achieve.

This is not about being a bad loser, or a case of sour grapes.

In the extraordinary circumstances that Corbyn had overcome all these institutional obstacles, all the smears, and won last night, I was planning to write a different post today – and it would not have been celebratory. It would not have gloated, as Johnson’s supporters and Corbyn’s opponents in the Conservative party, large sections of the Labour parliamentary party, and the rightwing and liberal media are doing now.

No, I’d have been warning that the real battle for power was only just beginning. That however bad the past four years had been, we had seen nothing yet. That those generals who threatened a mutiny as soon as Corbyn was elected Labour leader were still there in the shadows. That the media would not give up on their disinformation, they would intensify it. That the security services that have been trying to portray Corbyn as a Russian spy would move from insinuation into more explicit action.

Future on our side

Nonetheless, we have the future on our side, dark as it may be. The planet isn’t going to heal itself with Johnson, Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in charge. It’s going to get a lot sicker, a lot quicker. Our economy isn’t going to become more productive, or more stable, after Brexit. Britain’s economic fate is going to be tied even more tightly to the United States’, as resources run out and environmental and climate catastrophes (storms, rising seas levels, flooding, droughts, crop failures, energy shortages) mount. The contradictions between endless growth and a planet with finite resources will become even starker, the crashes of 2008 more familiar.

The corporate party Johnson’s victory has unleashed is going to lead, sooner or later, to a truly terrifying hangover.

The likelihood is that the Blairites will exploit this defeat to drag Labour back to being a party of neoliberal capital. We will once again be offered a “choice” between the blue and the red Tory parties. If they succeed, Labour’s mass membership will desert the party, and it will become once again an irrelevance, a hollow shell of a workers’ party, as empty ideologically and spiritually as it was until Corbyn sought to reinvent it.

It may be a good thing if this coup happens quickly rather than being dragged out over years, keeping us trapped longer in the illusion that we can fix the system using the tools the corporate class offers us.

We must head to the streets – as we have done before with Occupy, with Extinction Rebellion, with the schools strikes – to reclaim the public space, to reinvent and rediscover it. Society didn’t cease to exist. It wasn’t snuffed out by Thatcher. We just forgot what it looked like, that we are human, not machines. We forgot that we are all part of society, that we are precisely what it is.

Now is the time to put away childish things, and take the future back into our hands.

Jonathan Cook writes: No one pays me to write these blog posts. If you appreciated it, or any of the others, please consider hitting the donate button

Comments (4)

  • Emma says:

    Thankyou. It is good to be able to read this rather than listening to the blame game going on the mainstream media.Some sense and clarity at last.

  • Penelope Miller says:

    This is so clear, makes so much sense, and is so frightening. But we need to know the truth in order to have any chance of countering it. Thank you for clarifying, amongst yet more anti-Corbyn, anti-real-socialist uproar, the path we have to beat.

  • John C says:

    So Corbyn has brought Labour to its worst defeat since 1935? And who pray tell was that last worst leader? – Clement Atlee.

  • Rafi says:

    Forget the blame game.
    What do I tell my children?
    We failed them, we lost our dream,
    we lost our hope and we didn’t see it coming.
    If we could not defeat a disjointed opponent who were on their knees what hope of we got of ever being in power.
    What an unmitigated disaster for my children’s future

Comments are now closed.