by W Stephen Gilbert
It’s true that opinion poll failings – and poll successes in anticipating election results more or less accurately have been thin on the ground – are apt to underestimate votes for right wing candidates (Tories, Trump) rather than any other kind. Nevertheless, the Tory landslide projected at the outset of this election period would be a surprising outcome, given the tendency for campaigns to assist the opposition parties by allowing them far more coverage than they usually enjoy. In the case of the 2017 election, the Tory pitch has been so dire that if a substantial narrowing of the gap did not materialise, one would be entitled to suspect foul play.
It’s a measure of the job that the media have done on Jeremy Corbyn, obediently reproducing the lines fed out by Tory propaganda chief Lynton Crosby, that the BBC go on finding vox pops to declare that Corbyn is “an idiot” and indeed that “I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him”. Even Corbyn’s most convinced opponents in all parties including the Progress wing of Labour concede that he’s as honest as the day is long, that authenticity is his strongest suit and that he’s on top of his brief. That the press have convinced people otherwise demonstrates the degree to which Corbyn’s people have proved unable to counteract the campaign to undermine him.
It’s tempting to feel that those who neglect to vote Labour this time will deserve the whirlwind they go on to reap, save that Labour voters will reap it too. Who can doubt that a Theresa May government will proceed to privatise the health service, the education system, the prison network and thereafter perhaps the police force and non-commercial broadcasting too? Who can doubt that the wealth gap will increase, homelessness will grow and food banks (to which people go, May essayed, for “complex reasons”) will proliferate? And as May transforms the British economy into that of an off-shore tax haven to compensate for the lack of a decent trade deal with the EU – her punishment for the disobliging stances she struck in order to convince literal-minded people that she was “strong” and hence bound to succeed – voters may come to regret living in an increasingly benighted version of a former Soviet satellite where most of the businesses and properties are owned by Chinese and Russian interests.
Of even more concern is May’s declared readiness to sanction a nuclear strike. In all probability this is just a piece of image-making of a piece with the “strong” leadership that she tries to project, even when retreating on ill-considered policies. But with Corbyn ruling it out and straddling an awkward party position because of it, you might think that interviewers with a ha’porth of gumption would test May on the matter. Would she only contemplate a retaliatory launch or has she a pre-emptive strike in mind? What level of projected civilian casualties would stay her hand: 1,000? 100,000? ten million? And what contingency plans have been laid to prevent countries neighbouring the target of her attack from being damaged by fallout and long-term pollution? These aspects must have been considered and, if she is to engage in a nuclear exchange on our behalf, we are entitled to know what she has in mind. After all, she would be in alliance with the most unreliable, most trigger-happy individual ever to occupy the White House. Something mindful is the least assurance the nation is entitled to seek.
In striking contrast to the Tories (who, after all, have had a year to plan their campaign), Labour has offered in double-quick time one of the most constructive and progressive manifestos ever laid before the British electorate and it’s again a measure of how thoroughly that electorate has been turned against Labour in general and Corbyn in particular that the manifesto is so well received by people who still say they will vote for May’s declared austerity and undeclared repression.
Those of us working hard to see Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street and believing that, against all odds, it is still an achievable ambition are dismayed and enraged that so many anti-Corbyn Labour members seeking re-election are encouraging anti-Corbyn sentiment and presenting themselves as a bulwark against both May and Corbyn. They may yet come to eat their words; almost as satisfying as the sight of Corbyn entering Downing Street would be the columnists and commentators explaining how telling us that it was “a fact” that Labour couldn’t win was not really a fact at all, while anti-Corbyn backbenchers unexpectedly re-elected suddenly have nothing but praise for Corbyn’s masterly political skills.
This happy vision, however, may not come to pass; the commentators who assure us that it cannot are making their own contribution to a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if the opinion polls do show a Tory lead of below ten per cent on the Monday before the election, there will be panic at Conservative Central Office and the May team will begin hitting out in all directions. It may well get very nasty before we go to the ballot boxes. But if, as everybody promises, the Tories still have a comfortable cushion, Labour voters will need to look beyond the result and decide how they can help the survival of Socialism in what remains of the parliamentary party after the cull.
Those parliamentarians who have fought Corbyn every inch of the way and have decried his every attempt to embrace a broad-based movement do not deserve re-election. If they return to Westminster, their immediate aim will be to eject those shadow ministers who espouse Socialism and return Labour to a milk-and-water version of Conservatism, or what they call “the centre ground”, “the moderate realist tendency”. So if Labour is to shed parliamentarians, it would be better that it sheds those who have done it so much harm.
In any swing to the Tories, some of the irreconcilables would fall anyway. It won’t take much of a push to deprive Wes Streeting of his 589-vote majority in Ilford North or Daniel Zeichner’s 599 in Cambridge or Paul Farrelly his 650 in Newcastle-under-Lyme. John Woodcock, one of the most foul-mouthed and shameless of critics of Corbyn, always too busy pissing inside the Labour tent to remember to urinate out of it, only requires 398 of his voters in 2015 to change sides and he’s ejected. Other anti-Corbyn members looking distinctly vulnerable are Ian Murray, Labour’s only surviving MP in Scotland (he sits for Edinburgh South), David Winnick in Walsall, Ian Austin in Dudley North, Geoffrey Robinson in Coventry North West, Jess Phillips in Birmingham Yardley, Ruth Smeeth in Stoke-on-Trent North and Tom Watson in West Bromwich (these six will be targets of the Tories’ West Midlands push).
Then there are Ken Livingstone’s tormentor John Mann in Bassetlaw, Graham Jones in Hyndburn, Gloria de Piero in Ashfield, Progress chair Alison McGovern in the Wirral, Caroline Flint in Don Valley, Barry Sheerman in Huddersfield, Ben Bradshaw in Exeter, Liz Kendall in Leicester West, Neil Coyle in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Phil Wilson in Blair’s old seat of Sedgefield, Chris Bryant in Rhondda, Stephen Doughty in Cardiff South and Penarth (he earned rejection by resigning from the Labour front bench on live television, news of which was given exclusively to David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions) and last year’s leadership challenger Owen Smith in Pontypridd. All of these are vulnerable with majorities under 10,000.
But isn’t it self-destructive, illegitimate and disloyal to suggest that the constructive thing to do is to vote against these Labour members or at least to abstain? Certainly not. All these MPs have publicly stated that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn cannot win an election and have worked overtly or covertly against his leadership, briefing against him to grateful journalists, making unsanctioned public statements that compromised Corbyn (I’m looking at you, Tom Watson) and doing nothing to promote Labour’s claim on office. If the party is to lose parliamentary representatives, let them be people the party would be better off without.
As it happens, Corbynista MPs are apt to sit on relatively safe majorities. Sod’s Law dictates, however, that two of the best women who support the leadership will be in grave peril whatever the swing in the election. Cat Smith is standing again as MP for Lancaster & Fleetwood and her margin is a squeaky 1,265. The excellent Margaret Greenwood, lively MP for Wirral West, has just 417 votes to build on. These are two seats where all activists will be very welcome. Far from safe, especially from a Tory tidal wave, are Debbie Abrahams, shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions in Oldham East & Saddleworth, veterans Paul Flynn in Newport West and Ronnie Campbell in Blyth Valley, pro-EU resigners Rachael Maskell in York Central and Clive Lewis in Norwich South, Ian Lavery in Wansbeck, Imran Hussain in Bradford East, Sarah Champion in Rotherham and Kelvin Hopkins in Luton North.
What sort of parliamentary Labour Party emerges from June 8th will decide whether Socialism or Social Democracy dictates the conduct of the next five years. Best of all, of course, would be a Labour government, handing Jeremy Corbyn unprecedented moral authority as Prime Minister. To him would go the credit for the most stunning election victory in 72 years. And then the make-up of the PLP would be pretty academic.