What is the most important word in the word socialism? It’s not trick question. The answer of course is ‘social’. Tony Benn used to exclaim it was “social-ism”. But Labour isn’t being very social just now. Three things happened yesterday and they could mean Labour loses –not just the hope of a majority but a claim to a higher morality.
The first of the things was that the Greens announced they were standing aside in Chingford to boost Labour’s chances. As far as I know, no deals were struck – it was just the right thing to do. Under our rotten electoral system, beating Iain Duncan Smith, stopping Boris and a hard Brexit and electing a good social-ist MP was enough to sacrifice party interest and opt for national interest first. Good on the Greens (again – the move follows a similar announcement last week in Calder Valley, a marginal seat in West Yorkshire).
Secondly, the Guardian reported that Grime4Corbyn would not be repeating their support for Labour leader offered so generously and effectively, in the forthcoming election. The report said some involved in the campaign, seen as significant to Corbyn’s ‘Youthquake’ in 2017, felt “used” and “ignored”.
The third thing was of course the announcement that Nigel Farage had stood down 317 Brexit Party candidates in Tory seats for the greater good of Brexit and god knows what. The right often do solidarity better than the left – they know which side their bread is buttered.
The three unrelated incidents tell us much about the culture of Labour. It is to take and not give, to be instrumental in its relations with others and see itself as the exclusive carrier of progressive dreams. This is not a fault of Corbynism alone – this exceptionalism runs throughout Labour. And it will be its undoing. Because even if somehow the warped maths of first past the post voting delivers a Corbyn premiership, running a country (and all the perils and complexities that now come with it) demands diversity and pluralism – not exceptionalism.
Rewind to the last election and there was a rumble form the grassroots up for a Progressive Alliance. Greens stood aside for the greater good in over 30 seats. They got nothing back. Not even a thank you. The Labour leadership took every vote – even those quite obviously lent – and claimed them as their own. Some Labour politicians such as Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Join Cruddas behaved differently. But Labour as an entity could not. It and it alone would devise the future. This all or nothing approach is what’s been called Monopoly Socialism.
This grassroots Progressive Alliance helped deliver at least 30 seats to Labour. If Labour had reciprocated, just a bit, then up to 60 more seats could have been won, our analysis has shown, and Corbyn would have been PM. But Labour could not stand aside once anywhere, no matter what the electoral and social cost. For some bizarre reason Labour is always hung up on vote share not seat share - which is what matters in a non-proportional voting system.
But a mixture of Brexit, bitterness amongst the Greens about how Labour behaved last time and Labour’s seemingly increased conviction that it and it alone could and should win, has drastically shrunk the scope for progressive alliance building.
I suspect even deep under the radar conversations about tactical campaigning aren’t being held – exactly the kind of focus that worked so devastatingly against the Tories in 1997.
Roll all this forward, and even if there is a hung parliament with Corbyn as PM, it’s highly unlikely that Labour will enter into negotiations with anyone – they will simply set out their Queens speech and dare others to vote it down – thus either getting what they want or proving that Labour and Labour alone can be trusted. The words ‘fulfilling’, ‘self’ and ‘prospect’ spring to mind.
As ever it will be left to activists and voters on the ground to make the best of a bad situation. To decide whether to stand aside, or campaign and vote tactically. Compass and others will help where we can. Candidate nominations go in on Thursday at 4pm. Time is tight. Labour could make a big bold move and stand aside for the Greens in the Isle of Wight and give them a clear shot at the Tories – and in return get perhaps a dozen stand asides back?
In this Labour needs to remember that to be ‘social’ is to be mindful of others. It is to believe in something bigger than oneself or one’s party.
The tragedy of this is not just that Labour could lose, but that it will lose at a moment when its policy agenda is truly radical. Then the content loses too because Labour stuck with the wrong culture. But as management guru Peter Drucker once almost famously said “culture eats content for breakfast”. There is little point having the right programme when you don’t have the right process to put it into practice.
Again, this isn’t just a problem within or for Labour. There are seemingly no majorities anywhere in Europe for left wing governments, even in Portugal, they govern as part of a dynamic coalition – a progressive alliance.
It is not self-ism we need but social-ism. Trust and belief in others is not only right for the election but critically to what comes after.