Labour’s manifesto was broadly popular. More than that, I felt it was absolutely necessary in order to rescue the country from the neoliberal pit into which it has fallen. It was also practical, ‘costed’, and not all at all ‘extreme’ by comparison with the past (the 1940s-‘60s, say), or with what is considered mainstream opinion in many European countries today. At the beginning of the campaign Corbyn was not the villain he came to be portrayed as at the end. That was the doing of – yes – the media, whose appalling treatment of him during the election – its monstrous lies and distortions – is recognised by everyone, even those who benefited from it.
Britain’s media is in fact the problem, although it sounds a snowflakey sort of excuse to say so. The Tories and their backers were, quite simply, less honest and principled than the opposition, and cleverer, in a Machiavellian way. Not more ‘intelligent’: that requires an entirely different mindset, obviously not taught at Eton. They had the best liars. Our side hardly lied at all. That’s confirmed by several objective studies. (See https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/10/investigation-finds-88-tory-ads-misleading-compared-0-labour-11651802/.) And it’s why we lost; together with the great tsunami of proto-fascist populism that is presently engulfing both Europe and the United States (the ‘last stage of capitalism’? It certainly looks like it); and of course the extremist pro-Israel ‘lobby’, with its weaponising of the Jews’ horrific sufferings under the Nazis to libel the gentle and tolerant Corbyn as an ‘anti-semite’. That really was the pits. I’m expecting any Jewish friends of mine to distance themselves from it if they still expect my friendship; just as Americans here in Britain feel – quite rightly – than they need to distance themselves from Trump. And as I’m expected, in Sweden, to make it clear that I don’t go along with Brexit.
I was hoping – though not with any great confidence – that Corbyn’s policies and character might raise the level of political debate in Britain to overcome these huge obstacles. That they didn’t, reflects worse on our present political environment than it does on him. His critics now say he should have – in effect – modified his line in order to pacify the Right-wing press, as Blair did, for example, by seeking out Rupert Murdoch to get the blessing of the Sun and the Times. That looked to me at the time to be giving in to blackmail, and it certainly didn’t have the effect of allowing Labour to pursue a radical (socialist) policy, but merely to perpetuate Thatcherism in a slightly softer form. In Corbyn’s case, can anyone seriously see him managing to placate the Press billionaires and the ‘pro-Israel lobby’, short of dumping his genuine social-democratic views and his support for the Palestinians? That he didn’t should add enormously to our respect for him. (As you can see, I’m still a fan.)
What to do now? Take a page from Dominic Cummings’s book, and resort to lies and dirty tricks just as his side have done from the 2016 referendum on? That might be acceptable to the very far Left, and I’m sure we social democrats could be clever enough; but it might clash with our sense of moral superiority (!). Set up barricades and try to launch a violent coup? I’ve toyed with this idea (https://bernardjporter.com/2019/12/12/what-to-do-if-we-lose/), but only to reject it, partly out of cowardice, and from my historical knowledge of how violent revolutions usually turn out. Merely replacing Labour’s leader won’t do it, and achieve anything like the results the Labour election manifesto promised.
In fact it will require, first of all, an overhaul of our whole political system; starting with our voting system (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/), and the ownership of our press. That might make all the difference. After that would be the restoration and reinvigoration of ‘Civics’ teaching in schools; and, as I’ve advocated before, education in ‘Logic’ (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/10/23/logic-lessons/). Abolishing the Public schools – or, short of that, insisting they’re subject to taxation – would probably help. Encouraging people to think and act socially rather than individualistically would be a great improvement, but I don’t know how that could be done. (In 1945 it required the shared experience of a war to do it. That’s a bit drastic.) Politicians could be sent over to Scandinavia to see how it’s done there, though they’d have to hurry – the Rightist tsunami is currently edging in that direction too. But the first two reforms – parliament and the press – are the most essential ones.
Johnson has promised a ‘commission’ to enquire into our constitution, such as it is: https://bernardjporter.com/2019/12/02/back-to-the-stuarts/. Everyone assumes that his purpose here is to strengthen the hands of the executive branch; but it’s possible that it could be hijacked by liberals and radicals to make the House of Commons more genuinely democratic. The press is in a bit of a crisis now, losing out in competition with ‘social media’. That might dilute its impact. (But then of course the social media present other problems.) And, beyond all this, there are signs that the Labour manifesto sowed some ideas that are catching on. Rail nationalisation is apparently popular. Parents are becoming desperate for better and cheaper child care. Students can see that their enormous debts could be lightened. People are becoming persuaded that ‘austerity’ was a choice, not an inevitability. The Tories are even now promising great things for the neglected North of England, to pay the Northern working classes back for supporting them. Scotland has been reinvigorated to push itself free from its dominant Tory neighbour. Ireland may come closer to unity after the Brexit split. Light has been shed on the sufferings of the Palestinians. The ‘toxicity’ of politics has been widely deplored. All these ideas came to the surface during the election, and as a result, in part, of the Labour manifesto. So all might not be lost. And if Labour keeps its nerve, we may see a social-democratic government yet. In which case Jeremy Corbyn could go down in history as its John the Baptist: ahead of his times, rather than behind them, as he is so often portrayed.
That shouldn’t be taken as a prediction. This latest demonstration of the ability of great wealth armed with diabolical means of propaganda to cheat its way back into power offers little real hope for us on the Left. And in any case it wouldn’t do much good for my generation, who are unlikely to be around to see the new dawn.