I got an e-mail from someone regarding people who were planning on voting Liberal Democrat and some of the standard anti-Corbyn talking points you hear wheeled out: that he’s ‘weak’, that he ‘hasn’t done anything’, that Labour would be doing better under a different leader and all the rest. I started to write a paragraph in response and it turned into something a bit longer, so I thought I may as well post a slightly modified version of it here.
With regards to Corbyn being a ‘weak leader’ who has ‘destroyed the Labour Party’, let’s step back a bit. Tony Blair took over Labour in 1994 and inherited a poll lead of around 25 points. Labour was never going to lose the 1997 election. Labour then won an enormous landslide and, while it did many good things, it never used that power and goodwill to challenge the fundamentals of what the Tories had done to society since 1979. We’ve already seen how easily many of its gains have been dismantled. Labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010 and studies have shown that a significant number of these were working-class people who simply stopped voting, presumably disillusioned with what was on offer. Labour was in such a bad place that in 2015, after 5 years of a truly cruel austerity agenda which has hurt so many people, it basically stood still in the polls and the Tories actually increased their seats and won a majority.
When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Labour had suffered two election defeats in a row and was bobbing around in the late-20s/early-30s in the polls. Ed Miliband had hesitantly shifted the party ever so slightly to the left on some issues and this was viewed by many in the Labour establishment as why the party lost. Corbyn, then, was running against other leadership candidates who were all arguing variations of the same thing – that Labour had to accept some level of austerity, had to accept anti-immigration politics and had to move closer to the Tories. The crossroads Labour faced in 2015 wasn’t ”the policies of 2019 with Corbyn, or the policies of 2019 with a more polished leader, it was Corbyn or a firm shift to a being a more reactionary, Tory-lite party. The brilliant, progressive agenda Labour currently has is because of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
Since Corbyn took over, this ‘weak’ leader has faced furious, daily attacks in the media and a Parliamentary Labour Party largely to the right of him who have tried to undermine and remove him at every turn. In the face of such attacks, pretty unprecedented in our lifetime, he has shifted the Labour Party solidly to being a left-wing, progressive party with a truly transformative agenda that would fundamentally alter the UK for the better.
He has completely changed the narrative on austerity, which has gone from something widely viewed as necessary in 2015 to something which every single party now wants to distance themselves from. He has inflicted more defeats on the government than any other opposition leader in history, stopping cuts to disability benefits, cuts to tax credits, the repeal of the fox hunting ban, the return of grammar schools, the ‘dementia tax’, the removal of the pension triple lock, ensuring parliament got a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit and then defeating the Tory Brexit deal again and again. In 2017 he oversaw the biggest increase in the Labour vote since 1945, without which the Tories would have won a majority and Tory Brexit would have happened long ago. This is not a ‘weak’ leader by any stretch of the imagination.
What have the Lib Dems done? Jo Swinson, Ed Davey and other senior Liberal Democrats were demanding an in/out EU referendum since at least 2008, and regularly attacked both the Tories and Labour for not wanting one. In 2010 they entered into government with the Tories for no reason other than having a common purpose, and then inflicted policies on the country which have seen poverty (including child poverty) soar, homelessness soar, NHS and education spending crash with the door to privatisation in both thrown open wide, wages stagnate, the biggest fall in living standards since records began, council funding cut to the bone, a huge increase in in-work poverty and a huge increase in self-employment which doesn’t pay enough to live on, zero-hour contracts and insecure agency work. This is the tip of the iceberg of the legacy of the coalition, which is all around us, and I don’t think anyone who truly understands it could ever vote for them again until it’s clear they have fundamentally changed.
They haven’t fundamentally changed. Jo Swinson supported everything the coalition did more than most Tory MPs did. She was still defending austerity during the Lib Dem leadership election. It’s because the Lib Dems, in helping the Tories ruin the country, so destroyed their own image as a ‘progressive’ party that they have clung desperately onto Brexit, now painting themselves as the party which wants to ignore the result of the referendum *they wanted and voted to have*. During the referendum campaign, the Lib Dems explicitly mocked the idea of a second referendum as ‘undemocratic’. They said that the result would be ‘the will of the people’. They said this because they thought remain would win, and the complete 180 on that is exactly the kind of bullshit which turns so many away from politics.
They have zero plan on Brexit beyond running around blaming everyone else and offering fantasy positions. They’ll revoke article 50 if they get a majority, knowing they will never get a majority. They want a second referendum, but they can’t say what the second option would be and refuse to support the only party which can actually deliver another referendum – Labour. They are targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats where the Tories are second, making it more likely that a Tory Party standing on a hard Brexit platform will win seats. They care about absolutely nothing but the survival of their party and are merrily screwing the country again to secure this.
In brief, I’d ask the kind of people you’re describing a few simple questions:
– Why has the narrative on austerity changed between 2010 and now, to the point where every party distances themselves from it?
– Why do the Lib Dems, under a leader who advocated, voted for and still defends the dismal record of the coalition and the misery it has wrought, deserve to be forgiven?
– Why do the Lib Dems, who wanted an in/out EU referendum before the Tories did and who voted for the 2016 referendum, deserve to be rewarded for now wanting to ignore that referendum?
– How will voting Lib Dem actually stop Brexit? What is the actual plan that doesn’t involve a Labour government? There isn’t one.
People are calling this the most important election in a generation. Some people mean that only because of Brexit but the truth of the matter is that it’s the election which offers the starkest choice over the direction of the UK which we’ve seen in my lifetime. The Tory party has moved even further right and fully embraced a reactionary, xenophobic, racist nationalism which it hopes it can ride to power. The Lib Dems just pump out lies and positions which don’t bear a moment’s scrutiny, hoping that enough people are so incapable of critical thinking that they have an almost Pavlovian response to ‘stop Brexit!’ In this they have unfortunately been joined by the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who have joined in the Unite to Remain pact which is supporting Tories like Stephen Dorrell (who served under Thatcher and Major), Sarah Wollastone (supporter of Phillip Lee’s motion to stop people with HIV settling in the UK) and targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats. And the SNP is going what the SNP always does, telling everyone that everything and anything that happens is a reason for Scotland to leave a union, and that everything will just be better if some magical forces are unleashed by doing so. Sound familiar?
I don’t think I ever voted Labour before 2010. When I did so then, it was because I knew that a Tory government was a real alternative. In 2015 I had more optimism about the potential of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister than many but I still had profound reservations. Corbyn’s Labour is far from perfect but it is the first time I can recall where a party has put forward a platform which I can positively advocate for, filled with hope and passion. The 2019 manifesto hasn’t yet been released but announcements over the past few months and the general direction of travel suggests it will be even more radical and transformative than in 2017.
Corbyn’s Labour understands that democracy in the UK required drastic and radical renewal. But it also understands that what really matters is offering change which gives people power – real power which, rather than replacing one set of politicians for another, allows people to live their lives with dignity, filled with opportunities and hope. Real power which removes from people the blight of worrying about how they are going to feed themselves and their families, how they are afford a safe and decent home, how they are going to pay the bills, when they are going to receive the operation they need, how they are going to get an hour or two away from work to take their mum to a hospital appointment. Real power which begins to give people a say in the direction of the places we work at every day, the running of the transport we use and how the wealth which we all create is spent.
I truly believe that this is the greatest opportunity I’ve seen in my lifetime to change the course we are on and demand something which is not only better, but something to feel enormous hope about. And all you have to do is vote. Vote Labour.