Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2018


1) In the January 2017 British Perspectives document we raised the possibility of Theresa May calling a general election.

We concluded that: "Despite all of these reasons to avoid a snap general election, it is not precluded that the Tories could be forced to call one.

"If May faces deadlock in parliament over the question of Brexit, in order to try and gain a more stable majority and therefore room to manoeuvre, a general election may be her only way forward." Particularly important among the reasons she should hesitate to call an election was our prediction that, "despite Labour's current poll ratings ... it is not ruled out that - if Labour was to fight on a left programme - it could win a general election".

"At that stage we were virtually alone, not least on the left, in arguing that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party could win.

2) In the event, of course, May gambled and 'lost'. She clung to power, but with her already thin majority obliterated, only able to stay in government propped up by the DUP.

Without doubt the Tories' incompetent election campaign, and her robotic performance, were factors in the result, but not the most important ones.

The dynamic of the general election campaign was transformed by Labour's election manifesto which enthused millions of people, particularly the young.

Labour got over 40% of the vote compared to just over 30% in 2015, the biggest increase in the vote share for any party since Labour in 1945.

Correctly, we did not stand candidates but instead campaigned for a Corbyn government with a socialist programme.

3) There have been many positive results from the general election. The government is rightly perceived as extremely weak.

Corbyn's programme has reached a much wider layer of society than previously. For many young people it is the first time they have heard the need for nationalisation being put forward.

In the aftermath of the election, support for many of Corbyn's policies has grown significantly. A Populus poll in October 2017 found big majorities support the nationalisations put forward in Corbyn's election manifesto.

Water topped the poll (83%), followed by electricity (77%), gas (77%) and the railways (76%). The same poll found that half of the population support nationalisation of all major banks, which was not in the manifesto.

The collapse of Carillion, and all the scandal surrounding it, will have further boosted support for public ownership.

Generally, although Corbyn rarely advocates socialism in general and particularly concrete ways of advancing towards it, nonetheless his policies - including 10 an hour minimum wage, free education and council housebuilding - are now associated positively with socialism among growing numbers of young people.

As City Fund Manager Richard Buxton put it, "Capitalism is not working for the under-40s, so they're voting for socialism." At the same time, Corbyn's position within the Labour Party has been strengthened.

However, none of these positive features have yet been capitalised on as they need to be.

4) This has consequences. We welcome all steps forward for the working class, not least those that have come about as a result of Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.

However, we are not cheerleaders. We also have to point out the limitations, complications and difficulties of the current situation - not out of pessimism but because it is vital we put forward a realistic appraisal of what is necessary to take the struggles of the working class and oppressed forward, and beyond that to end the growing horror of capitalism.

It is exactly because we are optimists, confident that humanity can build a new democratic socialist society, that we are unafraid to point out what needs to be done at each stage.

5) Of course, many of those radicalised by Corbynism will not fully understand criticisms we raise at this stage.

There is an inevitable desire to push aside problems and complications, focusing instead on the hope that a Corbyn government will solve all ills.

We understand that mood, but have a duty to skilfully state what is necessary for Corbyn to win a general election, and beyond that what is needed to implement a programme in the interests of the working class.

In doing so we are preparing the ground for future struggles. Our role, as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, is to "fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, [to] also represent and take care of the future of that movement."

6) We recognise that, despite the many positive factors, the post-general election landscape is complicated.

Some very important strikes and campaigns have taken and are taking place, particularly at local level and on the railways.

There have also been some significant struggles of groups of precarious workers, including the magnificent victory scored by the first McDonald's strike in Britain.

Overall, however, the level of struggle is quite low. The potential for mass movements on a wide range of issues is clear, given the obvious weakness of the government and the enormous accumulated anger at austerity and inequality.

Nonetheless, the current uneasy calm could continue for a period. There are a number of reasons for this.

Central is the role of the majority of trade union leaders and also of the Labour leadership.