A love letter to the Labour Left

Take yourself back to May 2017, and a moment of hope we shared.  In the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing, the memorial crowd spontaneously sang Don’t Look Back in Anger. 

Theresa May’s snap election had looked a certain bet.  Then the Labour manifesto was launched.  Bold social democratic policies captured the imagination: public ownership of rail, mail, water and energy.  Strong on workers’ rights and reversing austerity.  From 20 points behind, we were closing rapidly.  Then came the attack on the 22nd of May, a suicide bomber murdered 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert, 1,017 others were injured. 

Political orthodoxy predicted a “rally round the flag” effect would consolidate the Tory vote and halt Labour’s progress.  But Labour defied orthodoxy, and in the spirit of that Manchester crowd, said if you want a peaceful Britain, you have to work for a peaceful world.  With 41% of the vote, Labour came close.  But not close enough. 

Fast forward five years – yes, it’s just five years ago – and hope wears thin.  Grenfell, Cambridge Analytica, Windrush, Tommy Robinson, Burqua letter-boxes, “Funny Tinge” Change UK, Farage wins the European elections, Alistair Campbell votes Lib Dem, May resigns, Johnson PM, levelling up promised, Parliament prorogued, Johnson landslide, Keir Starmer’s Ten Pledges, Brexit, Covid ignored, Covid rips through care homes, PPE corruption, Zoom, clap for carers, test & trace massive waste, Andy Burnham & co fight Tiers in the north, bodies pile high in their thousands, Jeremy Corbyn whip removed, vaccine bounce, Hartlepool by-election, Labour proscriptions, Andy McDonald resigns, £20 universal credit cut, COP 26 fails to deliver, number 10 cake ambush, Brexit unravelling, Ukraine invaded, energy hikes, inflation bites, Forde Report, Johnson defenestrated, Truss on the march, rail strikes, Mick Lynch wins the argument, Sam Tarry sacked, unions fighting back, the world is burning. 

No wonder you’re exhausted.  And angry.  It sounds like a Billy Joel song. 

You might have joined Labour with the Corbyn surge of hope.  You might have been in Labour all along.  The temptation to say “stuff it” and walk away is strong.  Some have left the Labour Party.  Others have been expelled for innocuous social media likes.  But it’s called struggle for a reason.  I don’t like Johnson or Truss, but I won’t remove myself from the electoral register.  I’ll keep my vote and use it. 

A world where billionaires extract wealth by impoverishing people, then offshore their profits while the planet burns, is unsustainable on any level.  The British public agree with us.  On a policy-by-policy basis Labour’s 2017 & 2019 manifestos are hugely popular.  Survation’s poll this August showed 69% want publicly owned water, vs. 11% who want it privately owned.  It’s the same for buses, rail, mail, and energy, to within a couple of percent.  You’re in the majority, and you’re on the right side of history. 

There’s a reason inflation is rampant and poverty is endemic.  There’s a reason workers are striking and coordinated industrial action is on the cards.  The world is still using the economic model that caused the 2007-8 crash.  Debt, speculation and fossil fuels are preferred to investment in people and public infrastructure.  Unless that changes, any Government, under any leader, will fail to provide financial security.    

Building a better world means challenging the status of the mega-rich.  It means challenging the right-wing myths as myths.  Reversing privatisation, reversing inequality, and taxing wealth.  Eradicating hunger and homelessness for good.        

We know that paints a target on our backs.  There is no route to a Labour victory by appeasing the Murdochs & Rothermeres.  Times have changed.  Millions are unable to pay their bills.  The public back the unions.  That 2017 manifesto is even more needed today.  Our First Past the Post system means only Labour can deliver it.   What stings most is that you saw this coming, and cried out “why is no one listening?” 

Our demands are pragmatic, not dogmatic.  I work with businesses every day to create jobs with good pay and conditions.  I work with them in our child poverty prevention work, our Green New Deal and tackling the climate crisis.  Britain has 5.6 million small business owners.  Labour should be pro-business – where businesses are ethical.  But strategic infrastructure and services should be in public hands.  Surpluses should be reinvested, not extracted for distant shareholders. 

The UK’s next Prime Minister will be chosen not by the British people, but by 160,000 Tory members.   In the last fifty years, there have been ten Labour leaders.  Win or lose, there will be another leadership election.  And another one after that.  And Parliamentary selections.  Keep your vote, and use it.  In 2015, 2016 and 2020 Labour members chose leaders who promised to renationalise rail, mail, energy and water, end tuition fees, and reverse anti-union legislation.  We need you. 

Hope fades when change seems impossible.  But we’re on a rollercoaster of change.  It’s 25 years since the 1997 victory.  The 90’s playbook is history.  When John Major fought a leadership election in 1995, around 60% of the public said they’d vote Labour.  In 1997 we polled 43.2%.  Today, Labour has an 80 seat majority to overturn, voter suppression and possible boundary changes to deal with.  Whatever the polls say, we need you. 

The next 25 years will be more unstable than anything since World War 2.  The struggle for dignity, equality and prosperity will be fought against a backdrop of climate breakdown, resource shortages, and global instability.  We haven’t got time to sit this one out and wait.  We need you.    

Don’t look back in anger.  Take your inspiration from the Jam: stop apologising for the things you’ve never done; time is short, life is cruel, but it’s up to us to change this Town Called Malice.