Compass Post Election statement: The old is not yet dead and the new has not yet been born.
On the surface, the results on Thursday look a mess. Everyone went forward and everyone went back. The Tories, given Corbyn and the nasty row over anti-Semitism, were supposed to do better. Labour, given the Budget, Tory splits and all their new members were also supposed to do better. It was assumed the SNP would do even better. It was of course, far more mixed.
Scratch this messy surface and two stark truths are revealed. The first is that, as things stand, the most likely winners of the 2020 general election will be the Tories. And second, relatedly (are you listening Labour?) multi-party politics is now a permanent feature of a democratic system designed for only two. If progressives can work together to solve the latter issue they might have a chance of dealing with the former.
In the absence of formal politics working for them, people are clearly finding their own ways of setting up, joining up, cooperating and campaigning. But remember this, care of Jodie Dean, ‘Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens’. All the localism and the resilience in the world only really matters when it is linked to a bigger picture and helps bring about system change. It will only stop being an interregnum (a period in which the old is dead and the new is not yet born) when formal politics realises the hole it is in and makes alliances with the vibrant bottom up politics and new ideas like a basic income and a shorter working week that are all around us. How likely is this to happen?
The London result was a relief and we congratulate Sadiq Khan, and we will support any transformative ambition that was cunningly concealed in his campaign. He won the votes but few hearts and minds without a vision for a genuinely different kind of city. Sadiq now has a huge platform for change – he must use it and we must make sure he does. Cities with elected mayors such as Bristol and Liverpool could also be test beds for new politics if they too dare to experiment.
Labour remains as divided after the election as before. The Corbynites howl at the Blairites, who howl back. Corbyn doesn’t, at least yet, look like he can win and his Labour opponents can’t work out why they lost. But to demand Corbyn gets the party back to winning ways in seven months, while you spend the bulk of that time trying to undermine him, thereby showing the electorate a bitterly divided party is simply mendacious. Labour suffered an historic defeat just a year ago in line with the crisis of social democracy across the globe. Any successful and deep-rooted rebuilding was going to take time, which Corbyn’s mandate has given him. The question is not yet: can Labour win electorally, but are the foundations being built for the party’s intellectual and cultural political renewal?
On one level, new narratives around the economy, social security and immigration are really welcome. However, critically, little advance has been made on democracy and pluralism – or a strategy to fundamentally transform how politics is done, who by and with whom. The UK is made up of myriad communities, with differing levels of power, and a new politics is one in which every voice is heard. The whole Corbyn wave was a demand for a new politics – more networked, plural and bottom up. Instead tribalism, factionalism and parliamentarianism still dictate Labour’s Westminster mood. John McDonnell’s call at the weekend for Labour to back Proportional Representation is vital, but that still demands the Tories are defeated. The Labour Party can aim for a majority, but the reality is that it will have to talk to the Lib Dems about seats in the South West; do a deal with the Greens in Brighton to ensure Green votes go to Labour elsewhere; in Wales work with Plaid Cymru to see off UKIP and in Scotland talk to the SNP about federalism – especially now the rejuvenated Tories could pick up parliamentary seats in 2020. Labour has promised an all party Constitutional Convention and now need to deliver it. Worryingly, there have been no announced plans or process to reform the Labour Party itself and bring it into the 21st century. Will this be enough to hold on to those new members who expect a new politics?
For Labour, the strategic choice is this: does it want to be occasionally in office (when people get bored of the Tories) but never be really be in power? This would mean a failure to deliver a strong mandate with support in civil society to transform the country. Or does it welcome a negotiated and sustainable progressive consensus with other parties alongside deep support in society for far-reaching change? Vision, modernity, pluralism and a feasible electoral strategy still evade Labour.
The Liberal Democrats seem like they have hit bottom, leaving certain constituencies without a progressive alternative to Tory rule. However, regardless of electoral outcomes, the Lib Dems have their own strategic choices to make. Is their preference a coalition with Labour or the Tories? Are they part of progressive politics or not?
For the Greens, Sian Berry ran a good campaign in London that was vibrant, positive and focused on visions for a better city. Picking up seats in Scotland shows stronger leadership by the Greens there, together with the importance of PR. However, the party as a whole is drifting. Can it be revived? Likewise with Plaid Cymru, winning in Rhondda is a huge coup but they failed to make a wider breakthrough, especially in a nation in which the rise of UKIP is worrying. In Scotland, the SNP surge was halted but they are still the dominant force. In both Scotland and Wales minority governments provide the space for pluralist politics to flourish. Will they step up to the mark? Finally, in London the Women’s Equality Party failed to make a breakthrough, but helped put women’s equality on the agenda and showed that invention, boldness and a simple step like not ruling out membership of other parties is a taste of the future.
What we are witnessing are the ever-decreasing circles of a democratic system no longer fit for purpose. The Tories ‘won’ the last election but are finding out how difficult government is with only 20% of the country’s support. They are being forced back on key policy planks such as academies, housing and refugees – even if the concessions never go far enough. The future will get more complex, not less. The more the two parties try to maintain their stranglehold, the more people and new parties will resist. Holding on to a broken model isn’t where power lies, only frustration and disappointment. Labour in particular must make the leap to pluralism and be in power with others to build a new progressive consensus. Pluralism is just the first step – politics has to start representing, involving and listening to everyone in society. Compass exists to accelerate the birth of this new politics.
All eyes now turn to Europe. Can we now have a better national conversation about what a good Europe might look like?