Monday, 5 June 2017

Revisiting Lesser Evilism






















It's time to revisit the unavoidable horizon of lesser evilism, albeit from a completely different perspective. Traditionally at election time people like me have to lecture comrades on the left to think deeply about their ill-fated electoral interventions and/or abstaining and vote Labour to keep the Tories out. As I've been a party member for seven years, that has meant urging a Labour vote despite Ed Miliband's immigration mug and the disaster zone that was Gordon Brown's premiership. Even before, all through my time as a Trot, it was obvious that a Labour government, regardless of the fact that it undermined the constituency it was set up to represent, is always preferable to a Conservative government. How things change. The left have captured the leadership, the left is running the election campaign, and the well-received manifesto is a document of the left. This time it's entirely unnecessary to bother with the few folks determined to lose their deposits. On the whole, most of the extra-Labour left are now on board. They may have criticisms of Corbyn but overall the party is heading in the right direction.

Yet there are some Labour people, some former activists and members, who have left the party and are determined not to vote for Labour. Some have gone because of Brexit, even though Labour accepting the result appears to be vindicated by the polling. And not a few vanished because of Jeremy Corbyn and all the reasons that got a full airing during the two leadership contests. And so to these people - you know who you are - this is for you. A few have even joined the Liberal Democrats. I say this in the same way it was sais to impatient lefties in the past: get a grip. This election is not about you, it is bigger than whatever criticisms you may have.

Just look at what is happening. Every time Theresa May opens her mouth about Brexit, the more likely we will crash out of the European Union without a deal. Because, true to form, the short-term headline-driven interests of the Tory Party is what comes first and foremost in every Conservative leader's mind. Their record this century on this score speaks for itself. Fine, you don't like it that Labour trooped through the aye lobby for triggering Article 50, or that the party is now committed to the end of free movement, but the choice is very clear. It's a choice between a likely no deal or a very bad deal negotiated by the clowns May has put in charge of Brexit, or a Brexit that preserves as much of the status quo as possible. Two evils, one is less damaging than the other to our people. Which is it to be?

Should we mention the security situation again? Okay, you don't like Jeremy Corbyn because of his past associations, his lefty record, his stance on nuclear weapons. It's unlikely a sentence or two expended to persuade you otherwise is going to change your mind. Instead, look at it this way. Under Theresa May, you know as well as anyone else that police numbers were substantially cut, depriving the security services of crucial community-level intelligence. In her speech responding to Saturday's terror attack, May not only unveiled a counter-terror strategy doomed to failure, but even now won't rule in extra police resources or rule out further police cuts. Meanwhile, Jeremy and the party have pledged 10,000 more coppers - a partial reversal of Tory cuts - and whatever it takes to keep the people of Britain safe. Which then is the lesser evil? Having someone you have political differences with as Prime Minister who would nevertheless address the terror threat, or a complacent Conservative government who've presided over three attacks after a period of defunding counter-terror policing? Which is the lesser evil?

Let's have a think about aspiration seeing as it got bandied around with much gusto in the immediate aftermath of the last general election. I'm going to define aspiration quite simply. It's something much more basic than "second home ownership, two cars in the driveway, a nice garden, two foreign holidays a year, and leisure systems in the home such as sound, cinema, and gym equipment", as Scottish Labour once put it. For too many of our people, it's the aspiration of having a regular job with regular hours, of getting work in which one can exercise their full talents, of buying their own home, of a life free of debt, of not getting hounded by the DWP for a few quid overpayment, of not having to face the humiliation and fear of the work capability assessment, of going into overcrowded hospitals and not having to wait for hours in pain, and the aspiration of living in a society that has left behind dog-eat-dog attitudes and is offering something better for everybody, be they poor or better off. Fine, you don't like how Corbyn supporters have talked down achievements of past Labour governments, but what is important is happening now. You can support a Prime Minister elected on a manifesto that will address all of these, or vote for a party that talks about a fairer society, but will leave social care unattended, the NHS in a mess, the disabled in crisis, and disproportionate numbers locked into low paying insecure jobs. This isn't even a lesser evil question, it's a simple yes to a positive programme or the acceptance of a miserly, grey patrician vision of a Tory Britain. There really is no contest.

These are the choices you have to weigh up. Does your dislike of Jeremy Corbyn trump the transformative programme Labour offers? Does your dislike of Jeremy Corbyn mean you'd rather see a Conservative government that's reckless with the wellbeing of its citizens, reckless with Brexit, and reckless with our safety? And, seriously, what is better for the centre left politics you're committed to - a government that seeks to put the values you hold dear into practice or one that is their very antithesis? Are you prepared to see the Tories win just so your centrist purity remains unsullied? Think about the others who need a Labour government. After all, it's a line you have used with others before. So if you don't like Jezza, put on your nose peg on Thursday and do your duty just as many others have done for previous Labour offerings.

9 comments:

Speedy said...

No one who doesn't vote Labour on Thursday can never call themselves a socialist or of the Left. In these extreme circumstances, I would make an exception for people in constituencies who vote tactically against the Tories, but that's it. People who don't vote Labour are effectively voting Tory IMHO - and it is a kind of acid test for Blairites who always claimed to be of the Left but like Dan Hodges only ever really personified bourgeois careerism. I don't agree with everything Jeremy says, but he is plainly Labour. His team is a bit crap (Diane Abbott is terrible) but compared to the Tories...

Mark Livingston said...

As a socialist, I can confirm that it wasn't at all easy voting Labour during the Blair/Brown wilderness years. I personally had grave doubts about Kinnock too. But, in keeping with the general thrust of this blog, I did it. Blairites should choose Labour and support the socialists this time.

Robert said...

If Labour wins it will be a joy to watch the Blairites squirm. Sadly chances are the Tories will win although they will probably be denied the landslide they were expecting until recently.

Anonymous said...

Various pundits (Matthew Goodwin is among the more credible of them) are still insisting that Labour will be jilted at the polling booth. I don't see the parallels with the 'I agree with Nick' phenomenon, which was a purely instinct-driven reaction to the TV debate. The Corbyn surge seems to have far deeper connections with the electorate.

Obviously the party still (at the moment of writing) looks likely to lose the election (but not by much) or at least not win it decisively. We need to be thinking of 9 June and beyond. There will be no cause for despair, whatever the result.

Even if Corbyn turns out not to be the Messiah, he has demonstrated that he is a very plausible John the Baptist.

Anonymous said...

I'd urge caution before jumping in with the usual stuff about 'Blairites, this time apparently set to squirm. Firstly Blair's response to the situation in the latest 1990s was probably pretty much the only game in town at the time. He acutely understood the disaster of Labour's previous defeats followed by the sectarian Militant years, Bennism and Michael Foot's unfortunate and short lived leadership. Shouting the words 'socialism' from the rooftops was an emotional not a political response to Thatcherism, particularly after the disastrous defeat of the miners. Did Blair make serious errors - you bet - especially his misjudged and costly Iraq intervention. Slagging off Blairism however is just self-indulgence. The political situation has massively changed and it seems that people are so fed up with austerity and unmediated globalisation in the interests of the powerful that they are prepared to look again at a properly social democratic left leaning manifesto. As a friend of mine said yesterday "I don't care about the 'magic money tree. Austerity hasn't worked, why not try something else?' The extra ingredients in the mix this time is a relatively unspun leader appropriate for the current mood of political disillusion and an actually pretty acute sense that we need a radical but not stupidly 'socialist' programme for government that talks in everyday language and not the jargon usually associated with the left.
The second reason to avoid triumphalism is that we may well lose and still badly despite the narrowing of some polls. Remember the Tory vote is about the same level as when the campaign started. If we do lose, and personally I've been out pretty much every day campaigning for a labour government, then the last thing we need is the Labour Party to descend into a shouting match and name calling. I've been impressed in my patch how when push came to shove, all wings of the party have come together to try and win this. This is a very long-winded way of saying, let's not lose that sense of unity, purpose and above all thoughtfulness and willingness to admit mistakes and learn.

Kath said...

If ' Labour wins it will be a joy to watch the Blairites squirm' -the joy of Labour in reenactment mode

Speedy said...

In short, if the young people get out and vote it will be a hung parliament, if they don't it will be a Tory landslide.

Anonymous said...

Matthew Goodwin - "credible"??

Heh, its the way you tell 'em ;)

Alex Ross said...

In my constituency it's not really a gamechanger - due to the very uneven way the constituency is drawn up (run down ex-council estates and a larger population of semi-rural properties - and I'm in the former category). The Tories had a 17,000 majority at the last election. So I'm being indulgent and voting for the Greens as (a) they are the only party that seem to have a local presence and bother to canvass (although I think the Tories sent some one round last night and got told to F-Off by the local kids - as I was listening out my window). (b) I want to vote for a more liberal leaning leftism - which doesn't necessarily mean centrism - but does mean that the candidate priorities universal liberty and human rights above tribal leftism - which I don't think Corbyn does.