If nothing else, the last general election can be said to have marked the beginning of the end of ‘business as usual’ in British politics. Labour’s long-predicted downfall materialised in Scotland, with the political map of that country turning an almost uniform yellow, leading SNP detractors to lament the new ‘one party state’. The unexpected Conservative majority at Westminster put paid to any hope of a reconciliation with the separatists, as the former consider the matter closed, and will lead the two principal members of this dis-United Kingdom further down the path of cultural divergence. These differences, insignificant though they may be in any context other than the political, will bolster support for the break-up of the UK.
But while Labour may have been outflanked and outgunned (its rhetoric discernible from that of the Conservatives only by its impotence), Miliband falling on his sword did not spell defeat for the political Left. Far from it. The Scottish independence referendum and the Labour leadership campaign have reinvigorated the movement, and breathed new life into what had become a sarcophagus. The principal motor for this was their element of popular engagement. Both Corbyn and the Yes campaign resolutely refused to patronise. Rather, they entered into a dialogue with those they would convince and invited them to construct a narrative worth fighting for, unifying disparate groups around a set of core ideals – and hang the inconsistencies.
Now, due to the arcana of the Labour party, some compromises have forced alterations to be made to what Corbyn would himself have liked to put before voters in 2020, but this in no way diminishes the potential of this kind of engagement to deliver change. While the tasks before them are Herculean, they are not impossible. It’s often forgotten by politicians, pundits, and public alike that elections are decided long before the polls open, and if the Left is to have any real chance of ever wielding power for longer than five years in Britain again it must absolutely remember that first and foremost it is a movement.
What is clear is that the next five years cannot be spent licking wounds and navel-gazing, waiting for election time to roll round. It is precisely this lack of foresight which has cost the Left so much in the recent past. Instead, however, of advancing to the nearest think tank to draw long on the Elysian nectar, all leftist parties must draw lessons from the campaigns mentioned above. They should focus on broadening their reach, extending the hand of friendship to all, and let experience in interaction inform their action.
Therefore, the construction (or rather resurrection) of a new politics, a demotic politics, a politics which does not begin and end in hallowed stone buildings, must now be central to any leftist party’s praxis. This, combined with shared electoral platforms or vote-swap arrangements, can secure a victory. Of course, this will necessitate compromise and flexibility, but if the vitality of the two recent experiments in popular engagement and unity are anything to go by – those who reject unity in the face of adversity are on the side of reaction.