Time to take stock. The main party of Britain’s bourgeoisie has lost its parliamentary majority and remains irremediably split over the main question which preoccupies the ruling class. The inner-party division directly reflects the divergent interests over membership of the EU. This clash is the foundation of the political crisis and directly led to the defenestration of the previous Tory leadership of Cameron and Osbourne. The ‘austerity’ strategy of reducing public spending and squeezing wages – in line with the policy imperatives of the Lisbon Treaty and the obligations of EU membership – is now seen to have failed even in its own terms with the public debt ballooning under the Tory and Lib Dem stewardship of the economy.
A political crisis is always a crisis of hegemony. In Britain’s case this is not one of domination over the state apparatus but of ideological hegemony. It is important not to overstate the case. The ruling class is the ruling class because of its ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and is a long way from losing control over the the main instruments for securing consent to its rule including the media and the repressive apparatus. The challenge is to the way its has ruled and to its stewardship.
The popular classes – in contemporary Britain a rather wider category than what we traditionally think of as the working class – do not yet see themselves as a potential new ruling class. Consciousness, class and political, has not advanced to this stage. But almost unprecedented millions have expressed in the most direct way their rejection of the way in which the ruling class rules. Austerity has been decisively rejected by the British people.
The political expression of this is the great advances made by the Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn.
It is important to measure the scale of this. Not just in term of the opinion polls which showed Labour advancing from 22 points behind the Tories to just two, or of the latest polls which show Labour four points ahead. As John McDonnell said, another fortnight and Jeremy Corbyn would be prime minister of a majority Labour government.
The real measure is in the size of Labour’s vote, its composition in terms of class and age and in how it was mobilised. A note of caution, the Tories still won more votes and thus they get first chance of forming a government. Corbyn won 12,626,250.
It is clear that Labour mobilised much of its traditional working class constituency; reconnecting with many who had drifted into abstention or voting for regional or marginal parties; won back a significant proportion of Brexit voters from UKIP; consolidated its dominant position in Wales; hugely mobilised the youth and student vote and secured a bigger share of its lost base in Scotland (and this despite a Scottish Labour Party still mired in crude unionism, cronyism and corruption with a leadership out of step with Labour nationally).
It did this not only because Jeremy Corbyn is a charming, engaging and transparently honest politician with campaigning skills honed through decades of oppositional politics, although of course he is all these and much more, but because of Labour’s policy programme which, although relatively modest by insurrectionary standards, represents an comprehensive rejection of the entire body of conventional thinking on politics and economics and repudiates the basis of both Conservative, Lib Dem, SNP, and New Labour orthodoxy.
The political significance of this is not lost on our ruling class whose insurance policy has always been lodged with the parliamentary brokers of social democracy. The various representatives of class collaboration, social peace, neo liberal political economy and imperialist foreign policy that make up a substantial section of the parliamentary Labour Party, have powerful positions in local government, still dominate much of Labour’s national and regional apparatus, have some strength in the trade union movement and are strongly represented in the bourgeois and liberal media understand that now is a time to make confession for past sins, avoid the spotlight where possible, profess an admiration for Corbyn’s strengths newly revealed and try to ride the wave.
Some even profess happiness with an election manifesto that repudiates everything they have hitherto stood for.
This manifesto did not arrive from outer space. It is the product of a policy process shaped by a developing mass movement against austerity, grounded in a myriad of local and national campaigns on sectional issues, expressed in mass demonstrations organised by the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, informed by trade union struggles, building upon a mood shaped by the mass anti war movement, given shape by Jeremy Corbyn’s first and second Labour Party leadership campaigns (in which the failed policies of Blair and Brown were decisively dumped by an exponentially growing Labour Party membership) and then taken to the nation in an election campaign in which the traditional levers of media manipulation, red-baiting and scare mongering ceased to work.
To this must be added the personality and personal attributes of Jeremy Corbyn (to which his bitter critics of yesterday pay extravagant praise in the hope of negating the political significance of his policy agenda.) If Corbyn’s human qualities occasionally made him an improbable protagonist in the unsavoury atmosphere of the Commons on the campaign trail and in leading a mass movement he came into his own.
The robotic performance of Teresa May combined with a brace of policy foul ups hindered the Tory effort and while their strategy was clearly based on playing safe with a supposedly huge opinion poll lead the Tories failed to understand that the best laid plans rarely survive the encounter with the enemy. The failure of the Tory campaign cannot be put down simply to the individual and collective failings of her team. It was rooted in the politics of austerity in which Tory credibility could not survive the encounter with the views of millions of working people shaped by a decade of wage cuts, sharp reductions in the social wage, NHS cuts and war.
Corbyn came to express these views. Theresa May was boxed in, not simply by tactical decisions made by Lynton Crosby but because neither she nor the Tory manifesto could survive the encounter with reality or real people.
By contrast, Corbyn’s charisma grew with every outing of a Labour manifesto packed with policies that chimed with the views of million of people right across political and ideological divides.
Nothing quite showed the difference than the contrast between May’s highly choreographed and secretly staged ‘public’ appearances before hand picked audiences of Tory loyalists and functionaries and Corbyn’s succession of huge public rallies before enthusiastic crowds often assembled a short notice by social media and street rumour.
Labour won the ground war because of its enlarged activist base in which Momentum played an exemplary role utilising a range of social media in an unprecedented way and because its policies were genuinely popular. But leadership played a critical role. Corbyn’s personal attributes were central here. Not just his equanimity, his Monsieur Zen persona, but his less publicly exhibited steadfastness, even stubbornness, in the face of a personal assault of unprecedented hostility and mendacity. But his leadership was sustained and the whole campaign strengthened by a remarkably cohesive and disciplined team who never lost their nerve. Seumus Milne outplayed Lynton Crosby by putting politics in command.
I don’t place emphasis on these personal factors for any other reason that Corbyn’s team had to take account not only of a toxic media alliance which lined up the predictably hostile efforts of the monopoly millionaire media with most writers on the liberal left and most especially in the Guardian and with a BBC that seem unconcerned about its credibility as an impartial broadcaster but because they had to contend with a Labour Party apparatus which, in parts, played to a different strategy.
There are widespread complaints that instead of allocating resources to winnable marginal constituencies where Tories, SNP or Lib Dems could be replaced by Labour candidates the resources went to places where establishment-minded, right wing and Progress supporting candidates, even in relatively safe seats, were standing. In a number of cases Momentum and other activists rallied to fill the gaps but the whole episode shows that something radical needs to be done about a Labour apparatus that seems minded to ignore the settled will of the party membership and the priorities set by the leadership.
The next stages in this political drama could bring Labour to government with Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten. But office is not power in the decisive sense. Labour’s new public opinion poll lead can only be deepened and consolidated by a straight forward implementation of policies which can materially alter and improve the lives of millions of working people.
That this will draw out opposition from the political representatives of the ruling class and their servant media is a given. But decisive power does not reside in parliament but in ownership and control of the economy.
Every measure to take back control and ownership of public services and utilities, transport, health and education will generate obstruction and sabotage. Every measure to clamp down on corruption and tax avoidance, exert control over the banking system and foreign exchange, direct capital investment to the domestic economy rather than foreign speculation will stir a global assembly of bosses, bureaucrats and bankers into new heights of creative obstruction.
Every progressive foreign policy initiative will anger the NATO enemies of of peace and international cooperation.
Even though his inveterate critics now accept that Corbyn’s much pilloried insistence on accepting the result of the referendum was, in retrospect ‘a master stroke’ big sections of the PLP still favour a Brexit that would leave the much of the EU architecture in place.
Defending a government led by Corbyn will compel even greater efforts of mass mobilisation. It is the guarantee that this new kind of Labour leadership is not the same as previous ones that gives us confidence that in implementing a new kind of government policy that the balance of power and wealth in British society can be decisively shifted in favour of working people.
And the clear understanding that in confronting and defeating attempts to subvert such a government that the way can be opened up for a more fundamental and decisive shift of power to the working class.