The British Prime Minister has called a snap general election for 8th June 2017. The opinion polls, indicating massive gains for the existing government, were too much of a temptation. Despite austerity, the opinion polls suggest that the current Tory government is much more popular than the main opposition Labour Party. However, eight weeks is a long time in politics and the actual results could still indicate gains for socialists.
The opinion polls have not proved to be infallible. The polls indicated that the Labour Party would win the last general election in 2015, but the Tories actually won. Again the opinion polls suggested that the Brexit referendum would be a failure, but the public actually voted to leave the European Union by small majority. Similarly, in the US, the polls indicated that Hillary Clinton would win the elections, in contrast it was the maverick Donald Trump who gained the presidency. However, in the recent French presidential elections the opinion polls turned out to be surprisingly accurate.
But the French presidential elections also showed that public opinion can change dramatically during the campaign. The left wing candidate, Mélenchon, had the support of less than 8% of the electorate at the start of the campaign, but finished close with the three other leaders at almost 20%. He did not get through to the second round, but greatly increased his level of support.
The leader of the British Labour Party is now the veteran left winger, Jeremy Corbyn. He was elected leader in 2015 and again, with a larger majority in 2016, after the Labour Party members of parliament tried to overturn his election.
These two elections led to a massive influx of members into the Labour Party. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Labour Party which is now the largest political party in Europe. This mass membership could, if galvanised into action, make all the difference in the coming general election.
The Labour Party now has over half a million members. If these members argue strongly and enthusiastically with their workmates and neighbours, they could determine the outcome of the general election.
Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated that he can gain the necessary level of enthusiasm. During his elections he was able to hold many large rallies and this was the basis of his victories. The same approach, with popular policies, could it again prove to be successful.
Since the general election was called, Jeremy has reiterated and developed a number of his popular policies. These include scrapping of the anti-trade union legislation, guaranteeing the value of state pensions and increasing the level of taxation of the rich. The implementation of such policies by a future Labour government would mark a significant turning point in British politics. However, just campaigning on such policies makes them far more legitimate and may hasten their implementation in future.
In more general terms, the more successful Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are in the general election, the stronger the socialist voice will be in British politics. Jeremy Corbyn has supported a wide range of socialist policies, including for example:
- decisive action against sexism, discrimination and violence against women and girls
- taking public transport including trains and buses into public ownership
- full employment and an economy that works for all
- a secure homes guarantee
- cutting income and wealth inequality
- create a low-carbon economy to protect the environment.
The British elections are also more favourable for the left because almost all socialists are supporting the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. This contrasts with the French elections where there were at least four left-wing candidates. If that vote had united we could have been looking forward to a French socialist president. A divided left means that the next French president will be another social democrat supporting austerity and restrictions on trade unions and immigration.
The British general election in June will be one of the most exciting for many years. Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most left-wing leaders that the Labour Party has ever had. This means that the electorate are being offered a real choice between continued austerity and a real attempt to produce a more egalitarian society where trade unions are able to re-gain their strength. As with the socialist Bernard Sanders in the US primaries and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the French presidential elections, socialism is back on the agenda.
by Drew Povey