Offer ourselves false consolations
Losing elections hurts, and so it should. A Tory victory will hurt the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the sick, migrants, working people and everyone who depends on decent public services. Labour election victories might not be sufficient to guarantee the socialist transformation of society, but losing elections means we don’t get to first base.
It might be true to say that we have dramatically increased Labour’s membership, developed a radical manifesto with solutions to the problems we face, energised a whole generation of young activists, begun to transform the Party’s internal structures, and looks certain to have elected some radical new faces to Parliament like Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby), Kate Osborne (Jarrow) and Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse). Whilst all that’s true it shouldn’t distract us from directly facing the reality of our defeat.
Indulge in counter-factual fantasies
What if Corbyn had campaigned harder to Remain in the 2016 referendum, and given the EU 10 out of 10, and attacked the role of Cambridge Analytica? What if he’d have called openly for a “People’s Vote” earlier, and been more openly critical of the idea Brexit had to happen? What if he’d backed Remain in a second referendum, or entered into a formal alliance with other Remainer parties?
Does anyone really think that Labour is set to lose seats like Great Grimsby and Mansfield because Corbyn didn’t sound more like Jo Swinson? It’s plain daft. In any case, we don’t need a crystal ball. Polls consistently showed that Labour support fell at the same time we backed away from a firm commitment to respect the result of the referendum.
Insult the electorate
You can hear a certain liberal left contempt for working class communities in former industrial areas of Britain from a mile off. “They were too stupid to understand the real issues, too bigoted, racist and hate-filled to vote in their own interests”. Or, with superficially more sophistication, “We didn’t do enough to explain the extent to which Brexit was a far right, racist project. We were too slow to “call out” nationalism and prejudice”. Explaining that we lost because “people didn’t understand just how right we are” places the blame on the electorate for taking the wrong side in a Culture War. It represents precisely the elite arrogance and snobbish disdain for people outside the Metropolitan bubble that fed the alienation of voters in the first place.
Carry on regardless
Yes, the ideas contained in our manifesto represented a radical agenda with real solutions. But we can’t just pick up where we left off and bash people over the head with the manifesto until they agree with us. Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. This means we have some hard thinking to do.
Why didn’t our bold promises “land” with the electorate? There was clearly a suspicion – based in reality – that Labour wanted to talk about anything but Brexit. This fed cynicism, as though the more radical the policy offer, the more it smacked of a desperation to distract. Too many people thought that threat to the NHS was being exaggerated for instrumental purposes, and therefore doubted the veracity of the claims we were making. We need to learn how to win back trust, and begin to engage the concerns of working class communities on their own terms, not on the ground that “progressives” find most comfortable.
Lurch to the right
Embittered Blairites and centrists of every persuasion will be crowing “we told you so”. But anyone who thinks that the working class communities of the North and Midlands were crying out for a bit of Third Way triangulation, financial deregulation, and more privatisation of public services would be barking up totally the wrong tree.
In some quarters there will be call to put Corbynite policy into sharp reverse – celebrating NATO and aggressive western military intervention overseas, accepting the possibility of using nuclear weapons, defending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, justifying the actions of right wing governments in Israel and India, and getting “tough” on immigration. Quite why aping Tory policy would make people more likely to vote Labour remains a mystery.
Blame anyone but ourselves
There is no shortage of candidates for other people to blame. Traitors like Ian Austin and John Woodcock openly backing the Tories; Chuka and his merry band of Lib Dem losers; TIGGERs; internal critics, including those on the front bench; the billionaire-controlled print media, the biased BBC, the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury….The list goes on and on. It might make us feel better, but sections of the establishment will always direct hostility to socialists. Such is life. We need to reflect critically on our own project, and learn from our mistakes.
Focus on personalities
It’s true that hostility to Corbyn was an important factor on the doorsteps of the seats we lost. But it’s not some kind inevitable response to Jeremy’s personality – he was the same guy, with the same values, in 2017 and we didn’t hear nearly so much of the hate. Indeed, he led a Labour opposition which saw the biggest net increase in votes since 1945! A great deal of energy and investment went into producing the hostile reaction to Corbyn, and the same is likely to happen to anyone who succeeds him and poses a threat to the interests of the 1%. If we rush too fast into a leadership contest dominated by whether people are more likely to listen to Angela Rayner or Rebecca Long-Bailey, without asking ourselves more about the political factors responsible for our defeat, we will be going up a blind alley.