The left behind have finally reached Westminster

By David Osland

There has always been something that little bit too liberal-hand-wringy about the label ‘left behind’ for my liking.

The phenomenon it describes is real enough, I guess. It’s just that the passive voice construction seems designed to dodge the most pertinent questions here.

Chief among the issues the designation leaves uninterrogated are, who left the ‘left behind’ behind, and why they left them behind.

If accurate terminology and not snappiness were the sole criterion, it would be more accurate to call this layer the losers in the class struggle over the last 40 years and more.

Whether you date the abandonment of social democracy to Healey and the International Monetary Fund bailout in 1976 or the monetarism introduced by the Thatcher administration three years later, the consequences are now there for us to see.

Take away solidarity, take away hope, throw in a housing crisis and pockets of intergenerational unemployment; allow despair to reign unchallenged, under Tory and Labour governments alike, for decade after decade; what you get is Brexit, the collapse of the Red Wall, the anti-vaxx movement.

What you get is a permanent lynch mob loitering around Parliament, looking for politicians to threaten, and alighting perchance on Keir Starmer and David Lammy.

Boris Johnson’s opponents, in his own party as much as in others, were quick to attribute the confrontation to the prime minister’s disgraceful despatch box attempt to link Starmer with Jimmy Savile.

This probably doesn’t add up, at least in the sense that the scuffle was not a one off, directly sparked by Johnson’s descent into conspiracy theorist La-La Land.

Politicians have faced aggressive chanting, not to mention the occasional soft projectile, for decades.

What is new is the provenance of the mob. The left behind have finally reached Westminster. Britain now has a permanently-constituted heap of accumulated social detritus that a serious figure on the right could set ablaze.

It is frightening not so much for what it is now: it is frightening for what it has the potential to become. The leap from here to a British Capitol insurrection is not too far.

The left – and democracy in the country in general, I suppose – has so far only had to face down cartoon toffs and intellectually unserious posh boy populist dilettantes of the limited calibre of Johnson, Farage and Rees-Mogg. The problem will come when we are no longer so lucky.

That is why the Labour Party needs, more than anything else, to renew the politics of hope. If it fails, the consequences will be far larger than anything we have yet seen.

David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time leftwing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland

Image: Antivax protest in London. Author: Mx. Granger, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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