Socialist Worker

Fear and loathing - and hope - inside the Labour Party election campaign

A Labour Party conference in London on Saturday saw activists discuss the positives - and negatives - of the party election campaign, reports Nick Clark

Issue No. 2680

Labour activists met on Saturday and discussed the general election campaign

Labour activists met on Saturday and discussed the general election campaign (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Labour Party activists have told Socialist Worker about the positives—and some of the difficulties—of the first few days of their general election campaign.

The activists were among those gathered at a Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference in central London on Saturday.

One activist said, “We’re trying to talk to people about the change that a Labour government can bring.

“We want to talk to people about what matters to them, and get them to understand they can only get that with a Labour government.

“We compare it to the Labour government of 1945. Nobody thought the NHS would be possible. But a Labour government brought it in.”

She added, “We’re trying to get as many people as we can on the streets, knocking on doors and leafleting.”

Another activist, Morla, said she had been to a leafleting session since the election had been called, which was “very positive”.

“One person said Jeremy Corbyn is a traitor and he would never vote for him. But other people stopped and talked to us. They want to talk about things like protecting the NHS and public services.”

She added, “We’re feeling very hopeful, but we were also hopeful in 2017—so we’ll see what happens.”

But another activist, Daniel, said canvassing in Chingford, “a Tory seat in a Tory area” had been difficult.

“People don’t like Corbyn, and we’re told not to bring him up on the doorstep. A lot of them are confused about Corbyn, and all they know of him is what they see in a split second look at the headlines.

“But they don’t like Iain Duncan Smith or Boris Johnson either. So they’re more interested in talking about the issues.”

The conference had been organised before the election was called—and was shortened so that people could go campaigning. It became an opportunity for left wing party members to talk about the campaign Labour has to wage.

Many speakers emphasised that Labour had to focus on promises of radical, transformative change to society and the lives of ordinary people.

Hardship

FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack speaking at the Labour Against Austerity conference

FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack speaking at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity (Pic: Guy Smallman)


As one Labour member put it in one discussion, “It’s about the hardship in people’s day to day lives, struggling on Universal Credit. We need to get people to understand that it’s a Corbyn government that’s going to get people out of that.”

Tackling the climate crisis was a major part of the discussions. Many speakers talked about Labour’s Green New Deal, and how action on climate change had to be tied into a vision for a better society.

Speakers also gave a sense of what needed to be done to win that. Many talked about a movement.

In the middle of an election, this focused on canvassing. Many said this was an opportunity to bring a message of radical change to ordinary people.

It’s true that the election is an opportunity to bring about a major shift in politics. Daniel explained how many of his friends “who aren’t necessarily political look at the news”.

“They used to agree we should support Labour, but that we should get rid of Corbyn because he’s unpopular,” he said.

“But now the election has been called that’s already started to change. In 2017 people said we’d lose really badly and we didn’t. The same thing could happen again.”

Building support for radical change throughout society—and the sense that this is possible—has to involve more than simply canvassing. There also has to be a sense of struggle outside of parliament that involves ordinary people in fighting for that change.

Potential strikes by rail workers, university workers and postal workers during the election can be part of that. So can mass rallies, the climate strike on 29 November and protests against Donald Trump’s visit on 3 December.

Crucially there has to be a movement that can fight to resist the forces that would be arrayed against a Corbyn government—and pressures him not to back down.

Speaking at the end of the conference, FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack said, “When we win on 12 December that’s not the end of it—that’s the start of it.

“The start of a movement to say we want those policies and we’re not going to let the press and the media stand in the way.”


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