Labour Party members, socialists and campaigners spoke to Socialist Worker on Friday about what the general election has shown and how to build resistance to the Tories.
Alan Gibbons, secretary of Liverpool Walton Constituency Labour Party:
“In Liverpool we saw a shaving of the Labour vote, but in some areas it wasn’t by much. In Liverpool Walton the vote went down by 1 percent, but Labour still got 84.7 percent of the vote with a left wing candidate.
So the idea that the result shows socialist ideas are unpopular is nonsense.
Brexit was an issue. Once you say that you’re going to disregard the vote of 17.4 million people in any way then you’re on a hiding to nothing.
In marginal seats, a lot of people basically said, ‘Why aren’t you accepting the verdict and accepting the referendum?’ It created a faultline and that broke us.
Of course there is more to it than that though. Behind the Brexit vote was a sense of people being completely left behind.
In some metropolitan areas, such as Manchester and Liverpool, the vote held up a lot better, because you could point to a level of investment.
But when I went to some of the small towns in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the north east, there was no centre. It was decrepit. There was no confidence in the areas.
Now there will be a lot of hunting for Jeremy Corbyn and blaming the left. Our experience locally shows it’s not a straight left/right thing.
It’s going to put the left under pressure.
But if socialist ideas in Corbyn’s manifesto did strike a chord in areas like ours we’ve got to dismiss the idea that we should retreat back to some sort of centrist interpretation. Which will be what a lot of people will go for.
We have to fight to defend socialist ideas and start to rebuild.
It’s going to be extremely difficult because the Tories will be on the offensive.
When I was campaigning people who looked like me – middle aged white males – raised Corbyn a lot. They basically said, you’re not going to get anywhere with that leader. For me that meant, you’re not going to get anywhere with internationalist ideas.
It was very often accompanied with stuff about Hamas or the IRA, and it came a lot from ex-military people.
I responded by saying I like Corbyn, he’s a man of integrity. I asked them what they disagreed with in the manifesto. I said I voted very reluctantly at times for Labour, such as for Tony Blair despite the Iraq war.
Now we will try and defend the left and secure a good left candidate to be the next leader. My personal favourite, Laura Pidcock, has gone.
There will be argument and debate in Labour. There will be a lot of simplistic answers. We have to fight for socialist, trade unionist and left ideas.
The final thing that will make it extremely difficult is that strikes are at an extremely low level. It’s hard to point at trade unions defending themselves. People were hoping that if we got rid of anti-union laws under Labour, the trade union movement would recover.
This result could compound problems in the unions as some people will feel it’s impossible to fight back. It’s going to be so much harder.
We’re going to have to fight hard against demoralisation. People will feel like dropping into passivity. We’ve built our CLP on hope and activity.
In Liverpool we feel like we’re in a bubble. We had people coming out when we were campaigning punching their fists in the air and saying, ‘Let’s get rid of the Tories’. There was a celebration atmosphere in Walton. They will be devastated.”
Sheila Coleman, Hillsborough campaigner and Unite Community coordinator:
“The whole election became focused on Brexit. On the door and doing phone banking in working class areas, people were saying, ‘I’m voting for Brexit.’
You couldn’t get past that. When you tried to engage about the NHS it wasn’t the issue, Brexit was the issue. Even when you asked what a no-deal Brexit would do for the economy people said, ‘We’re British we’ll get through it.’
It was incipient nationalism. I found it really scary that with some people there was a denial of what’s staring them in the face – the privatisation of the NHS.
There were also the lies that people have spun around Jeremy Corbyn’s politics – that he is a terrorist sympathiser and so on.
On Wednesday in Wales, I spoke to a man who’d been in the forces for decades. He said he wouldn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn because he wanted to do away with the army. As a veteran he would have benefited so much from a Labour government.
So the election was fuelled by ignorance and prejudice. The role played by the mainstream media was appalling.
It was nothing to do with policies – they seemed irrelevant. When you tried to focus on them, the response was, ‘I don’t like Corbyn.’
One woman was a lifetime Labour supporter and said she wouldn’t vote as she was scared of Corbyn. She came from a mining family, her family had always voted Labour. She said Corbyn was a dangerous man. I said what about Boris and she just said, ‘Oh Boris is Boris isn’t he?’
People have voted for a man who hides in a fridge to avoid answering questions.
I feel physically sick. I couldn’t sleep. And I know other people were exactly the same. I feel hopeless and I never feel like that.
I joined the Labour Party because I thought it could change with Corbyn. There were other people we met who were so keen for a Labour government. It’s because of Corbyn that the Labour Party is so huge.
The left is made up of good people who are used to taking knocks and setbacks. We do lick our wounds. But you get up and fight. Some of us have known nothing else in our lives. We’re made of strong stuff.
There’s a resolve in there somewhere that you can’t give up – you have to fight.
If the right wing of the Labour Party think they can take over, with this huge membership, they are greatly mistaken. So much depends now on moves within the party and who becomes the leader.
I’m not prepared to invest my time in a right wing Labour Party. If it shifts to the right I believe there will be an exodus of members. But there’s a whole army of young people who are politicised and they are not going to go away.
I just think it’s so important that we keep fighting. In Liverpool the fights to save the women’s hospital and the Keep Our NHS Public campaign will continue.
We’re all traumatised. It’s a blow, but we get up and keep fighting, inside or outside the party.”
Andy Brammer, public sector worker in Wakefield, west Yorkshire:
“From a Yorkshire city that went Tory for the first time in decades, I am gutted. At the Labour club when the exit poll came in, people were deflated. But for people who’d been campaigning, it wasn’t unexpected. There was anger against the local :abour MP Mary Creagh. There was a big vote to Leave in Wakefield, but she has persistently ignored that and run a completely personal campaign.
Johnson didn’t want to be scrutinised on anything else, he wanted one single message – let’s get it done.
Someone in Scotland summed it up for me. They said, if we had voted for independence three years ago and it still hadn’t happened, how would you feel?
In ex-mining areas people have been completely left behind, which is why people voted Leave in the first place. This election was like the second referendum.
The Lib Dem vote absolutely bombed, so the Remain argument is a load of shite. But Labour fell for that and tried to develop a compromise position. For a leader to say I’m not going to take a position on it is a disaster.
Labour members I know did say they got stuff on the doorstep about wasn’t Corbyn in the IRA or he is antisemitic. But most of it was about Brexit.
A lot of ex-miners’ families who are political say nobody who was involved in those struggles could think about voting Tory. It’s almost like it’s disrespectful to their communities. But on the other hand, the strike was 35 years ago. We did get defeated. Those communities continue to feel isolated and defeated.
This is the land of zero hours contracts, endemic poverty. And in those situations, people don’t necessarily generalise in the right direction. What there is as well is the absence of a fight.
Maybe if we’d gone into the election with a national postal strike there would have been a bit of a lightning rod of hope that would have galvanised it. Populist messages can take hold in the absence of that.
People will be despairing. You don’t want to put a positive spin on a bad situation. But the crisis of the Tories is much deeper than winning a general election. They now have to negotiate Brexit, govern for five years. What are they going to do?
There’s also a danger you exist in a bubble. My daughter is at Pontefract College, she had an election in the college and Labour won 97 percent of the vote. My friend’s son had an election at his school in Leeds – Labour won and a communist came second.
In Pudsey the Labour candidate ran an insurgent campaign and nearly unseated a Tory. In Wakefield an Asian candidate won. So if anybody says it’s an entirely racist vote, you’ve got to deal with that.
There’s something else in the air. There’s a fine line between hope and despair. At the moment it’s despair that’s winning.”
Izzy Smitheman, climate striker in Bristol:
“I just feel so bad. I agree this is an opportunity to fight back, but at the same time this is the end of Labour being left and progressive.
Especially as a young person who couldn’t vote, I’m feeling shit and disillusioned. It should be a number one priority to give younger people the vote. With the climate strikes we can see how politically active, interested and informed young people are.
It would probably change the outcome if young people could vote.
Brexit was at the forefront but climate change was a big thing in the election. At least we had the climate debate, and having the climate strike during the campaign period increased the presence of it.
And Extinction Rebellion and Cop 25 in Madrid meant the climate crisis was noticed, it was very much at the front of the election.
Now we’ve got Boris Johnson. We’ve seen the Tory government time and time again not listen to scientists and young people in terms of the climate crisis. They’re listening to business.
Bristol youth strike hosted a climate hustings, and they’ve been happening nationally.
It’s really important to challenge individual candidates and compare, Labour and Green with the Lib Dems. Obviously we didn’t get many Tory candidates to these things—that says enough doesn’t it?
It’s good to talk about local climate issues as well as big national questions.
Now we’re going to push back even harder—there were calls to have a climate strike today. Young people will be straight back on the streets and will hold the Tories accountable. They maybe have massively gained but they can’t keep delaying, denying and ignoring the effects of climate change.”
Some union leaders have also posted their reactions on Facebook.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU union, personal capacity:
This defeat is fundamentally about Brexit. It’s about working class communities in Wales, the north east, the Midlands that have been systematically ignored by mainstream politicians throughout the 40 years of neoliberal ravages since 1979.
When the mines closed in south Wales and the Hoover factory closed outside Merthyr Tydfil who acted, who introduced an industrial policy, who cared? We were told that we couldn’t buck the market. We were told that it had to be this way.
And we were told that by Labour.
This is at the root of this defeat. Because it is at the root of the vote for Brexit.
We have to learn lessons. But that doesn’t mean moving away from the new position in the Labour Party that we have to challenge the market not just accommodate to it.
Right now it does mean accepting that the battle for Remain is over. Remain has been defeated in a referendum and now it looks like it has been comprehensively defeated in a general election.
The movement needs to move on. We have to challenge every aspect of Boris Johnson’s trade policies. He will seek to undermine workers’ rights and consumer protections. He will want to do a deal where American pharmaceutical companies can charge more to the NHS for their products.
We can build a movement which challenges the ravages of the market and Boris Johnson. We have to move on from Remain but we must not move on from a radical Labour policy.
Learn lessons – across the whole of the movement. Don’t blame the working class – battered by 40 years of neoliberalism and ignored by mainstream parties for most of that time. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. It’s a big blow – but we will fight back.”
Tim Roache, GMB union general secretary:
The election result is a disaster and I’m angry and sad in equal measure. The contents of our manifesto were exactly what working people are desperate for – workers’ rights, a real living wage, job security, keeping our NHS public, schools and so much more.
But that never cut through and the reality is we are at ground zero. We have two choices.
We either wallow in self-pity and sit back waiting for the inevitable onslaught from a Johnson-led Tory government. Or we fight back. That’s exactly what the GMB will be doing.”
Keep building the movement—and the militancy
Now turn words into action
Join the march on Saturday