With Sanders beaten and Corbyn under fire, where next for the left?
Bernie Sanders campaign to become the Democratic Party’s Presidential Candidate tantalized the political left of America. Stimulating supporters across the country, drawing in a tsunami of campaign donations and performing well in the polls, we had to pinch ourselves. The promises of taxing the rich, helping the poor, protecting our planet, standing up for minority rights, providing health care as a right and cutting tuition fees – our Social Justice Prince Charming had arrived and we were feeling the Bern. The flirtation with progressive left-wing policies injected a fresh energy into the discourse of American politics.
But we found ourselves asking if it was a waste of a candle-lit bedroom full of rose petals as Sanders apologetically shuffled out, stars and stripes briefs in hand, leaving us despondent and unfulfilled. Raucous and rousing as it was, Sanders campaign was over before the main event, ending too soon. As we tissued up the disappointment, Bernie capitulated to his estranged party and endorsed Hillary. Bought and paid for by big business and dirty industry, serving private interests over the common good, an incarnation of what is most unsavoury in politics, Hillary is not the hero America needs. And despite the pretence of shattering that glass ceiling, we all know she swaggered through an establishment lacquered side door. There was so much anticipation, but as the Sanders brand Viagra wore off and the condensation was wiped from the windows, the Democratic Party’s vision for the future became clear. Stay on the beaten track, a forecast of perpetuating economic inequality and social injustices. But then with the Republicans playing their Trump card, was Hillary the lesser of two evils?
On our side of the Atlantic, the Labour Party was shaken by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn from backbencher to party leader. He was serving up a main of democratic socialist ideology and the Labour Party membership were lapping it up. But in the Parliamentary Labour Party, Corbyn was going down about as well as the vegan option in a steakhouse. Although it was sold as a post-referendum protest against Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm during the campaign and his failure to demonstrate leadership, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the Labour coup with its series of mass resignations in the Shadow Cabinet was orchestrated to inflict maximum damage on the party leader.
After losing a vote of no confidence from the PLP and with calls for his resignation echoing around him, Corbyn remained steadfast, reaffirming the mandate he received from the Labour Party membership. Following the launch of Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge, the Labour Party NEC confirmed Corbyn would automatically be included on the ballot. A bitter victory for Corbynistas because to celebrate it one has to remorsefully concede to the reality that it was unlikely he would reach the required 51 nominees within the elected echelons of Labour. It really couldn’t be clearer that the Parliamentary Labour Party have no appetite for the menu of policies or style of politics that Jeremy is serving.
Watching the Labour Leadership challenge from the side-lines, I’ll be hoping for a Corbyn victory but with managed expectations. With the PLP set against him it seems likely that Corbyn will be prematurely ejected from his position one way or another, while the leader who succeeds him will purport to be a suitable unifying alternative. But with vitriolic cries of ‘Trot-Entryism’ from Labours right wing and ‘Tory-Lite’ sneered as a retort from the left, one wonders how many more bullet holes in the foot the party can withstand before collapsing.
But as the Conservative party have picked themselves up, brushed themselves off and found a new tenant for number 10 and UKIP’s raison d’être has been fulfilled, I’ll be a cheerleader for Caroline Lucas’ call for a progressive alliance on the left. We need to ride the wave of political engagement to ensure the protection of environmental legislation and human and worker’s rights, to campaign against austerity, promote an alternative to trident, present the case for returning essential public services to public control and investing more in our National Health Service. While we boasted of having the 5th (now 6th) biggest economy in the world, around a third of our children live in poverty and homelessness is on the rise. The Government boasts that unemployment is falling but with wages stagnant and economic inequality ever increasing, it’s an empty victory. The ailments of our society will be amplified by the negotiation of a Brexit by the British right-wing.
Electoral reform should be on the agenda for a progressive alliance. The Conservatives formed a Government with 36.9% of the vote (or 24% of the registered electorate) and the SNP took 56 seats with 4.7% of the vote, while the Greens and UKIP took 1 seat each with 3.8% and 12.6% respectively. Granted the picture is a little more nuanced than this and some people may celebrate restraining UKIP to one seat, the reality is that the system is completely incompatible for the diverse political landscape of the UK. An electoral alliance of the left should aim to reform the electoral system and in a letter recognising the absurdity of the first past the post electoral system, the Green Party have called for talks on a progressive electoral pact. In considering all these things, it seems vitally important that we strive for greater cooperation as we face the future. Although admittedly I’m tentative in my optimism for cross-party cooperation as we witness the implosion of Labour.