By Amy Ferguson

Labour’s 2019 election result is a setback, but not the catastrophe the media paint it as. Their vote exceeded that obtained by Blair in 2005 and Brown in 2010. Many of the newly elected Tory MPs have very slender majorities which could easily be overturned, if a combative, mobilising, socialist strategy is adopted.

Labour’s campaign in 2017 achieved a 40% vote share by offering a radical programme to end austerity. Huge rallies and a popular manifesto inspired a new generation of voters and gave hope to older ones. Unfortunately, this momentum was squandered in the subsequent two years as Corbyn came under pressure from the right in the party to allow a further referendum on EU membership, and got distracted by parliamentary manoeuvres instead of adopting a fighting strategy outside of Parliament.

Party of struggle needed

For Labour members, trade unionists and socialists, the immediate task is to ensure that the left-wing anti-cuts programme of hope that triggered young and working-class people to flock to the Labour Party in significant numbers is protected from the Blairites in the party who tried to undermine it and force compromise from day one. 

It’s clear that Labour needs to reconnect with the working class and it can only do this by becoming a party of struggle. This includes taking sides with striking workers, service users opposing cuts, and school students campaigning against climate change, whilst being prepared to mobilise and unite them in one struggle against the Tories and against capitalist rule. Labour must show that they are just as determined to defend the interests of the working class as the Tories are to defend the interests of the capitalists.

Back Rebecca Long-Bailey & Richard Burgon

So who out of the prospective candidates is prepared to take up such a programme? The Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Britain, Socialist Alternative, is critically supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey (RLB) for Leader and Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader. 

These candidates are the closest to Corbyn ‘continuity candidates’, and the victory of any other candidate would be a significant defeat for the movement and a victory for the rich and powerful who desire a clear step away from positions held while Corbyn was leader of the party. 

RLB has referred to herself as a democratic socialist, has identified herself with workers’ struggles and with community campaigns in Salford, even at the cost of some embarrassment to the local Labour council. She has also spoken about the need to democratise the party.

Unfortunately, the Labour Party in Northern Ireland instead chose to endorse Emily Thornberry, someone who does not stand in any way for the principles stated above. They did this on the basis of a vague promise from Thornberry that she would allow them to right to stand in elections here, under the Labour banner. This endorsement reflects a misunderstanding of the basis upon which support for Labour could be built here. After Corbyn’s election as leader, thousands flocked to the Labour here, inspired by his explicitly left stance. It is clear then that to become a force to unite workers against the Orange and Green sectarians, they should aspire to such a left programme – a party led by the logic of neoliberalism will get nowhere.

Mobilise and democratise

If the left are to be successful in being elected, as well as being able to carry out the transformation of the Labour Party, it is not just a question of what policies they stand for. They need to launch a mass campaign to mobilise the membership and supporters outside of the party in defence of such a programme, and to carry through full democratisation of the party’s structures.