Start fighting it now, for the next general election may be Britain’s last
“We are in hell right now, gentlemen.” So says Al Pacino’s character in Oliver Stone’s bombastic NFL flick ‘Any Given Sunday.’ As a Worcester Labour member (specifically, Social Media & Comms Officer), I feel those words bearing down on me every day.
For Pacino, it was an unfavourable scoreboard at half time. For progressives, it’s a government gleefully persecuting migrants; driving millions into food banks; piling backbreaking rates of taxation onto those least able to bear them, and silencing dissent. Who among us doesn’t feel the weight of this government like a thousand-ton boulder planted firmly on their chest?
For long-serving activists, the pain is even worse. A genuinely social democratic prospectus came so close, so recently. Not yet five years ago, the country was offered a strong welfare state, robust support for workers, affordable housing and a fair taxation system, and the country – against the cacophony of media barons’ protestations – damned near elected it. Instead, defeated, we must suffer the misrule of an Etonian Trump and his acolytes. The resulting dejection is palpable among progressives.
The temptation to walk away, to refuse to engage, is understandable. It might be in anger at an electorate that seems to enjoy the taste of boot. It might be despair at the apparent insipidness of the opposition. It might even be sheer exhaustion; hoping and hurting is not a combination the heart can bear forever.
Still, let’s remember the next line of Pacino’s speech: “We can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light.”
For now, at least, we can fight our way back into the light. It might not be easy – at the next election, Labour will need a polling lead of 12% to secure a majority of just ONE – but it’s at least practically possible.
If the Conservative party wins next time, there is every reason to expect them to slam the door of democracy shut behind them, esconsing Boris Johnson in a nice, comfortable autocracy fit for the boy who longed to be “world king.”
Tory legislative priorities have made that clear already; voter ID, silencing of protest, assaults on judicial review, and removing the impartiality of the Electoral Commission – to say nothing of re-drawn boundaries. Behind the bonhomie and bluster, the Johnson government is dismantling the democratic framework that could permit its removal. If these things were happening in a foreign land, we’d call it what it is – creeping dictatorship.
As Labour supporters and progressives, we must be careful to unpick the odious things the Conservative party has always done – shrink the state and bludgeon the workers – from the things it is doing now. The Tory party has always been a bulwark against progress, but this new and mutant incarnation is different. Forged while the fires of Trumpist populism were burning, and funded in large part by one of Britain’s strategic adversaries, the Johnsonian Tory party has already shown us its naked contempt for democracy. We are facing a new and more dangerous opponent, and must meet it on those terms.
We can try and console ourselves that ‘it couldn’t happen here.’ Doubtless some progressives in Turkey or Hungary felt the same once, before their democracies were dismantled, and the opposition neutered for good. Ask yourself, why couldn’t it happen here? What force would prevent it?
That force is us.
No-one and nothing will ride to progressives’ rescue. Those of us of a progressive persuasion, with the time in our calendars and breath in our bodies to do so, must mobilise with the single aim of ejecting the Conservative party at the next opportunity. Emotionally battered and bruised by years of conflict, both internal and external, we are likely all that stands between the people of Britain and decades of blue-tie autocracy.
Perhaps this seems alarmist. Certainly, I’d love to be wrong. Still, the bodies continue to ‘pile high in their thousands,’ and at time of writing, this seems a price worth paying to spare the governing party even mild inconvenience. A government so careless with its citizens’ lives is unlikely to care too greatly about niceties like democracy.
As I write, I can hear the challenges from my own side. Perhaps you feel there’s insufficient difference between the current Labour leadership and the Conservatives. Certainly, I understand Keir Starmer’s somewhat cautious administration isn’t transformative enough for some. This alone, however, suggests he wouldn’t turn Britain into a fasc-curious one party state.
Perhaps campaigning has taken enough from you already. The lost hours, the doors closed in your face, the endless grind of disappointment. I hear you. As a man who spent early 2019 in the throes of a nervous breakdown, I’d never seek to ask more of anyone than they feel comfortable giving. Still, giving even modestly of your time is more than the vast mass of people will do. Your example might inspire others, and even a handful of votes might be the difference next time out.
Perhaps you feel the Labour party has no right to make demands of your time without meeting you halfway. Perhaps you’re disaffected with its direction, and plan only to return – if at all – when it’s back in touch with values closer to your heart. Again, I hear you. That said, the values of the Labour party will be irrelevant if it’s locked out of power totally and permanently. 2019 was a crushing, humiliating defeat – but there is no defeat so total as the one that thwarts all future victory.
Perhaps, finally, you feel the electorate are welcome to the bed they’ve made for themselves, and it’s not up to you to save them. I see your logic. Still, like the Manic Street Preachers wrote, in reference to the International Brigades, ‘if you tolerate this, then your children will be next.’ One of the worst elements of any autocracy is how it salts the earth behind it. In ‘How To Lose a Country,’ Turkish journalist and dissident Ece Temulkuran talks not just about how Erdogan distorted democracy in the here and now, but how he prevented the rise of progressive youth. Freethinkers are flowers no longer grown in the fields of Turkey. We owe our kids better than that.
Viewed backwards, history always seems inevitable, but it isn’t. Lived forward, it is a series of inflection points; moments where the right pressure at the right moment can produce or prevent seismic change. The next general election will present such a moment.
We all have our own political journey, our own narrative. Whatever yours is, and whatever your progressive stripe, your skills, time and effort are needed. If you can stuff envelopes, knock doors, raise or donate funds, write letters, design campaign material or share content, then you are the most valuable person in Worcester Labour party’s world right now. Get in touch on our socials, we’d be delighted to hear from you.
The alarm bells of autocracy are ringing, and progressives must quench those flames before they engulf us all.