Illustration by @erinaniker via Creativity4Change
As the UK awakes this morning or returns home after a night shift, the feeling in the air is one of devastation for those who wished for a better future, and smug glee, for all the shy Tories who threw our communities under the bus. Last night, the Tories won a majority of 364, while Labour lost 41 seats, leaving them with 203. The past six weeks of dedicated canvassing, round-the-clock media reporting, and frantic mud-slinging by politicians of all stripes reached fever-pitch, boiled over, and now we’re looking down the barrel of potentially another five years of a Conservative government.
We’ve fought back against a Tory government before, and we’ll do it again. Boris Johnson and his cash-grabbing cabinet have nothing useful to offer a country attempting to survive as public service funding is gutted, and, if nothing, the last six weeks have proved the unfaltering optimism and commitment of those organising to disrupt the status quo. Labour was successful in putting forward formidable candidates who shook the foundations of entrenched Tory figures such as Faiza Shaheen’s incredible campaign in Chingford and Woodford Green, and Diane Abbott, Marsha de Cordova and Rosie Duffield’s re-elections in Hackney, Battersea, and Canterbury respectively.
Hope is complicated and risky, but precisely because of the disappointing election result, we should still seize it with both hands. Antonio Gramsci – a name bandied around at lefty house parties by white brocialists with no chat – was a Marxist philosopher and communist politician in the 1920s, and also a big cheerleader for hope. Antonio wrote his prison diaries while locked up by the fascist Italian government and one of his most Instagrammable concepts is the idea of “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. In essence, this idea encourages us to recognise and critique the flaming trash fire that is austerity “food bank” Britain, riddled with hostile environment policies that seek to make life untenable for migrant communities, while also organising for a better future. As the late Stuart Hall (the Jamaica-born zaddy of cultural theory) writes when also reflecting on how the left can find solace in Antonio’s ideas at times when it feels like everything has gone to shit: “every crisis is also a moment of reconstruction”. We cannot afford to lose hope, especially not now.
This election, Jeremy Corbyn offered a vision that truly prioritised people over profit. His plan was rooted in Labour’s commitment to championing workers rights, and galvanising a robust welfare support net, including for those hit the hardest by Conservative public funding cuts, such as disabled people. Jeremy’s vision was progressive and firmly based in a politics which sought to drag the party kicking and screaming back to the left, rejecting the soulless moderatism that characterised the party in recent decades.
“Jeremy’s vision was progressive and firmly based in a politics which sought to drag the party kicking and screaming back to the left”
Jeremy couldn’t be more different to Tony Blair, for example, who was the Labour prime minister from 1997-2007. In his time in office, Tony abandoned traditional party commitments by beginning the privatisation of public services and cutting ties with trade unions; leading the country into a widely-opposed war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and introducing Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) as part of his commitment to being “tough on crime”. This election, in contrast to his predecessors, Labour offered a plan for the UK which was compassionate, human rights-driven, and completely viable (despite the Tories incessant parroting that it was “unrealistic”). Nonetheless, despite the transformative vision offered, (some) people looked at austerity, the hostile environment, and Boris Johnson’s dogged pursuit of a disastrous no-deal Brexit and voted for more of the same.
As I type this through a bleary cloud of sleep deprivation thanks to gal-dem’s election all-nighter, I am nonetheless motivated by the way our communities have come together over the past six weeks. From taking over the timeline, to championing Labour on city streets, young people up and down the country rallied around a shared thirst for the change we need. This election saw first-time canvassers pounding pavements, a huge surge in young people registering to vote, and at gal-dem we loudly and proudly backed Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party from day one. We are not in the business of churning out stories that sit on the fence, or chasing clicks and shares for the sake of it. We do this work because our lives depend on it, and our communities expect us to hold the line. As a media platform it is starkly evident to us that, to paraphrase the late human rights campaigner Ginetta Sagan, “neutrality” in the face of oppression is complicity.
“From taking over the timeline, to championing Labour on city streets, young people up and down the country rallied around a shared thirst for the change we need”
This election was also, however, characterised by hugely divisive rhetoric which sought to pit so-called “minority” ethnic and faith communities against each other. A culture of antisemitism on the left needs addressing urgently. It also goes without saying that the right-wing exploited allegations of antisemitism, not because their own party has a beating heart of social justice and a clean slate on racism (far from it), but as a ploy to keep Labour on the back foot. This detail absolutely does not excuse the left’s disappointing inaction on antisemitism within its ranks. The deep and meaningful change needed was never going to be achieved during a six-week campaign.
The precise nature of antisemitism in the UK – that it currently exists as a very real ideological form of discrimination, while not necessarily being baked into structures and systems in this country in the same way as anti-blackness, for example – requires a dedicated response tailored to the lived experiences of Jewish people. It’s also important to recognise that ideological discrimination can transition into systematic abuses at any time, and as anti-racists, we must guard against all forms of discrimination, whether perpetrated by the state or individuals within a society. There is an urgent need for re-education on the historical roots of antisemitism within the left, and a disentangling of racist conspiracy theories about Jewish bankers and financiers “running the world” from genuine critiques of capitalism.
At the same time, this election saw many communities acting in solidarity with each other, in the face of targeted attacks and attempts to divide us. Groups like media platform Vashti Media and organisers Jews Against Boris set their stall out early, the latter posting that: “Attempts to make antisemitism a partisan issue in this election, using the real fears of British Jews to garner political support, are both cynical and dangerous. We refuse to be pitted against other minorities, as we know that an attack on one is an attack on all.”
“Hope is complicated and risky, but precisely because of the disappointing election result, we should still seize it with both hands”
In WhatsApp groups up and down the country, Labour supporters got organised and equipped each other to tackle difficult conversations with their friends, families, faith communities, students and more. Our open letter addressing Islamophobia within the Conservative party was co-signed by over 300 activists, MPs, mums, academics and more, and Red Pepper’s open letter urging people of colour to support Jeremy Corbyn and vote for Labour stated that: “No other British politician in recent memory has been so dedicated to working with us in our communities, in order to overturn racism and achieve justice for those of us facing oppression and injustices”. The feeling was of a unified voice, in defiance of forces determined to wrest us apart.
Parliamentary politics was never built for us, even though many of the buildings in Westminster were effectively built by our ancestors, with the profits of slave labour. Structural racism has a long history in this country, and it will take more than one election to tip the balance of power away from the elites that run the country. We cannot rely on politicians to do the dangerous work of disrupting the status quo which pays their salaries – the important work of progressive politicians is harm reduction, in the absence of a more egalitarian system. So now is the time for big ideas and “forward-dreaming”. Our efforts must be redoubled, more creative, more urgent than ever, because the election result has shown that the Tory party has retained its grip. With the tendrils of Conservative capitalism attempting to exhaust our fight and shut down our resistance, we must help each other through community organising to discover more space to breathe. In turn, we will use this vital life-force to propel us forwards.
We encourage you to join local grassroots groups that are organising in your area to fight back against another five years of Tory government, such as: Docs not Cops, Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE), Empty Cages, Sisters Uncut, SOAS Detainee Support, Anti-raids Network, and also check out Campaign Bootcamp for info on how to run local campaigns.