Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again

Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

June 2, 2017
5 min read

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has been peppered by hack-psephologist historical analogies and allegories, with Corbyn being most often compared to Michael Foot and his ‘longest suicide note in history’ 1983 manifesto. And had Labour not almost closed the poll gap with the Tories in a month, this might have even stuck.

I’d like to pre-empt the post-election scrabble for comparisons with one of my own. If Labour form a majority on June 8, a potentiality that is no longer unthinkable, it will be akin to Attlee beating Churchill in 1945.

From austerity to the welfare state

Churchill effectively executed the war, but having lived through a period of austerity and ruin, with the unemployment of the 1930s still within memory, the British public resoundingly rejected the ‘strong and stable’ hand of the Conservatives for the radical and optimistic vision of Attlee’s Labour, which won an unlikely landslide with its post-war settlement that saw the formation of the NHS and cradle-to-grave welfare. People trusted Labour to rebuild a shattered Britain, not Churchill.

Jeremy himself invoked this legacy in his ‘Battle for Number 10’ audience Q&A, asking how it was any of the things we once took for granted, like the NHS, came about: ‘Because the Labour Party was bold enough in the post-war period to invest in the future. Our Labour government will do the same.’

Now the comparison is by no means flush. For one thing, Churchill might well have turned up to a televised debate. Moreover, Brexit was not a war, though the rhetoric often devolves to such black and white comparisons, especially by a smug liberal Remain demographic that seeks to cast half the population as barbarians at the gates of progress. But however you voted, life after Brexit has undeniably been a difficult and challenging time, with the referendum itself culminating in the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and huge spikes in racially motivated violence.

What would Owen Smith have done?

The immediate aftermath of the referendum nearly broke the Labour party when a section of Labour MPs attempted to pin the blame on Corbyn for Brexit – which, ironically, the Conservative narrative now accuses him of obstructing. But as unfortunate and unnecessary as the leadership contest was, it could have been far worse.

Imagine if anti-Corbyn challenger Owen Smith had won, and had carried forward his pledge to hold a second referendum on EU membership, or whipped the party in opposition to the triggering of Article 50 in a futile but defiant gesture. Theresa May would accuse Labour of trying to confound the democratic will of the country and derail the Brexit process, as she is now, but under Owen Smith the attack would have stuck, like Cameron’s right honourable member to a pig’s mouth. It could have unmade the party.

Thank god for the good sense of the British public, who played their part in the leadership contest in a fully engaged manner. Because of this, Labour, a democratic and accountable institution, was whipped to vote to trigger Article 50 under Corbyn’s leadership. Polling shows a majority of the population do not want a second referendum, Remain voters included. I don’t think there’s a very strong appetite to keep fighting this battle. I think instead people want to know what comes next.

The British public are not idiots, and they are losing patience with Theresa May and a campaign based on fear. They know the script: enemies are at the gate, communists running Labour want to nationalise your pet rabbit, vote to strengthen our weak and wobbly hand. But what is not cutting through is the political settlement that the Conservatives offer – because there isn’t one. They have almost nothing for the vast majority, except for Brexit.

But Brexit is happening, Article 50 has been triggered, and so now we are being asked to put our faith in the strength and stability of a candidate who U-turns on her manifesto pledges – setting a precedent for the first candidate to do so during an election – to get us the best deal out of Europe. The words ‘you had one job’ come to mind.

A better future

Londoners rejected the fear-mongering and race-baiting of Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral bid. The ‘sky will fall’ narrative of the Stronger In campaign was rejected for a promise of a break with business as usual. The people of Stoke sent Arsenal midfielder and astronaut Paul Nuttall’s bereft and toxic by-election attempt packing.

On June 8, we will be faced with on the one hand the option of more austerity, more war, more tax breaks for the elite, with no plan to navigate Brexit apart from empty threats to walk away with nothing, and on the other, a break with all of this, a return to investment in our infrastructure, investment in our youngest and our oldest, a desire and capacity to work with our European neighbours.

When Labour form a government on June 8, it will be because hope and ambition won out over fear, and because we came together to heal the division of the past year and build a better future, for the many, not the few.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences


99