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This general election, let yourself get excited for our future

Climate action, abolishing tuition fees, and vital funding for public services are within our grasp with Labour’s progressive platform – now is the time to bolster that belief

The greater the hope, the more crushing the disappointment – so say enough adages to that effect, anyway. If you’ve voted for something in the UK at any point this century, chances are the reality you’d once hoped for hasn’t been delivered. In 1924, the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote that pessimism “may in fact be the greatest danger we face at present, given that its consequences are political passivity, intellectual slumber, scepticism about the future”. That’s still true nearly a hundred years later, and right now more than ever. 

This disappointment has been felt by people across the political spectrum, but most acutely by those on the left, who have seen their politics dismissed as unelectable since former Labour leader Michael Foot’s significant defeat to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1983 – a charge that successive Tory and New Labour governments since seemed to back up. Theresa May wagered the last election against this feeling. The polls showed clear daylight between the Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, and the Tories sought to emphatically increase their majority, with the intended consequence of killing off the British left for good. If Labour’s return to mild socialism proved as disastrous this time around, they’d never attempt it again. It would confirm all those condescending accusations: that leftists are hopeless idealists, whose lofty dreams for society dissolve on contact with reality. All hope would have been extinguished.

We all know what happened next. The apparent pragmatism of the Conservatives during the 2017 election was entirely misguided, resulting in a disastrously complacent campaign. Corbyn was meant to do all the work for them. It was an election they were hoping to win less by invigorating their voter base, but by default, as their opponents faded into grim resignation. They weren’t alone in believing this. The media spent six weeks confidently predicting total obliteration for Labour, right up until the exit polls pointed to a hung parliament. For the briefest of moments, political ‘experts’ paused to reflect on how they’d gotten everything so wrong, before the normal schedule was resumed. 

And so here we are, two years later, at the dawn of a fresh election campaign, where the smart money seems to back a Tory victory once again – or, at least – seems assured enough that this is the end of the road for Corbyn’s Labour.

Looking back on the 2017 election, it’s easier to pinpoint how Labour was so able to perform above expectations. The more the general public was exposed to the Labour manifesto’s promising policies, the more receptive they became. The tuneless chants of “oh Jeremy Corbyn” reverberating around the country grew louder, and enthusiasm swelled. The prevalent line about ‘unelectability’ seemed to matter less. Of course, the very real prospect of a catastrophic defeat still loomed large, but for those involved in the herculean grassroots organising efforts, it wasn’t much use acknowledging it. Hope, however naive, didn’t kill that effort: it sustained it.

It would be foolish to believe that this upcoming election will simply mirror that one. The stakes are different today – they’re higher. Two more years of the Brexit stalemate and Tory-DUP rule has seen much of the triumphalism among Labour support dissipate. One of their biggest challenges this election run will be remobilising those floating voters who gained seats for them last time around, to little apparent effect on a national level. 

This is especially true of those economically depressed regions of the UK which consistently vote in Labour MPs but continue to suffer under Tory austerity regardless. They have more reason than most to feel resigned to hopelessness, and it’s vital the safety of these seats – and the people within them – are not taken for granted.

The issue of Brexit and its hold on this election cannot be ignored. Boris Johnson’s naked lurch towards right-wing, Brexit-at-all-costs populism will hold appeal for the Leave voter who thinks the last three years has just been Westminster trying to find ways to overrule their vote. The inverse is true of the Liberal Democrats, who – under Jo Swinson – have picked up Remain support for their cavalier pledge to revoke Article 50 entirely. Whether by the media deliberately misrepresenting it, or through accidental internal bungling, Labour’s Brexit position has led to confusion. However, their offer – a referendum on a soft Brexit, or Remain – is the only credible option for both those who want to respect the original result without tanking the economy, and for those seeking an actual mandate for continued EU membership in the long-term.

“It’s tempting to be pessimistic, to not allow yourself to be vulnerable to disappointment, but a generally demoralised Labour support is precisely what its opponents want”

Though the specifics of Brexit policy are up for debate, the three parties’ positions cut to the heart of this election. The Tories have already been found to be holding talks with US pharmaceutical companies as part of prospective post-Brexit transatlantic trade deals, while the threat posed by their flagrant courting of the Brexit Party’s vote on immigration has terrifying potential for accelerating pre-existing state aggression towards migrants. A Conservative future will be a markedly more authoritarian existence than the one we currently live under, while the last of our social institutions are privatised at a time where 14 million people (a fifth of the population) live in poverty and whose income has been declining for the last five years, in contrast to the richest fifth whose climbing incomes are 12 times that of the poorest

Meanwhile the Lib Dem position – summed up succinctly by their own MP, Layla Moran – of making Brexit “all go away” exemplifies all that is regressive about them. It’s politics against change, which ignores the very real material circumstances faced by those who voted Leave in 2016 – circumstances largely brought on by the austerity enabled by the Lib Dems’ time in coalition. It’s not optimism for the future, but myopia for a past. It longs for the era of neoliberal hegemony where the main three parties were virtually indistinguishable – different flavours of essentially the same centrism. It’s no wonder people became so hopelessly apathetic. There can be no optimism around this offering.

That said, it would be largely fruitless for Labour to concentrate the next six weeks on attacking the policy platforms of their opponents. People are far more energised at being given something to vote for, rather than against. Their annual conference showed plenty of promise in doing just that.

They are proposing a £250 billion increase in ‘Universal Basic Services’ around transport, energy, water, broadband and other infrastructure; reversing cuts and ending austerity and removing the appalling universal credit system; introducing a National Care Service for social care; a Green New Deal which seeks to make the UK carbon neutral by 2030 and adds one million green jobs; abolishing tuition fees; a UK-wide minimum wage of £10 an hour and a ban on unpaid internships; a ‘right to buy’ scheme for private tenants in rented accommodation; committing to build at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale; and ending homelessness. 

These all offer meaningful solutions to some of the gravest issues facing our society today. Capitalists would like to have you believe that opposition is futile, that alternatives are a delusional fantasy. TV and newspaper pundits will pour cold water doubts over the feasibility of these policies. Over the next six weeks, they’ll try to tell you that people don’t even want change. Ignore them.

If you are a progressive, then you must develop an optimistic belief in other human beings, even if it is naive. If you believe in empathy, solidarity, and socialism, then you can’t also feel that people are innately too selfish, too individualised, too ignorant, and too unkind to share your politics. It would be arrogance of the worst kind to believe that parts of the population are beyond saving. If you can see the value in universalism and collectivism, then you must believe others are entirely capable of doing the same. It’s tempting to be pessimistic, to not allow yourself to be vulnerable to disappointment, but a generally demoralised Labour support is precisely what its opponents want. Pessimism is infectious, but we must hope that a better future is possible, and we must do something about it.

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