Labour’s leftwards shift is why it is advancing

By Bridget Anderson

The Labour Party has started 2018 on an excellent footing. It is consistently ahead of the Tories in opinion polls – a lead it has now maintained for most of the past six months following the June 2017 general election. If another election took place at present Jeremy Corbyn is well positioned to become Prime Minister.

According to Electoral Calculus’ latest prediction (which is based on polling from 24 November – 20 December 2017) Labour is on track to get 41.6% in a General Election and would be the largest Party in the Commons with 300 seats, which is just 26 short of an overall majority.

A year ago, in January 2017 Labour trailed 12% behind the Tories in the polls. One year on and Labour is on average 2% ahead in the poll of polls.

Corbyn’s agenda, proposals for left reforms that would make people better off, has dramatically transformed Labour’s popularity amongst the electorate.

The Labour Party’s advance in Britain over the past year is in stark contrast to the fortunes of other traditional parties of social democracy across Europe.

Following the financial crash of 2008, political parties in Europe that endorsed austerity, whether aligned to the liberal centre or to social democracy, have seen their support slashed.

Austerity, with its consequent fall in living standards, has polarised politics in Europe – with both a racist, xenophobic far right gaining support and a left that rejects austerity also growing. The advance of Corbyn’s Labour is part of this latter political shift.

Most social democratic parties in Europe have been embracing austerity policies, and offer no alternative to the attacks on living standards. As a result where they fought general elections in 2017 they suffered significant blows and in some cases electoral oblivion.

In the Netherlands general election in March 2017 the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) secured only 5.7% of the vote – down from 24.8% in 2012. The French Socialist Party secured just 6.4% of the vote in April’s first round of the Presidential election – down from 28.6% in the 2012 first round. Likewise the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) won only 20.5% of the vote in September’s federal elections – it’s smallest vote share in the post 1945 era and down from 25.8% in 2013.

In contrast, Corbyn saved British social democracy from a similar fate in the June 2017 general election. Labour secured 40% of the vote, up 9.6% on 2015 and gained 30 extra MPs. This deprived the Tories of their majority in the House of Commons.

Corbyn’s ‘For the many, not the few’ manifesto focussed on Labour proposals to defend and raise people’s living standards and increase investment to stimulate economic growth.

As Labour prepares for this May’s local elections it should step up the campaigning on this national agenda to remind voters of the difference a Corbyn-led government would make.

This agenda is putting significant pressure on the Tories, adding to the crisis that Theresa May’s government is engulfed in.

Living standards are falling and public services such as the NHS deteriorating due to austerity measures. This is all worsened by the Tories’ approach to Brexit, which in its fundamentals is to demand from the EU most of the benefits of being in the Single Market and Customs Union without abiding by the rules. Such an arrangement is not remotely on offer. The government has already been forced to capitulate on the issues of the ‘divorce’ payment, EU citizen’s rights and the border within the island of Ireland. In a similar way it will have to adjust to reality in the negotiations that lie ahead.

The Tory cabinet’s hard-Brexiteers, with their threats of ‘no deal’ and the suggestion that December’s UK-EU agreement is not binding, have added to the government’s problems.

Theresa May’s Cabinet January 2018 reshuffle was chaotic and underlining her weakness as leader. The Tories’ membership has fallen to around 70,000.

In contrast, Labour’s membership is now around 570,000 and morale is buoyed up by the party’s increased popularity. The party’s leftwards shift is saving it from the decline affecting social democracy elsewhere in Europe.