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Labour is closer to power. Here's how it can get over the line

Joshua Simons, a former staffer in Jeremy Corbyn's office, on the party's unexpected advance, and what Labour must do next. 

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn secured a victory that has transformed the electoral map. His strategy and message during the campaign reaped rewards in places I thought would never find him convincing.

Victory in seats like Glasgow North East and Kirkcaldy in Scotland, or Lincoln and of course Canterbury in England, mean that Labour is much closer to power than anyone – including myself – thought. A host of seats across Britain have become marginals that Labour can target when the inevitable happens and Theresa May’s government falls.

I left my job working with Corbyn doubtful of his capacity to build a team that could win. Though he did not win, it is important to understand what happened and how it has reshaped Labour’s path to power.

First, Ukip voters returned to Labour in much greater numbers than anyone expected. At this stage, it is hard to know why, but many are likely to be people who could vote for parties other than Labour, but who could not stomach voting Tory. Labour’s opaque stance on Brexit almost certainly helped.

Second, Labour picked up significant swings in liberal, university towns, boosting turnout among young people. Here Corbyn’s campaign was pivotal. Third, Labour won the votes of 50 per cent of people aged 35-44. This is remarkable, unexpected, and it will make Tories shudder.

The most significant divide was generational. Labour won about 67 percent of voters aged 18-24, 50 percent of voters aged 35-44, 33 percent of those aged 55-64, and just 23 percent of voters older than 65. In seats like Warwick and Canterbury, Corbyn energized voters of my generation (18-24). Nobody has any clear data on what drove the surge yet, but it is very likely that the political turbulence of the present moment, and understandable anger about tuition fees, encouraged more of my generation to vote than ever before.

If so, that represents a momentous shift in the electoral logic of British politics. As a child of the 1990s, I never believed the zeitgeist view that globalisation signaled an end to the capacity of politics to change things. As a student, I thought it strange that my elders really believed this, as history is littered with moments of crisis in which politics has changed everything. But I was always told that my generation could change nothing in democratic politics because we didn’t vote.

For the first time, we have exercised our latent electoral power. Political parties on both sides will not forget us in a hurry again – and we must not let them, for over the coming years and decades, our votes have the power to change the character of British politics.

There is much we need all parts of the Labour Party to do. Politically, the party must come together.

For those of us who grew up with a Labour government, the old divisions between the left, centre and right of the party do not carry much historical weight. I don’t remember Wilson or Benn or Foot, nor can I picture 1974 or 1983 or even 1997.

I have a ferocious appetite for the history of those moments, but what matters to me is winning, so that a Labour government can make this country better, not whether Blair or Brown is more to blame for Labour’s three consecutive electoral losses.

The current euphoria will not last forever and unity does not happen of its own accord. Corbyn should broaden his own team, hiring competent and professional staff who can work with a broad range of MPs and party staff.

He should draw on the wealth of talent Labour now has in its parliamentary team and broaden his shadow cabinet, bringing back talented politicians like Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves and Stella Creasy. In turn, those politicians must accept that Corbyn has won the right to take Labour into the next general election, help him develop an ambitious and rigorous programme for government, and ensure that disagreements remain internal.

The internal politics of the Labour Party will not and should not go away, for there are sincerely held and important differences of policy and strategy. I never agreed with Corbyn’s views on foreign policy and security, and I still don’t. But what people my age do not accept – or to some extent understand – is that those differences should come before the broader aim of securing a Labour government.

Labour still has much to do. First, on politics. Though the Union as a whole is stronger this week than last, much to my relief as a half-Scot, Labour still came third in Scotland.

Labour cannot have a stable period in government without improving its position in Scotland. In the Midlands, Labour’s results were better than expected, but we will still need much bigger swings there to achieve an overall majority. And Labour must continue to make inroads in its heartlands in the North East and North West.

On policy, there is even more to do. Labour must still grapple with deep questions of identity that will not disappear as a result of this election. International politics continues to be more uncertain than at any point in the postwar period.

As a result, events are likely to draw attention to internal divisions about how Britain should best confront this unstable world. But Labour can now address these questions with a spirit of unity and purpose, rather than despair.

Above all, as Corbyn always said it would, this election has indeed shown the British public are sick of the Tories' austerity argument. They do not have an intrinsic aversion to reasonably radical, if not wholly imaginative, economic policy.

The present political moment is ripe for ambitious and creative policies that deal with the dislocation felt by many as a consequence of globalisation, immigration, and technological change – and which encourage innovation and investment.

Labour still has much to do to think about how best to achieve progressive aims in Britain in the century that stretches before us – and all wings of the party have much to contribute.

For my generation, it is that goal which matters above all others. This election has shown the energy and dynamism that our votes can encourage – Labour must now do all it can to harness it.

Joshua Simons worked as a policy advisor to Jeremy Corbyn until April 2017 and is now a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard. 

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.