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20 November 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 10:53am

Labour’s inspiring campaign has shown there will no be return to the dead centre

By Paul Mason

Ken Loach has called tomorrow’s general election “a fork in the road”. To me it looks more like a T-junction. The atmosphere in which centrist politics worked has evaporated: there can now only be a lurch to the right, to racism, to a chaotic severance with Europe and its values, or a swing to the left.

On the doorstep, the sheer volume of “undecided” voters is a reflection of the fact that most voters are only now realising this, and do not know what to do. They have assumed, because the broadcasters and the perennial centrist talking heads told them so, that a middle way would be found, enabling the Blair-Cameron world to return. 

What they want, most of all, is for a new exit to appear, allowing things to continue as before. But they can’t. First, because the geopolitical order is fragmenting. Brexit is one symptom; the paralysis of Nato is another; the abject failure of this week’s COP25 conference in Madrid likewise.

Second, because the neoliberal model is broken. The British financial elite has called forth a new breed of politicians prepared to lie, cheat and spread disinformation because the old ones do not have the guts for what they have to do: launch a chaotic Brexit, destroy the welfare state, sell the NHS to America and attack both the judiciary and the BBC.

Centrism has no explanation for its own eclipse, yet the eclipse is happening fast. The Independent Group for Change, trumpeted as the solution to “broken politics” is polling within a margin of error of zero. Its candidates will disappear from politics by tomorrow night. The Lib Dems, who were polling neck-and-neck with Labour over the summer, are on a downward slope — all delusions about “forming a government” abandoned.

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I don’t glory in the sudden radicalisation of British politics, but it is now the sea in which we have to swim. And what’s clear already from the Labour campaign is — win or lose — there will be no going back to the timid technocratism of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.

In Birmingham last week I was canvassing with a group of people, many of who had never canvassed before, nor in fact met each other. They were led by a youth worker who wasn’t even a Labour member until Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership. They were supplied with soup by a woman who’d only just joined the party.

For those of us who’ve spent days and nights on the doors, there is no mystery to Labour’s steady rise and apparent last-minute surge. There has never, in the history of British politics, been a digitally-driven and people-powered campaign like this. 

Two-thirds of the energy, impetus and know-how is coming from Momentum’s tatty office in London’s Finsbury Park where I counted 30-plus young people hunched over computers this morning, churning out memes and videos and moving canvass teams around a map. The party HQ, too, is buzzing — though with its endless sign-off process and endemic political caution, it still has a lot to learn from the activist base.

To these volunteers, the third and final reason things can’t go back into their box for the left is also obvious. Climate change has placed an absolute deadline on all left projects. If we lose tomorrow, we lose five out of ten of the years we need to attack the carbon emissions of our economy.in

It was said, at the start of this campaign, that the grime artists, actors and pop singers who backed Corbyn in 2017 had moved on and grown cynical of party politics. But glance at your timeline and you can see a flood of cultural output designed to maximise the youth vote.

My sense is that, unlike in 2017, vast numbers of young British people are going to vote for Labour not because Corbyn is cool and different — that vibe has gone — but out of absolute despair at the possibility that a bunch of old racist voters will hand Johnson victory, massively increasing the risk of climate chaos for those who’ll live to see it.

Labour, at the highest levels, has made a full pivot to the zero-carbon framework for its economic policies. It rewired its borrow-to-invest offer around the Green New Deal; scrambled together a highly credible plan for 67,000 jobs, 7,000 wind turbines and 22,000 new solar farms; and overcame trade union scepticism to place this — and not traditional Keynesian industrial policy — at the centre of its manifesto.

Better still, activists on the ground have discovered that — though Corbyn himself is a hard-sell on the doorsteps of small-town, ex-industrial Britain — the Green New Deal is not. Traditional working-class communities like the idea of clean energy, saving the biosphere and good, high-skilled jobs

For all these reasons, I will enter the polling booth tomorrow confident that, even if Johnson wins, the Labour movement’s transformation into a resistance movement and an engine for climate justice is irreversible.

I am sorry to say, to the PPE-trained classes, that the world they were trained to run is about to disappear. We are facing an alliance of the elite and the mob, of the far right and the conservative right, in which there is not even room for figures such as Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten and Amber Rudd.

There is only one answer to that — and it’s an alliance of the centre and the left. And until the centre discovers its radicalism, all the energy in that alliance will have to come from the left.

As the polls narrow, however, it is entirely possible that we end up with a hung parliament, in which Johnson may be able to get his Brexit deal through (with the help of the pro-Brexit Labour MPs that remain) but not to govern. In that case, the Lib Dems will step forward with pleas for continuity with the past; as arbitrators between the radicalism of the left and right. But the radicalisation of politics is logical in a system that cannot work, geared towards an elite that cannot rule without chicanery and fake news.

The historic choice facing Britain tomorrow is not Leave versus Remain. It is whether we become a vassal state of the US or a collaborative partner with Europe. It is whether we let the earth’s environment go to waste to assuage the prejudices of working-class people from the baby boom generation, who will not be around to see the social dislocation that follows.

It was by sheer accident that, in defiance of all norms, the left was able to reclaim a party that had been defined as the last line of defence for neoliberal capitalism. And again, sheer serendipity that this coincided with the mass realisation among young people that climate priorities must shape all others.

If the Tories retain power, their strategy will be to destroy Labour as a political force, just as after the 1983 debacle. But the radicalism of the moment, and the urgency of the climate crisis, will make this hard to do.

If they lose power, the elite will summon the Farageists and the Tommy Robinson fans, together with the ex-cops and retired MI5 stooges currently busy constructing network diagrams of Marxist infiltration.

These are our 1930s and, ironically, they only really begin tomorrow.