How Labour can win the election over the next seven days

The party’s essential task is to convert undecided Leavers, win back Lib Dem and Green defectors and mobilise its base.

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There's just over a week to go and though Labour’s opinion poll rating has moved steadily upwards, it's not enough to win. Nor is it, on current calculations, enough for Labour and the SNP to form a government. But in this last, crucial, week that could change. Here are my thoughts on how we win from here.

First, undecided voters are the critical group. We've all heard them them on the doorstep. “I'm not sure, yet. I haven't thought about it, yet. There's some big discussions going on in this house...” Get it right, and in the final week an avalanche of these voters will go Labour. But we've got to understand the multiple fears that lie behind their refusal to commit.

They are often Labour Leavers. On the doorsteps and in the streets of places like Leigh, Shipley or Dudley there are people who voted Leave, who don't care much about Brexit as long as it's over soon, but are — at a philosophical level — “undecided” on what Labour actually stands for, and in particular over Jeremy Corbyn.

Those of us who’ve supported Corbyn need to recognise something pretty brutal. The dislike of him among some older working class voters, above all retired men, is not just the product of tabloid smears. Corbyn has come to symbolise for them, Labour’s cultural disconnection with small-town life. 

They can't understand why we don't talk empathetically about crime as a working class issue. Or why our activists pussyfoot around a perfectly socialist position on defence, which is to support Nato, build warships in Britain and renew the nuclear deterrent. Or our determination to advocate the benefits of migration, without being equally enthusiastic about measures to alleviate the pressures it causes in small towns.

Corbyn is a brilliant, principled and empathetic leader, hounded unjustly by the press. But the fact remains, what you're voting for at the ballot box is a different human being: the local MP who's spent months or years dealing with housing queries, youth crime and council spending cuts in your town.

But even that argument is rarely enough. In the next seven days we need to convince the undecided Leave voters that Johnson is a threat, Labour an opportunity. 

The threat from Johnson is multiple: he has lied to the Queen, he is lying about the NHS, he's suppressing a document on Russian interference in our election. The man can't publicly state how many children he has.

The opportunity, even if Labour can't deliver all its pledges, is for some breathing space. Sort the Brexit issue with a referendum, take the pressure off the NHS, put police back on the streets, start building council houses on decent rents — and send our kids to university for free. That's what I'd concentrate on.

In Dudley North this weekend, I watched a group of Labour campaigners do exactly this. We met a family — grandma, mum and baby bustling through the freezing night with a rapidly cooling bag of fish and chips. They stopped to ask what the commotion was. It's Labour, we said — we're defending the NHS. Within minutes the young mum, cradling her toddler, launched into an impromptu video speech, denouncing the Tories, saying “when people are having to pay money to give birth, that's when they'll realise they voted for the wrong people”. Grandma joined in: “They don't care about the WASPI women.”

If I tell you that the woman leading our canvass group was Salma Yaqoob, a controversial candidate for Labour’s West Midlands mayoral nomination and a former Respect politician, I hope it will help you understand what we were doing: agitation. Yaqoob, like myself and all activists trained by the far left, understands that “agitation is a dialogue with the working class”. Too often, even under left-wing stewardship, Labour has been engaged in a monologue, not a dialogue. Change that for seven days and we have a chance.

But moving the undecided Leave voters is only part of the challenge. The second, equally decisive challenge, is to bring back people who defected to the Lib Dems and the Greens last spring. 

Thanks to Labour’s conference position on a second Brexit referendum, the polls show they are coming back, but too slowly. By this weekend, it will be clear to progressive people who want to stay in Europe that only Labour can deliver that outcome, and do so democratically. At this point, there will be either mass despair or a panic-driven move to tactical voting.

There are five tactical voting sites and, despite four of them being aligned to the political centre, their current advice would deliver a Labour government. With the postal voting phase over, the only decision that matters is on the morning of 12 December — which gives us ample time to make clear, seat by seat, where tactical votes will count, and what they should be.

Labour’s reticence over this has been driven, in part, by the fictitious claim by the Lib Dems to be “second” in target seats on the edge of London — Wimbledon and Putney among them. But Labour's eight-point surge in a recent London YouGov poll should put paid to this. Tactical voting for the Lib Dems matters in seats where they’re in a two-horse race with Tories. Due to Labour’s ridiculous rules, I am not allowed to advocate this, but if I was, I would. The strategic beneficiary would be Labour in its target seats.

The third challenge is turnout. The surge in registrations has to be turned into a surge in votes, among the under-35s. According to Paul Hilder, a political strategist at Datapraxis, the outcome will be decided by 150,000 votes in 60 seats. The Tories know this too, and will do everything to suppress the progressive vote, throwing all kinds of new smears and slanders at Corbyn over the next week, in an attempt to stigmatise and discourage Labour activists.

So the key to turnout is not just the traditional “Get Out The Vote”. It's get out the badges, beanies and window posters — and be proud to be Labour. The fact is that, despite the combined efforts of the Indian BJP and the Sun newspaper, Labour's vote is rising — because the more people see of real Labour campaigners, the more they like.

The Tories — even with the backing of the majority of the press, talkshow hosts and the Brexit Party — cannot move much above 41 per cent and their vote has already levelled off. Some 60 per cent of Britons want change, tolerance and honesty. 

With an offer focused on jobs, money, rents, and the NHS, our task for the next seven days is to: move the undecided Leavers, win back the Lib Dem switchers and mobilise our base.

Paul Mason is a New Statesman contributing writer, author and film-maker. As economics editor at Newsnight, then Channel 4 News, he covered the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the Gaza war. His latest book is Clear Bright Future: A radical defence of the human being.

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