Welfare-loving, NHS-supporting, European-project-believing lefties like myself would not have been foolish to have started the previous year with a quiet optimism. Yes, we’d just been resigned to another five years of Conservative government with a referendum coming along with it, but people’s hero Jeremy Corbyn (complete with side-kick John McDonald) looked set to finally put forward that alternative view on economics, foreign policy and all the rest that we were so desperate for.
Twenty-twenty hindsight is a beautiful thing. Let’s be honest, we haven’t done well this year. While we can be angry with the media, Blairites and spin-politics for part of it, the painful truth is that a lot of this is our own fault. Clichés like ‘out of touch’ and ‘unelectable’ aren’t just being used by tabloids and cabinet ministers for cheap points anymore, they are fair assessments of the left – particularly the Labour Party – and its figureheads.
The EU Referendum continues to be referred to as a victory for racism, xenophobia and hate speech. This has validity; UKIP and the populist wing of the Conservatives have never been afraid to deploy any tactic for a few votes. However, the fears and anger of Leave voters themselves aren’t taken straight from Daily Mail headlines.
Putting the concerns of the working-people of this country, who had their genuine concerns about a globalist future, down to attitudes of racism was, at best, stupid. We did this while ignoring the fact that the EU was funding the relocation of British-based companies – and the jobs that go with them – to the continent. The EU is an organisation with a globalist agenda that has caused huge economic damage to the parts of the UK most ignored by our Conservative government.
The obvious parallel is the Trump victory over in the U.S. Yes, both campaigns used inflammatory hate speech to garner press coverage and support, but they are also extreme reactions to the same problem. For all his negative qualities, and there are plenty, Trump engaged with a part of America that felt totally ignored by the Democrat party. Globalism has gutted much of the rustbelt. Its people wanted economic security for their families more than they wanted a wall across the border with Mexico. Trump, despite his own declarations, won’t give them that. The left should have been the ones offering it. However, again, rather than engage with these problems, Clinton described Trump’s supporters as ‘a basket of deplorables’ and relied on Trump putting potential supporters off rather than offering any meaningful solutions to those he had already won over.
The worst part is that we, the left, were jubilant at such a sound-bite as well. Having for so long been on the peripherals of politics, happy to sit on our high-horses and criticise all the simplified narratives that the average voter fell for, we fell for one ourselves. It was easier for us to believe that everyone against us – us being the in-campaign, the Corbynistas and the anti-Trump brigade all at once – was irredeemably wrong, because it gave us an excuse to not listen.
Perhaps, the argument back to this is that all it will take is some true socialist policies to turn things around. At least, it had been before 2016. Now, we have a leader undoubtedly on the far-left of the British political spectrum and his party’s opinion polls hover above 20%. This isn’t all Corbyn’s fault, by any means, but he has proved himself to be just as out-of-touch with the British people and their regional divides as everyone else. Corbyn believed that simply by putting the areas closest to Labour’s heart at the centre of its arguments, he could get the party out of a wilderness twenty years in the making. It takes more than that. The British people want, and indeed need, a viable but inspiring view of what the future can be like. Not a future that simply promises better trains and stronger welfare, a future that promises a Britain that can offer security and pride where there is currently fear and cynicism.
At the least, the left must learn to listen. 2016 has been a disastrous year and we are as far from power now as we’ve ever been. So, some new year’s resolutions: let’s start debating but stop patronising, let’s learn that listening doesn’t mean coinciding, let’s not simplify narratives for our own comfort but be prepared when our own ideals may be at fault. These aren’t easy resolutions, but they are necessary.