From the corridors of Eton to the debating chambers of Oxford Union, Boris Johnson’s gilded upbringing meant his route to power was supposed to be easy. Yet in less than a week Johnson has lost his majority, been defeated repeatedly in the Commons, removed the whip from his hero Winston Churchill’s grandson and now even been abandoned by his own brother.
In stark contrast, Jeremy Corbyn has had a dazzling week at the dispatch box. Corbyn has consistently pincered Johnson on his evasive and feeble answers, and appeared both principled and defiant. Corbyn has clearly been emboldened by the protests outside of parliament too. Johnson looked disorientated and ashen on the steps of 10 Downing Street this week as he struggled to speak over the chants of protestors just down the road. Meanwhile the wider Corbyn movement has been re-energised by the mass demonstrations, and both Corbyn and his supporters are regaining confidence as a result.
The question confronting us now is how best to capitalise on this success and ensure Jeremy Corbyn is installed in Number 10, sooner rather than later. When Johnson was forced to table a general election this week following his multiple defeats, it felt like the opportune moment for an increasingly strong Labour party to go to the polls once again. But Labour voted against it.
The rationale for this decision was two-fold: firstly, Labour wanted to ensure the bill to extend Article 50 was passed into law to prevent Johnson reneging during an election campaign. Secondly, Labour wanted an election date of their own choosing, rather than one which was beneficial to Johnson. Some in the party are now even arguing for a longer general election delay, so that Johnson is supposedly given more time to die on his own sword.
These arguments might make sense to the party strategists and tacticians who are trying to navigate the 3D chess game that Brexit parliamentary politics has become. The problem is they don’t make sense to the majority of people outside the Westminster bubble, and even grassroots Corbyn activists are struggling to keep up. When most people in the country turn on the news this week, they will just see a relentless, incomprehensible, unresolved mess. And a Johnson-led Tory party still in government.
Any further delay could be incredibly damaging for Labour. Many Leave voters already perceive parliament as blocking the democratic result of the 2017 election. But whether they voted leave or remain, complicated parliamentary procedures and machinations are part of the reason many people felt so alienated from parliament in the first place.
Not only that, but it will be difficult for Labour to justify allowing even one more day of this cruel Tory government when it has argued for a general election for the last two years. When families are forced to use food banks, children are living in shipping containers, and patients are dying whilst waiting for life-saving operations, parliamentary shenanigans are not going to wash with the people suffering under austerity for much longer.
Instead, Corbyn’s Labour must now go back to the people in a general election. Only a general election will finish the endless cycle of parliamentary machinations that has left both the Corbyn movement and the country immobilised spectators watching from the sidelines. It allows the people in this country to have a say not only on the Tories’ disastrous record on Brexit, but on the social and economic crisis that now blights this country after nine years of Tory rule.
Whenever and however that general election is called, Labour is going to have to work hard to regain the anti-establishment, insurgent message that it needs to win. Opposing No Deal has by necessity made Labour the voice of a largely neoliberal remain alliance. Photographs of John McDonnell laughing along with Jo Swinson and Anna Soubry certainly haven’t helped. If Corbyn becomes the leader of a ‘caretaker’ government following a vote of no confidence, this danger is only further heightened.
Given that Johnson has tried to neutralise Labour’s anti-austerity message, Labour cannot counter this by simply saying it will offer more money, or by claiming Boris can’t be trusted. Labour has successfully dragged the Tories to the left on austerity, and so Labour’s policy agenda should now move further to the left to shape the debate. Whether it’s private school abolition, creating an elected House of Lords, introducing a four-day week, or laying out plans for a Green New Deal, Labour must use radical policies to show what a society run in the interests of the many not the few will really look like.
Not only that, but it must immediately drop its absurd and confusing Brexit policy, which would see Labour negotiate a new deal with the EU, and then campaign in a second referendum against the deal it had negotiated. Try explaining that on the doorstep. There will be few easy answers on an ideal Brexit strategy for Labour, but its successful 2017 manifesto pledge to deliver a People’s Brexit that would protect jobs, the environment and workers’ rights, should not be abandoned too quickly. Labour must re-emphasise that whether you voted leave or remain, only a Labour government can resolve the economic and democratic inequality at the heart of British society, which underpinned the referendum result to begin with.
Johnson is weak and the Tories are in disarray. We have a historic opportunity to deal an existential blow to a crumbling Conservative party and elect a socialist into Downing Street. The left must not be seduced by complicated parliamentary tactics that have no guarantee of success, and which most people don’t understand. Nor must we forget that many in the current remain alliance will do everything they can to prevent a Corbyn government. The government is crumbling, and our movement is getting stronger. It’s time to kick the Tories out, and demand a general election.
Holly Rigby is an English teacher, Momentum activist and coordinator of the #AbolishEton campaign. She writes regularly about education and politics.