Andrew Murray is an easy man to demonise. Born to Scottish gentry, he’s a Unite official and former Communist, joining Jeremy Corbyn’s team only in 2016. Accused of being a Russian spy, he claimed he was a victim of the British “deep state.” Nevertheless the Financial Times has paid Murray the compliment of objectively reviewing his new book “The Rise and Fall of the British Left. “ Like it or loathe it, the Left critique of post-recession capitalism has cut its way through to voters under the catch-all label of austerity after more than a decade of flat lining wages. At the same time the Remainers in both main parties of government are in retreat, longing for new opportunities for revival when the uneasy truce with Brussels is lifted and new struggle resumes after the election. The pro-remain New Labour of Blair and Brown and their successors led by the likes of Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn have been marginalised, cowed by a new selection process of “trigger ballots ( now suspended for the election), or seen off altogether like Tom Watson –a victory Murray makes no bones about celebrating.
The 2008 financial crisis and its fallout provided the seeds for the revival of the movement, he suggests, “finally blowing up the assumptions on which the whole New Labour prospectus was founded”. During the 2015 leadership contest, Mr Corbyn’s rivals were, in Murray’s phrase, “the detritus of a shipwrecked politics”. In the post-crash world, New Labour had nothing left to say, he argues. Corbyn’s 2017 election manifesto by contrast “caught the breeze” of social trends.
His view of the US is strikingly hostile: “Washington now stands tarnished beyond easy redemption. The US is an increasingly blighted society, riven by racism, addicted to state and private violence”. He also clearly articulates the strain of anti-EU sentiment on the hard left, which is shared by Mr Corbyn even though he campaigned for Remain in 2016. Murray is among those who urged the leader to shy away from a purely Remain position. The Brussels worldview, he argues, is “bound up with . . . austerity, deregulation, privatisation, financialisation, degradation of employee rights, racism”. He compares the European Commission to a “sub-department of Goldman Sachs”. Murray concedes that many Labour members are fervently pro-Remain but stands by the decision to sit on the fence. Capitalism is the problem rather than whether or not London or Brussels is in control. He admits the Brexit “culture war” has the potential to destroy the coalition of voters who gave Labour 40 per cent of the vote in 2017: “Brexit Derangement Syndrome . . . now runs riot on the left”.
If Trump and Johnson are holding their fire for the Nato summit, so also and for much longer are the Corbynites who are currently in secure control of the Labour party. Their most assured performer is the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who still self identifies as a Marxist – whether literally or just to tease. He easily parries attacks from the right inside his own party and beyond. But it is as if left Labour are already gearing up for the internal battle if Labour loses the election and loses badly. For there is no doubt that those attacks are landing in constituencies Labour needs to win or retain. The credibility gap lies not only with Corbyn personally but with their tax and spend plans, £83 billion more than existing government plans and support for every pressure group you can think of; then later, another £58 billion for WASPIE women over five years. Even many who would like to believe just can’t swallow it. Polly Toynbee is one of Labour’s most hopeful friends:
One thing is certain: Labour will not win a majority. Whether you yearn for it or dread it, the party is as likely to have its HQ hit by a meteorite on 12 December as win outright. (Happy to eat a hundred hats if I’m wrong.)
Here’s another certainty: a majority will not have voted for Johnson. An even bigger majority will not have voted for Jeremy Corbyn. Call it what they like – a confidence and supply agreement, a vote by vote pact – but Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party, Greens and Plaid Cymru together have the makings of a very good government. Never mind the nominal leader: its priorities, taxing and spending would be set together as all are agreed on ending austerity; electoral reform would be the glue.
In a hung parliament a minority Labour government would be forced to compromise over almost everything except a second referendum. Finally the Lib Dems would have abandon Revoke and support them. The SNP even with half a dozen extra seats would stall on demanding a fixed moment for IndyRef 2 or risk the return of Johnson. The DUP would probably wait for an offer than try to set specific terms.
A minority Labour government would have to set out of bigger stall than Brexit as promised. In the last two weeks of the campaign they should be forced to tell us what it would look like. Undeniably their vision of post austerity has appeal. They now have to make it real and credible.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London