As a longtime ally to Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, an intervention from the Labour leader would carry real weight, argues Progress deputy editor Conor Pope
I covered around 270 miles on foot during the general election, knocking on doors in about 17 seats. I do not mind admitting the result was far removed from my expectations, based on hours and hours of doorstep conversations with voters.
Partly, I think, that was simply due to the nature of election. Over the course of a short, two-year parliament, there is not the chance to cover a constituency as much as a five-year gap between elections would allow. With an unexpected snap election, neither is there the long, six-month run-up – during which Labour conducted four million doorstep conversations in 2015.
Following a quick, initial sweep early on in the campaign, local Labour parties tended to drill down their lists of people to contact into those both most likely to vote Labour and, crucially, who you are most likely to be able to contact. That meant that many who may have been undecideds early on the campaign and were either difficult to get hold of or, for a variety of reasons, unlikely to break our way later on, would fall off lists in favour of those it was felt could be wrangled into voting our way. That is broadly (if not entirely) why in many constituency Labour parties, the canvassing returns painted a very different picture to the result. It does not mean doorknocking is no longer an effective method of campaigning, but does show its limitations in an unexpected and unstable election.
One major key to success in the future is ensuring that the Labour party now does make contact with many of these voters before the next time we go to the polls. Having a better idea of who these people, and what it was that that ensured they went down to the polling station will give us a much better chance of getting their vote again next time.
That also explains why, while there is no real shame in failing to see the general election result coming, there is in failing to adapt to it.
The last two years have seen countless expectations of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, views and remarks would drive voters away in hordes. While I think that retains some truth – at least partly contributing the the Tories’ largest voteshare in my lifetime – these electoral-based critiques now feel impossibly outdated.
Take Rhiannon Lucy Coslett’s article at the Guardian this morning. A self-professed arch-‘Remainer’, she still feels it important to support Corbyn, and is satisfied with the woolly manifesto pledge to keep unidentified ‘benefits’ of membership of the single market and customs union, rather than a guarantee to maintain membership. Former Corbyn spinner Matt Zarb-Cousin seemed to take a similar view last week: he suggests the arms-length approach to the single market will not be electorally harmful.
But approach the arguments in his fashion, and we are in a cul-de-sac, squabbling over what is popular as though it takes precedent over what is right. Certainly, the perception that we already take this view has been deeply harmful to our cause.
I happen to think Labour could win an election with a policy to leave the single market; I just think we should not. I also think we could win with a promise to stay in, and the absence of a promise to tank our economy would allow us to better take on important social and economic reforms.
You can see from Venezuela that progressive policies are fleeting when you have taken the economy into the gutter. Even those previously supportive of the Chavismo have come around to the reality before these most recent clashes. Even Noam Chomsky, the leftwing author, earlier this year said that ‘Venezuela is really a disaster situation’, and opined that ‘the corruption, the robbery and so on, has been extreme’.
And it really is desperate. Yet the crisis in Venezuela seems to often be framed here through the prism of political affiliations in Britain. The Tory attack video last week seemed designed to damage Labour support because of the issue. It was cheap, and did not look like it was made by people who gave a damn about those suffering in Venezuela.
The problem is I would like to hear Corbyn speak out. But not because I think his past association with Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro are damaging his brand. It is because he has, on numerous occasions, portrayed the country as a model for a socialist state, and that throws up questions about how he thinks a country should be run. But more importantly, and immediately, than that, he has been able to pick up the phone to president Maduro in the past and speak directly to him as a backbench. Now he is leader of the opposition, international pressure needs to be put on Maduro, and Corbyn’s words would carry real weight as a longtime ally. He should pick up the phone, and we should know what he says.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
Photo: Richard Gardner
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