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Editorial: Labour’s leaked report one year on: rebuild a mass politics

ONE year since a devastating leaked report exposed sabotage of Labour’s 2017 election campaign, the party is pulling out all the stops to hold Hartlepool.

MPs who spent five years sniping at Jeremy Corbyn rounded furiously on the CWU union last week simply for commissioning a poll indicating Labour is on course to lose.

As in many of the former “Red Wall” seats, Labour’s once unassailable Hartlepool vote has been shrinking for years. Except for one year: 2017, when it bagged nearly 8,000 more votes than it had just two years earlier, a rise of 16.9 per cent.

If Labour lose Hartlepool next month, pundits are unlikely to mention this.

It has been swept under the carpet as surely as the leaked report itself, though the document was packed with the sort of sensational gossip the press like to chew over: secret bank accounts to allow Labour funds to be allocated without the leader’s knowledge, senior party officials working consciously for their party’s defeat.

It caused barely a ripple in the news cycle. 

Now even the Forde inquiry into the report has been indefinitely delayed. A Labour leadership whose only consistent policy has been persecuting its own members for alleged disciplinary breaches takes a different view of misconduct at Labour HQ: forgive and forget.

We must not forget. Not just the media, not just the military, not just the secret state, but the Labour machine itself was determined to prevent a Corbyn government.

Five years of an opposition party committed to real change exposed the trappings of British democracy as more theatrical props than representative bodies.

Yet the report is not a study into betrayal leading to Labour’s 2019 catastrophe, but of betrayal leading up to the very positive 2017 result. The saboteurs fail: their anguished WhatsApp messages bear witness.

A common left view is that they did not fail. That Labour would have won in 2017 were it not for their treachery.

But the treachery was part and parcel of a wider ruling-class antipathy to Corbyn, one quite as obvious at Westminster. Conclusions that Corbyn could have been PM with a few extra votes implausibly picture him at the head of a parliamentary coalition. 

There is wishful thinking here, as there is among those who speak of uniting a “progressive majority” by tactical anti-Tory voting.

Yet the fact that more people do not vote Tory than vote Tory tells us little. More people also do not vote Labour than vote Labour. As we saw in 2010, other parties are as likely to combine with the Tories against Labour as otherwise.

A truer progressive majority can be read into public backing for left policies: the CWU’s Hartlepool poll, which found support for a big pay rise for nurses and for nationalising institutions like Royal Mail, is one of many indications that such a majority exists. 

The left’s focus should go beyond “how do we beat the Tories” to the politics of advancing a socialist agenda in a system designed to stop us. 

The 2017 election was an irruption of socialist politics into the corridors of power, and it was driven by a grassroots movement that persuaded people to vote for change, in “Red Wall” seats like Hartlepool and in true-blue bastions like Canterbury too. 

Political mistakes allowed this rising tide to recede. One of those saw Labour’s path to power through parliamentary manoeuvre rather than majority support: the politics of permanent persuasion gave way to a worldview in which the Tory vote was an immovable lump to be worked around. 

This encouraged a contempt for Tory voters among activists that was inevitably returned, entrenching the culture war politics successfully exploited by Boris Johnson.

One year on from the leaked report, the political forces it exposed have institutional control of the Labour Party. But the left’s recovery depends on our learning the lesson of 2017 on the limits of their power. 

A socialist movement can advance in the face of relentless external and internal attack if it maintains its mass democratic character. We must rebuild such a movement.

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