A recent article in the Guardian has data showing that even if had Labour won 100% of the 2015 Green vote, the Tories would still be the largest party in parliament. Green voters are switching to Labour, but other voters are deserting it. This, combined with the expected boundary changes, means the outlook for Labour in the 2020 general election is not good.
The takeaway from this is that Labour need to win over some Conservative voters to regain power. The simplest way to achieve this would be to move to the right, but will Labour ever have credibility with Tory voters on benefits and immigration? Not every Tory voter is a right wing ideologue, many can be convinced to vote Labour, but the party must have something to offer. Labour need a coherent vision of what they would do with power.
Across the world the left has become very good at describing problems of contemporary capitalism. In Britain much of the criticism of Tory austerity have turned out to be true: healthcare is suffering, junior doctors are on strike, students have rioted, inequality has widened, the cost of living has gone up, wages are stagnant, economic growth is lacklustre. However voters are less likely to vote Labour now than in 2010. This is because, as Ed Miliband discovered, criticising the government is not enough. Labour need to offer an alternative vision for society and not just a list of grievances, even if those grievances are valid. We need to answer the question: what exactly would we do in government?
The most obvious instance of having valid criticisms but no alternative is also the largest issue facing global capitalism: the failures of neoliberalism. The left has been criticising neoliberalism, privatisation and deregulation years before the 2008 financial crash exposed to the world the problems of anything goes capitalism. However the left had no economic model to replace neoliberalism. The best we could offer was a reheated socialism or a return to Keynesianism. Going back rarely inspires voters and thus neoliberalism survived the greatest economic crisis since the Wall Street Crash. A crisis it had directly caused.
Neoliberalism emerged to replace the post war consensus in the 1970s because it offered an alternative to the dominant Keynesian economic framework. Neoliberalism offered solutions to the economic problems of the time as well as having politicians and academics to champion it. In other words, when the post-war consensus stopped being a consensus, an alternative was ready. Now that alternative has run its course, but when the best possible opportunity to replace neoliberalism came along there was no economic model to replace it. Little has changed in the eight years since the financial crash. The left still needs an economic system to replace neoliberalism. This will be the core of the alternative the left offers the voters to get re-elected.
Related to neoliberalism is the issue of globalisation, an economic problem the left has many criticisms of, without any prescription for. Many politicians and thinkers recognise the problems of globalisation: the entrenched poverty caused by moving jobs overseas, the downward pressure on wages, the increase in inequality. The only alternative to globalisation are the disastrous suggestions of the far right. The likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage want to put up barriers (in the former case literally) to keep the rest of the world out. Trump has also suggested a 45% tax on Chinese imports to America, which would trigger a tariff war between the world's two largest economies.
Trying to keep the rest of the world out will only make us poorer and will not help us tackle our economic problems. However, the falling living standards and entrenched poverty caused by globalisation is fuelling support for reactionaries like Farage and Trump. The left need to find a way to mitigate the negative effects of globalisation without shutting the world out to neutralise the appeal of dangerously devise figures like Farage and Trump.
Linked to the backlash against globalisation is the wave of nationalism and nativism that is sweeping across the western world. From Trump to the True Fins to Jobbik and Marine Le Pen, nationalism is picking up the support of those left behind by neoliberal globalisation. The threat they pose is obvious, but aside from criticism, the left has no response. Without an alternative to neoliberalism, those who lose out from globalisation will turn to increasingly reactionary political movements. If the left cannot offer a credible alternative then the nationalists will.
The appalling lack of policy, and reliance on criticism without vision, applies equally to both the far left and centre left. It also applies to most left wing parties of all stripes across the western world. The centre left is still wrapped in the embrace of neoliberalism and believes that any deviation from the doctrine of free market capitalism is poison to the electorate. Their faith in a failed and widely unpopular economic system has meant that centre left leaders have lost support from the electorate and members of their own parties. If there is any political certainty in 2016, it is that voters are not want happy with the status quo. If the centre left want to regain power they need to rethink their relationship with neoliberalism.
Jeremy Corbyn and the far left are little better at offering a coherent alternative to neoliberalism. Corbyn, Sanders and assorted others who are attacking the political establishment from the left offer many criticisms but no practical alternative system. In some cases they show no inclination to do so. Corbyn has led the Labour Party for over a year but has outlined very little of an alternative vision. Corbyn’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has even signed George Osborne's fiscal charter, committing a Corbyn-led Labour government to austerity.
I supported Corbyn for Labour leader because I wanted him to articulate a left wing alternative to the neoliberal status quo that has existed since 1979. So far, Corbyn has shown more interest in fighting other members of Labour Party than presenting the convincing left wing alternative vision that the country desperately needs.
Across the western world left wing political parties are suffering a crisis of identity. The centre left has nothing new to offer alienated voters. Faced with radical - often disastrous - right wing alternatives, voters are deserting the left. This can be seen in the Brexit vote, a reaction to the painful pro status quo Remain campaign. This can be seen in Hilary Clinton's poor performance in the US presidential campaign so far. If she gets to be president it will only be because Trump is so vile. It can be seen in how Corbyn - a man who offers little more than 80s nostalgia - easily defeated three seasoned centre left politicians, because they had nothing more to offer than the status quo. Across the western world the centre left has run out of ideas but still clings to neoliberalism and thus bleeds support.
The far left should seize this opportunity for real social change. However, they offer many valid criticisms of the status quo and the centre left but little in terms of a concrete alternative. Corbyn offers something different, which is encouraging, but being different is not enough. The left need to offer a concrete vision, a plan, policies, an indication of what we would do with power, if we are to convince the electorate to support us.