I used to think that it was impossible for an overtly socialist politician to be leader of the Labour Party. The idea is completely antithetical to how the Labour was run for all of my adult life. Everything I knew about politics told me that it would be impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to have gotten as far as he has. Not only becoming Labour Party leader and being popular with the members, but also having a decent chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next election.
I used to think that radicalism was separate from mainstream politics. Maybe a small, local campaign somewhere could come up with an interesting policy idea that might possibly be more widely adopted after it had been watered down a bit and stripped of its radical context. There was no way that the Labour Party as a whole would be heading in a radical direction. Yet here we find ourselves.
The result in last year's general election was incredible. To go from being so far behind in the polls to improving Labour's position was an enormous achievement. One that came from the hard work of activists across the country. This shows that left wing policies can be popular when offered to the electorate and disproves the New Labour idea that Labour must tack towards the centre to win power.
Brexit and small towns
One year on from the election seems like a good moment to pause and to take stock of the Corbyn project so far. We shouldn't be complacent; there is still a long way to go before Labour can form a government. So a frank assessment of where we are now will give us some insights in what we should do next.
Brexit is a real threat to Corbyn's chances of becoming Prime Minister. The country remains divided between Leave and Remain camps and has settled down to a grudging acceptance that Brexit must go ahead. As a Remain voter, it’s painful to admit that it's tactically suicidal for Labour to oppose Brexit at this point. Becoming the party of Remain voters will not gain Labour the votes it needs to form a government. Neither will halfway measures such as offering a referendum on the final deal. There are a lot of pitfalls for Labour to avoid, on this issue.
There is also the problem that Labour is not making enough gains in small towns. It is clear that there was not enough liberal metropolitan voters in the county for Labour to form a government. Labour needs to win over more voters in small towns to gain power. An economically redistributive policy offer will help here, but more needs to be done to bridge the vast cultural gap opening up between the Labour Party and those who live in small towns.
If Labour can address these two crucial issues then the possibilities are staggering. Not only a return to power for Labour, but the chance to pass reforms that will address the big problems facing the country. What I want to see from the party is more radicalism in the face of these challenges, an openness to the far reaching reforms that are needed.
These radical reforms will need to think about more than how much we spend on schools and hospitals, although these are important. We need to ask questions about how we relate to the state, how we participate in democracy, how we think about value and how we save the natural environment.
We need to ask ourselves: what is that we want to achieve? It’s not enough to get Corbyn into power, we need to know what we will do when he gets there. All the tactical thinking over Brexit will be for nothing it if we don't know what we’re fighting for.
Is the plan undoing neoliberalism and the damage that cold ideology has done to this country? An end to austerity and giving a lifeline to those who have suffered through years of cuts? Is it the rebirth of Keynesianism and idea that there is a role for the state to play in curbing the worst excesses of markets. Is it Universal Basic Income and giving a minimum standard of living to everyone? Is it something else more radical and more powerful?
We need something concrete to build the movement that can win the next election. Something that we are offering everyone in this country. Something that will transform their lives for the better. I believe that we can do this. We can change the country.