John McDonnell

The best form of defence is attack!

John McDonnell
The best form of defence is attack!

ANYBODY WHO THOUGHT ELECTING a socialist leader of the Labour Party would be an easy ride now knows that was never going to be the case. Winning the internal party election for the leadership was the relatively easy part. The coup was also totally predictable and could be planned for. Therefore the second leadership election was arduous, but with determination and hard work was eminently winnable.

We have now reached the toughest period so far. The euphoria of winning a greater mandate in the second leadership election, despite every trick in the bureaucratic textbook used against us, has given way to a serious appreciation of the challenge we now face

The character of our politics is to be straightforward and honest with people. So let’s be straight about this. This is the toughest of times we have experienced so far and it is not only also absolutely predictable and understandable but also something we can completely deal with. It does mean though that we need to understand fully what we are up against and what we have to deal with.

We are currently facing exactly what we predicted but many didn’t fully appreciate. The full forces of the establishment are being thrown against us. In no way will the elite establishment tolerate the popular election of a socialist leader without a bitter fight.

One of the key fundamental problems we face is not a lack of political analysis, policies, direction, courage, determination or leadership. It is the critical question of how we can communicate a narrative about our objectives and policies in a way that can cut through the bilious, cynical distortion of every aspect of the traditional media. Any criticism of media bias by the left is always distorted as whining. The various independent reports have proved conclusively that we are witnessing a level of media bias that certainly most have never seen on this scale before. The evidence demonstrates that it ranges from the Sun and the Mail to the Guardian and the BBC. This daily grinding out of distortion and attack can undoubtedly have its effect on our standing in the polls and in turn on the morale of some of our supporters who are not always close to the action and may not be experienced in past trade union or political campaigns. So we need to explain both what we are up against and how we can overcome this.

This is the time for determination in the face of whatever they throw against us. The best form of defence is attack. Politically that means using the one resource that we have which the other side doesn’t. It’s true that we are the many, they are the few. Mobilising our large base of support in the Labour Party, the trade unions, progressive campaigns and the wider community is the way to win. How we do that is the key to our success.

 First, it means ensuring that our supporters and potential supporters have the opportunity to engage in the exploration, discussion, debate and determination of political analysis and policymaking. That’s why we are going on the stomp around the country with a series of regional and national economic conferences to develop our economic thinking and planning from the grassroots up, Similar exercises are planned in several other policy areas, including how we can decarbonise our economy based upon local initiatives facilitated by creative national policymaking. New creative initiatives to enable large-scale involvement in digital democracy will facilitate and energise the discussion of politics and policy in and beyond our Party.

Second, it means mobilising around consistent campaigning, setting up or using existing structures to co-ordinate our campaigning at local and national levels. People are becoming increasingly angry at the Tories’ attacks on our public services and more workers are willing to take action to protect their jobs and their living standards. We need to lead in mobilising support and solidarity with these campaigns. It will require the increasingly effective use of social media to communicate ideas and to assist mobilisation.

Third, it also means gearing up and training our members to give them the confidence and motivation to access the Party's structures and engage in the vital routine work that is needed to ensure the political direction of the Party and deliver the votes that we need in elections over the coming years.

The message therefore is that the times may be tough and may get tougher - but it is the mobilisation of our committed, inspired and enthusiastic members that will see us through to success

Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.