Labour can only win with Jeremy Corbyn

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Previously published here

By Aaron Bastini

Labour’s long decline can only be ended by an insurgent movement. And Corbyn is the candidate of that movement.

Take note Labour: this is how you win an election. Jeremy Corbyn phone bank filling up 6 entire rooms pic.twitter.com/B18RV06jBc
— Charles B. Anthony (@CharlesBAnthony) August 19, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn is no ordinary politician. For his supporters that is his unique selling point, for his critics a terminal flaw. The former claim his leadership can offer a break with the current system, the latter that he is unable to even compete within the confines of the present one. What both sides do agree on is that Corbyn doesn’t look, or sound, like a prime minister. Were some future Hollywood blockbuster to include a British PM, it could foreseeably be David Cameron or Teresa May. ‘JC’? Well, that’s a little harder to imagine.

And it is that difficulty which has meant Corbyn’s tenure as leader of his party is now associated, among his detractors at least, with a single word: electability. For them, and this is a default presumption among liberal-left opinion (broadly the only kind permitted in the mainstream): Labour will never form a government – whether majority, minority or in coalition – with the member for Islington North in the top job.

During last summer’s leadership race, when the proposition of prime minister Corbyn was more abstract than real, the problem was his politics. That’s why, when he won, the membership was blamed as much as the man himself. The base, we were told, had lazily chosen its comfort zone and a return to the 1980s over the challenges of government. For Corbyn read Michael Foot. The next general election? A repeat of 1983.

And yet claims of Corbyn’s policies being out of kilter with the public have fallen away, particularly since Brexit. When former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb made a tilt for the Tory leadership recently – winning thirty four nominations in the first round – he did so on the promise of a £100 billion stimulus to the economy, in the process arguing for greater economic interventionism than Ed Miliband and the majority of the parliamentary Labour party. A fortnight later, and it seems almost certain that Theresa May’s government, given the likely recession Brexit will cause, will now pursue a program of fiscal and/or monetary stimulus over the coming months. The promise to eliminate the deficit by 2020, the bedrock of the Osborne/Cameron years, was quietly discarded on a cold and rainy weekday when most lobby journalists were only capable of asking – or tweeting – whether Labour’s leader would resign. The biggest story since Brexit? That the raison d’etre of Cameron’s two governments was effectively bullshit. Not that you would know it from reading the dailies.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

The economic debate has moved with impressive speed. Theresa May will have to significantly break Osborne’s budget forecasts to implement an industrial strategy worthy of the name. That reality is why Owen Smith recently included a £200 billion stimulus as part of his leadership offer, something utterly unthinkable to Corbyn’s rivals last summer – and almost certainly Smith himself.

So the politics has changed, and it’s clear that with deficit elimination gone, and deficit reduction of little importance, Corbyn’s politics – interventionist, radical, socialist – have a real opportunity to challenge the mainstream. It’s probably unsurprising, then, that the criticisms now levelled against him aren’t about his policies – their time has almost certainly come – but his competence.

Now let’s be fair to Corbyn’s critics. The MP for Islington North is not ‘slick’ (although he appears all the more resilient for it). What is more, he certainly never viewed himself before last summer as a potential Labour leader. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the team assembled less than a year ago initially struggled, although it has improved tremendously in recent months. The Labour left simply didn’t have the resources or pool of experienced people on which to draw to prepare for potential government. After all, their function in the party was more ornamental than real for the best part of three decades.

Big mistakes were also made in regard to the shadow cabinet, foremost among them trying to include MPs who wanted Corbyn to fail from the very beginning, something few leaders would survive. More than incompetence, Corbyn’s original sin was generosity. Lisa Nandy, a standard bearer of the parliamentary party’s ‘soft left’, recently spoke of how the right and the left of the party were at war with one another. That simply isn’t true, at least not at the beginning. From day one Corbyn tried to assemble a broad cabinet. His reward? Political inertia, punishment, and almost ritualised humiliation, of which the ‘Chicken coup’ is only the most recent chapter.

In addition to various problems of personnel, ill-preparation and misplaced kindness, politics at the top is always a messy affair. The decade of the Blair-Brown supremacy was marked by ceaseless conflict within Labour’s front ranks. You only need to read anything by Andrew Rawnsley to know as much. The same was true in the final Thatcher years and nearly all of John Major’s premiership. Despite the easy ride he got from the British media, David Cameron’s position during the Andy Coulson revelations was more fragile than seemed apparent. In retrospect what made the coalition all the more stable was that the constant sniping – a perennial feature of statecraft – could be put down to two parties having to govern together. Just a year after he delivered the Tories their first majority since 1992, a historic achievement, David Cameron resigned – his legacy as poor as any of his predecessors since the Second World War. He would almost certainly still inhabit Number Ten had there been a second coalition government.

So politics at the top is cut-throat. All the more so in an age of social media. All the more so when many of your own colleagues want you to fail from the start. All the more so when the mainstream media treats you with a contempt, from the off, that has been reserved for no other politician in modern Britain. That, taken with the fact that the radical left was far from prepared to seize the initiative, and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership looks all the more impressive.

What is more, and it is important to remember this, Corbyn does have considerable victories to his name including by-election wins, a massively growing membership (Labour are now bigger than at any point since the Second World War), and major u-turns from the government – particularly around welfare reform. More than all those however, which were accompanied by middling election results in May, Corbyn’s ten months as leader has significantly framed the space that Theresa May’s government is about to step into. The Overton Window has moved. The question is how far it is yet to go.

The devil is in the details
Yet it’s also clear that there is much that Corbyn can personally improve on. Self-improvement gurus often say that the solution to a big problem is the smallest tweak consistently applied over time. Similarly, the attitude of England’s rugby union team in the early 2000s was improving one hundred things by one percent. Constantly. In regard to issues of competency and daily media management that is my view with Corbyn: what is needed is an attitude of constant iterative improvement. The leadership is most certainly improving, and the team around Corbyn is now much stronger than before. Is there a desire for this? After the last month I really believe there is.

But as important as the belief that Corbyn is improving – and that issues of media management can be further rectified – his potential challengers have shown themselves to be utterly shambolic in the last few weeks. Even their supporters, in their heart of hearts, can’t think they have the answers.

The genesis of what became the Chicken Coup was devious, manipulative and short-sighted. Corbyn’s foes wanted him to resign without standing a challenger; then they wanted to keep him off the ballot altogether; then the rules for those able to vote were, quite frankly, gerry-mandered (that didn’t stop nearly 185,000 joining as registered supporters). Angela Eagle, originally put up to run by the likes of Hilary Benn (much of Eagle’s campaign team were ex-Benn staffers) pulled out last Tuesday to give Owen Smith a free run. Her actions have angered her local party in Wallasey who, having passed a motion of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn a few weeks ago, have now been suspended. It seems likely they would have passed a motion of no confidence in Eagle.

Before its timely expiration, Eagle’s candidacy was an exercise in farce. Its poor launch was preceded by two weeks of collective dithering – calling on Corbyn to resign while failing to make the next move. When the launch did finally happen, the essentials were lacking. The defining moment for that came when Eagle invited specific journalists to ask questions of her who weren’t even present in the room. For a candidate criticising Corbyn’s competence it was calamitous to watch.

What is more, Eagle – originally intended as a unity candidate by the right of the party who initiated the coup – was a politically strange choice. She had voted for war in Iraq and against an investigation, doubly problematic given events kicked off a fortnight before the release of the Chilcot Report. In terms of her position and voting record on austerity, Eagle was no different to the rivals Corbyn had stunningly defeated the previous summer.

So when the former cabinet minister stood aside on Tuesday, former Pfizer lobbyist Owen Smith became the last hope for those who wanted a new leader. And yet, as with Eagle, basic issues were obvious from the off. Smith, who has seemingly found a vein of political radicalism in his soul after five years of lobbying in the pharmaceutical industry, has clearly moved left to appeal to a very different party membership to even a few years ago. Nevertheless, his views on PFI, privatisation in the NHS and, only last year, reducing welfare spending, is plainly at odds with what the membership wants. Smith – we now know – is also prone to gaffes, making two major ones in the first few days of his leadership bid.

Social Democracy is in crisis: Owen Smith is no answer
But more than the individual flaws of any specific candidate, what is most concerning with Smith (who is now trying to pitch himself as a more electable left-winger) is that the politics he champions, and the direction he would like to take the party in – along with the likes of Ed Miliband – has no winning model in Europe. Centre-left politics – across the continent – is mired in defeat and inertia. Whether it be the SDP polling at 25% in Germany, the PSOE winning 22% in the recent Spanish General Election, or French president Francois Hollande polling at 13%, there are no real bright spots. The only arguable exception is Italy’s Partito Democratico, led by Matteo Renzi. Yet even there Renzi is PM having never contested a general election, and his predecessor but one – Pierluigi Bersani – led the Democrats to only 27% in the 2013 election (the coalition they headed won just under 30%). Last month the 5 Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi won the Rome mayoralty from the PD. Even with Europe’s best performing party of the centre-left, the story is one of managed decline.

The crisis of social democracy has been a topic of conversation for years. That has been turbo-charged by the fact that the centre-right has benefitted most from the global financial crisis of 2008. Ed Miliband and Labour’s electoral defeat in 2015 was testimony to that, with Labour winning only 9.3 million votes. Perhaps most concerning however, was how Labour lost votes to both their left, and their right. Were Owen Smith to be Labour leader for the next general election I think he would struggle to even get Miliband numbers: Greens would be less likely to switch to Labour, his vague offer of a second referendum on EU membership would almost certainly land UKIP a number of Labour seats in the north, and the Lib Dems, probably regardless of who leads the two major parties, will make a minor comeback.

Labour’s problems reflect those of both the British establishment and European social democracy, and to my mind Owen Smith isn’t a solution (nor indeed is any individual). While you can point to Corbyn’s low personal approval ratings – for what it’s worth I think any politician’s would be as bad given what he has uniquely faced – the Labour party he wants, and more importantly the one now under construction, arguably does. You see it’s not just about Corbyn, it’s about a party of a million members, grassroots organising and a generational break with a broken centre-left politics adrift across the continent. Labour now needs to invent its future. It has no choice.

Understanding Labour’s long decline
The obstacles Jeremy Corbyn will now have to surmount in order to become prime minister and oversee precisely that are unprecedented. Some of the parliamentary party will simply refuse to work with him if he wins again. Tom Watson will likely resign as deputy leader after any second Corbyn victory to exert maximum dramatic effect. Senior Labour MPs are seriously talking about annual leadership elections until Corbyn goes. On the bright side any split, which should be avoided at all costs, would likely only include the right of the party – led by the Blairite MPs named and shamed by John Prescott in a recent Sunday Mirror. Most, however, understand that any new party of the centre would face a very inhospitable set of circumstances: the historic social base of the SDP, progressives in metropolitan areas, are now a hotbed of Corbyn support. What is more, there are few examples of successful centrist projects worldwide right now – with the exception of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Canada. What is more, the Labour right clearly lacks a politician of that calibre. If they did, she or he would be standing against Corbyn, not Owen Smith.

In addition to the hostility Corbyn Mk. 2 will now face from many of his own MPs, and as many MPs on the soft-left need to be won round in the next few months as possible, the Labour party machine is nowhere near good enough to win a general election. That is true at both local and national levels. Half-a-dozen people have described to me how the party HQ is set up to win an election in 2005 rather than 2020, with problems going a long way back. After all, before Corbyn’s rise last summer, the party hadn’t won a general election since 2005. Even then it lost forty-six seats to Michael Howard’s Tories. Indeed Labour has lost seats at every single general election since 1997, almost two decades ago.

In terms of actual votes, Labour lost five million between 1997 and 2010. Ed Miliband’s brand of heavily triangulated, frequently contradicting soft-left politics won back fewer than a million of them last year. For my money that is the ceiling on the party’s vote with his brand of politics and its present organising structure. In other words, Owen Smith.

Looking back, the rise of Blair – and his historic election win in 1997 – was as much one of Tory decimation as Labour ascendancy. The mid-1990s were a unique cycle in global capitalism since the early 1970s, with GDP, employment and real wages all rising. The factors behind that – the doubling of the global labour market foremost among them – aren’t going to be repeated again. But alongside the bigger economic picture, the Tories were also in chaos. Winning the 1992 General Election was the worst thing that ever happened to them. Within twelve months the party needed the votes of Ulster Unionists to pass legislation, and Major’s second term was permanently furnished in crisis. No Labour leader, before, since or likely ever again, will be offered that kind of opportunity. The dynamics behind 1997, as much about Tory collapse as Labour supremacy, effectively carried on for a decade, with Labour’s vote steadily decreasing but the Tories incapable of taking advantage. Thus even at its zenith, the Labour machine was a never particularly impressive one. Those on the Labour right who talk of imitating the US Democrats have shown neither the skill nor foresight over the last two decades to come good on their lofty ambitions. Given they have controlled much of the party’s formal infrastructure during that period, especially at Victoria Street, it’s fair to say it isn’t going to happen.

A different kind of leadership; a member-based party
Jeremy Corbyn is not a generic political leader. But perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as some think. Twenty-First Century leadership takes many forms with it not only being about attracting supporters – but more importantly – creating more leaders too.

While he will never look like a Hollywood impersonation of a PM, what Corbyn can do – and is doing – is give rise to a movement. As Paul Mason says, he is a placeholder. That phrase needs to be more than rhetoric however, it must inform an organising strategy by which Labour comes to have more than a million members and can feasibly form a government after the next general election.

But before explaining how that happens, it’s important to clarify why Labour’s growing membership is such a game changer. Well, the Conservative party dominated British politics for much of the 20th Century because they had significant resources that others did not: three million members (yes, really); influence among opinion-makers and the mainstream media; and wealthy supporters. Labour’s greatest hour came in 1945 when, to the astonishment of many, Winston Churchill was replaced by Clement Atlee. The basis of that was a popular movement, a uniquely changed political context and a vision for a different kind of country. Labour only wins as a movement.

As I hope to have made clear, the major exception to that – 1997-2005 – was as much a story of Tory decline as Labour success. What is more, that project was in decline almost immediately after its high point. The Conservative leaders of the early 21st Century, William Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith, even Michael Howard, were at the time harder to imagine as prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn is now. That was without kamikaze elements within their own party and the collective force of the entire mainstream media arrayed against them.

So if the Tories (almost always) win because they have more money and media influence – the members have long since gone – what does Labour have? During Labour’s great exception at the end of the twentieth century, the view was they had to ‘spin’ better than the Tories while converging with them in key policy areas, particularly wages, housing and industrial policy (i.e. not having one). That led, in the long-term, to the decline I’ve already identified: the party’s working class heartland being taken for granted to win swing voters in marginals elsewhere. That strategy is now a busted flush, not least because Scotland has now gone and those industrial and former mining areas no longer look quite so impregnable. Over the same period the party neglected member-based democracy, local organisation and effective ground campaigning.

Rather than spin, or a hotline to Rebekah Brooks or Paul Dacre, the biggest resource the Labour party can now possibly have is its membership. That membership can, potentially, serve to do several things. Firstly, it provides the party with a much sturdier financial base (the party, rather than rely on wealthy backers, would have been long bankrupt without affiliated trade unions and loans); it creates a large base of advocates who can informally persuade their own social networks and formally campaign among strangers; and, with social media, it creates a huge network for the self-broadcasting of Labour’s ideas, policies and events. None of this is inevitable with the rise of a mass membership, and appropriate organisational choices have to be made, but it is a pre-condition for it. Again, I believe none of this happens with Owen Smith as leader.

My contribution here is this: among that million plus membership, the party will need 100,000 change advocates to make significant inroads. These are people who are trained to campaign in local areas as well as reaching out and getting even more people to join the party. While Momentum could oversee such an undertaking, it may well require a well-resourced and committed organisation, equivalent perhaps to the American New Organising Institute (albeit with adaptations for the British context). These 100,000 activists would be a major part in winning any ground campaign against the Tories and building even wider circles of local support on a constituency-by-constituency basis, starting in marginals. Were the future selection of parliamentary candidates to be undertaken through local primaries, something I inclined towards, registered supporters would also be able to participate.

The electorate should thus be seen as an ever larger set of concentric circles: at the heart are these change advocates, then members, then registered supporters, then Labour voters, then potential Labour voters. If organised properly this would be a very competitive force during elections. As much as persuading strangers, activists would be mobilising pre-existing affinity groups of friends, families and colleagues to not only vote for candidates, but campaign for them as well. Additionally they would interface with extant efforts around things like food banks as well as beginning initaitives like literacy groups and breakfast clubs. How would this be funded? The party would build something that integrated Act Blue and JustGiving to enable dis-intermediated financing of these projects by members as well as the general public. That Labour was able to raise £4.5 million in just 48 hours in the recent registration of supporters, is testimony to the good will and resources out there. Charitable giving in the United Kingdom is significant, that culture should be channeled within any modern mass-membership party that aims at systemic change.

As much as building the party membership, and crafting it into a force capable of persuading the general public and even engaging in social reproduction, any campaign that sees Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 will have to exhibit features of a movement assemblage rather than a political party. That assemblage will engage in personalised campaign practices.

Now I know what you are thinking – an assemblage? Personalisation?

Until very recently general election campaigns have been hybrids of professionalised party efforts which incorporate large numbers of volunteers. The volunteer efforts were almost entirely for offline ‘ground’ campaigning, while professionalised elements included public relations, media and fundraising. That has dramatically changed in recent years through the emergence of social media and crowdfunding. Additionally, the last decade has seen a move to ‘personalised political communication’, especially in the United States. This kind of campaigning places an emphasis on ‘ground war’ practices such as door-to-door canvassing and phone banking, both pursued with the help of allied groups, volunteers, and paid part-time employees. This kind of communication is ‘personalised’ in the sense that people, and not television or websites, serve as the primary media for messages (Kleis Nielsen 2013). All of which means that media and mobilisation functions are now fusing into one another. In the English context, one saw this for the first time in Corbyn’s campaign last summer – especially in phonebanking efforts that deployed the ‘Canvassing’ app – the Corbyn campaign found scale through the personal media networks and efforts of tens of thousands of advocates – and how this interacted with legacy media – rather than simply the old ‘one-to-many’ channels. This explains, to a significant extent, how Corbyn can currently enjoy a 32% lead over Smith among the membership despite little to no support from the mainstream media.

Survey research demonstrates that tens of millions of citizens are contacted in person or by phone by parties and candidates each cycle in the US, and experimental research in political science suggests that it works (Kleis Nielsen 2013). Corbyn’s first campaign for Labour leader brought that model to the UK – and his second one will likely improve on it.

So the first aspect of Labour as a campaigning assemblage is to acknowledge this model of campaigning, its relative absence in the UK, its potential effectiveness, and use its large, growing membership accordingly. Again, I don’t think anyone believes this happens with Smith. Without such an approach, at least until Labour wins the wholesale backing of the print media and the financing of oligarchs, Labour simply have no other route to power.

But as well as channeling this new kind of personalised campaigning through an ever-larger membership, Labour also needs to embody both collective, and connective logics of action.

In their recent, groundbreaking work, Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg distinguish between the traditional logic of collective action that has been accepted within much of the social sciences for decades, and observably different logics of connective action which have recently emerged in the digital environment. As a result they offer a three-fold typology of large-scale action networks, with one representing the brokered networks characterised by the logic of collective action (Olson 1965) and the other two exhibiting the newer logics of connective action. These are as follows:

Traditionally most formal political efforts – from voter registration campaigns, to protests and elections – have relied on the first kind of action. That necessitated hierarchy, incentives for participants to not free-ride (often paid jobs or status) and a highly centralised operation. Fundamentally, it presumes higher costs for information than is, in reality, now the case. So while one might think of politics, until recently, as being about top-down, organisationally brokered collective action, it isn’t. In the recent referendum on membership of the European Union, the ‘Leave’ campaign more closely resembled organisationally-enabled connective action than ‘Remain’. We also saw it in the nomination campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States. While Clinton, with a more classically vertical campaign did ultimately prevail, Sanders picked up an astonishing thirteen million votes. The reality is that in the contemporary media environment the choice isn’t between hierarchy and networks but between more collective or connective strategies. Both require organisation and leadership, just different kinds. Because of a relative lack of resources my view is that Labour can never compete through collective action strategies, hence the importance of the Corbyn project, member-based democracy and organisational renewal.
Bernie Sanders supporters, image: the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The major reason why Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership so convincingly last year was because elements of all three logics were evident in his campaign. His triumph was powered by old-fashioned politics – such as winning trade union support – but also by a groundswell of grassroots support which managed to achieve tangible things: remote phonebanking, events organising, social media campaigning and, most importantly, getting new members to join. Much of how this was achieved was through crowd and organisationally-enabled connective action which fosters much higher levels of personalised communication. That was expedited through organisational forms, both formal and informal, that one would not typically associate with British electoral politics.

Had Corbyn’s campaign tried to win through old-school collective action they would have lost, quite simply because they lacked the resources – primarily money and media exposure – of the other candidates. Its important to remember that while Corbyn may be naturally open to this kind of approach, one where formal efforts easily interface with what feels like a social movement and an amorphous body of support, his campaign also had high incentives to adopt it, or at least be comfortable with it.

Sadly, once Corbyn did win, that approach was dispensed with. There was the general presumption, ultimately misguided, that such efforts could be easily channeled into the Labour party. But modern action – at its most powerful – doesn’t work like that. For Corbyn’s Labour to be highly competitive there needs to be the recognition that both collective and connective action logics are necessary, and that these will be mobilised across a range of actors which enjoy distinct organisational features. That means a great deal of autonomy to local activists to organise with an emphasis on personalised communication; strong levels of access to media that is beyond the mainstream; content created by Labour, Corbyn’s office and others that is not aimed at their supporters but is, instead, intended to be re-broadcast by them; and a general approach that seeks to choreograph events rather than lead them. It requires more than simply telling supporters it is their movement, but to build things so they experience and produce it as their movement, daily.

Much of this may sound like new management speak, but these were the precise organisational dynamics which saw Corbyn win last summer, as documented by digital campaigner Ben Sellers. Such an approach will not only mean Labour exerts more media influence, but will also mean higher levels of mobilisation (such as door-knocking, leafletting and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns) and more resources (not only through membership subs but also crowdfunding efforts). Again, none of this seems to be on offer with an Owen Smith leadership. Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps surprisingly, appears to offer the only path to a Twenty-First Century party in Britain.

In the following months, in the knowledge that personalised communication, campaigning assemblages and connective as well as collective action are all integral to a successful Labour ‘machine’ (one that actually goes beyond the party) I would suggest that several things begin to happen.

Firstly there needs to be a discussion about the ecology which would exert media influence and mobilise activists. In regard to the former the leading channels the Corbyn leadership wants to operate through need to be identified, particularly with television (beyond current affairs shows) and new media. Additionally, influencers need to identified. I’m circumspect as to how much they can change minds – after all, David Beckham’s intervention on Brexit went down like a lead balloon – but they undoubtedly extend reach, especially with specific, targeted demographics. This is especially important in regard to the coalition of voters that Corbyn’s Labour must now build. In regard to mobilisation, I would imagine something equivalent to the NOI should be set up. It would offer not only training, skills and experience for 100,000 organisers, but certification too. These organisers would advocate the new politics, but also add new members. They would also be the basis by which party activists begin to engage in local community organising beyond electoralism. As mentioned, in terms of funding those projects the party needs its own equivalent of Act Blue to fund local campaigns and initiatives. The problem, with a national membership of over half-a-million, is not raising resources, but effectively channeling them to where they are most needed. If Labour HQ is too short-sighted to create these two institutions, others should. They will be crucial in the assemblage that makes Labour a serious electoral force.

Labour needs to identify and build its coalition of voters
Alongside creating the right ecology through which it can flourish as both a campaigning movement and electoral force, Labour needs to understand the coalition it must build to win. Again, I think that Corbyn – and more importantly the changed Labour party he will lead – offers much more promise here than Owen Smith.

While Labour must remain rooted in the trade union movement, one thing it can learn from the US Democratic party is how to build a social majority which beats ‘Middle England’. In both 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won the White House despite being relatively unpopular with what is presented as the deciding force in politics: white men. While Britain does not have the same ethnic composition as the US, Jeremy Corbyn – or indeed any potential Labour prime minister – will have to do something pretty similar. Obama’s ‘coalition’ was women, the young, and BME voters. In terms of who joined Labour during and immediately after Corbyn’s campaign last summer, something similar happened with the party’s 150,000 new members, with joiners tending to be younger and female.

Labour actually won the last election among under-45s. A primary task for Corbyn, then, would be to generate a considerable increase in turnout among that demographic, as in fact happened in the recent referendum on membership of the European Union. This is low hanging fruit, and should be a central aspect of Labour’s electoral strategy.

In fact Labour needs a considerable increase in overall turnout just to stay where they are after boundary changes. Again, I don’t think Smith can do that. The difference between Al Gore in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008 was a 7% increase in turnout for the latter. Labour now needs a similar trend in England and Wales just to stay competitive.

In addition to more people powering a higher turnout, particularly among the young, Labour also needs to win a majority among women and BME voters. Nowadays women are more likely to vote Labour then men – although in last year’s general election it appears almost certain that most women voted Tory. Labour did however have a big advantage among women under 50, enjoying a six-point lead. Along with increasing turnout among that vote – far more likely to vote Labour anyway – Corbyn also needs to win a majority of women next time round. Against a second woman as Tory prime minister – Theresa May – that would appear difficult, but anti-austerity policies, as well as big offers on pay discrimination, social housing and care (adult, child and for those with disabilities) would be very popular. As already mentioned, a national base of activists – mobilising around issues of social reproduction – would be a major difference here.

Corbyn’s Labour will also need to win the BME vote, something Labour historically does anyway. In 2015 Labour won 65% of BME votes, an increase of 5% on five years earlier. Again, as with younger voters the aim must be to get far more of this demographic to not only vote but to actively campaign for Labour. That will go hand-in-hand with Labour becoming an effective organisation for anti-racist activism in the years ahead – something crucially necessary given the growth of xenophobia and racist violence in the aftermath of Brexit. Can Smith do that? It’s unlikely given his comments on immigration in his recent Newsnight interview.

But along with Obama’s coalition, the big ask for Corbyn is how you win such a ‘social majority’ while maintaining the party’s historic heartlands in former mining and industrial areas. On a range of issues, from Europe to migration, such areas express diverging attitudes with Labour’s metropolitan core. If just this balancing act can be achieved, in the process seeing away the challenge of UKIP, Corbyn would enjoy a much more successful general election than Ed Miliband a year ago. With Owen Smith, given his lobbyist history, his offer of a second EU referendum and his pro-austerity policies, something similar seems unlikely. For me, Labour wins those areas, and handsomely, with a big offer on industrial strategy, jobs, housing and a new kind of economy. This will go hand-in-hand with critiquing a failing model of globalisation, but insisting the solutions are economic and around issues of labour reform, rather than immigration. There can be no doubt about it, this will take years, but it is absolutely crucial.

So in terms of who is more likely to win, or even compete, at a general election between Corbyn and Smith I would suggest Smith can’t build the necessary coalition that Corbyn can. Yes, Smith might look a lot more appetising to southern swing voters, but when you zoom out, that is less important than it looks.

What is more, Corbyn offers Labour a path to reinvention. The centre-left is dying across Europe, and I’d suggest Owen Smith would take Labour in a similar direction. Can Corbyn become the next prime minister? It’s possible, but it depends both on the growing movement that now surrounds him and how his leadership interacts with it. Most importantly, his leadership can feasibly change Labour, at both a local and national level, into a party fit for the modern era. As important as winning elections and modernising the Labour party, is how a mass, active membership can not only re-define party politics, but Britain. We need change in Westminster but also across civil society. Only Corbyn offers that.

Published under Creative Commons   Attribution 4 Non Commercial International Licence

The Tories would rather you didn’t vote because…

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Last date to register online is Monday 16th November 2015

On 19 November 2015, local authorities will close their electoral registers so 16 November 2015 is the last day to register online.  It is easy to register to vote.  It takes less than 5 minutes but you’ll need your national insurance number. You can find out more and register by visiting www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Why is it important?

The Conservative government is in a rush to change the constituency boundaries. It wants to ensure that the 2020 general election is fought over 600 seats, fifty fewer than the present allocation.

To achieve this, the government plans to use the electoral roll as it stands on 1 December 2015. The numbers on the roll will determine the size and shape of voters’ constituencies.

But millions of people are not on the electoral roll. This means that we are in danger of an electoral map of the UK that does not represent the people who live here.

We need to stop this. The best way to do so is to register to vote.

Why are millions missing?

Last year, the UK moved from the old household survey method of electoral registration to a new method of individual registration.

More time is needed to make Individual Electoral Registration (IER) work because millions of people are dropping off the electoral register.

Some 10 million citizens may not be counted when the government redraws constituency boundaries from April 2016.

Efforts to continue to find the missing millions were meant to carry on until 2016. However, on 16 July 16 2015, just before summer recess, the government moved the date forward to 1 December 2015. 

Stop the rush, democracy is at risk

Because of the hurried changes and because millions could lose their vote, the government has been advised to slow down and get this right.

The Electoral Commission said than an additional year was needed to allow the new system of IER to function.

The government rejected this advice and is pressing on with its plans to close the voter roll in December 2015, one year earlier than originally planned, and move to redraw the boundaries on that basis.

From December 2015, those people that local authorities have not been able to match with tax or benefit records and who have not re-registered and provided a National Insurance number will be taken off the electoral register. 

The missing millions matter

The new register will form the basis of the parliamentary constituency boundary review that the Conservative government wants in place before the 2020 election. Reducing the number of seats and redrawing the boundaries both favour the Conservatives.

The registers with the largest predicted drop off tend to be in large urban areas with a high incidence of multiple occupancy housing, regular home movers and large numbers of historically low propensity registering voters.

The 2016 boundary review will mean:

  • 31 constituencies could go in England
  • 7 in Scotland
  • 10 in Wales; and
  • 2 in Northern Ireland

The danger is that the UK will end up with a distorted electoral map in which urban areas and low propensity voters are under-represented.

According to IPSOS Mori, if the proposed boundary changes go ahead, Labour will need to ensure it has at least a 13 per cent lead over the Conservatives to stand any chance of winning the election (October 2015). 

Make sure you don’t lose out 

It is estimated that there are around 10 million eligible voters not on the electoral register. 

Dismantling constituencies on the basis of a voter roll that is not reflective of the real constituency population is a danger to democracy.

  • 23% of Hackney voters could drop off the electoral register in December
  • Birmingham could lose 7.7% of its electorate
  • Glasgow loses 67,225 voters, Birmingham loses 56,645
  • Cambridge loses 17% of its electors and that’s before an expected heavy drop off of students in the new college year
  • Six of the eight biggest drop-offs are in London, which overall loses as many as 415,013
  • London loses up to 6.9% of its voters while the South West only loses 2.8%, East of England 2.9% and the South East 3.5%.
  • Scotland is the next worst affected region, losing 5.5% of its voters.

The Boundary Commission is scheduled to start work on redrawing the constituency map of the UK, down from 650 to 600 seats, in April 2016. Under their rules, seats will be reallocated away from areas with high numbers of unverified voters who are typically young people, renters, certain ethnic minorities and students.

The situation is particularly bleak for young voters. Students now have to register individually. Electoral Commission data shows that the number of voters aged 17 dropped significantly with the introduction of IER in 2014. 

And the missing voters are not evenly distributed across the country – there are in the region of 120 local authorities that will see a fall in the number of registered voters in excess of the average of 4%.

www.unitetheunion.org/campaigning/no-vote-no-voice-campaign/#sthash.xt7kqqQD.eTClASyw.dpuf

Why is it important?

It’s not – if you are part of this Conservative government because it makes it harder for Labour to win in 2020.  If the Boundary Review goes ahead as planned, the House of Commons will have fewer MPs than at any point since 1800.  It is estimated that of the 50 cancelled constituencies, more than 30 are Labour held and of the remaining 600 seats, many will become much harder for Labour to win.  In the US, this is known as gerrymandering.  It doesn’t matter whether you think that you’re already registered – make sure by doing it again online before Monday!  And make sure that your friends, family and 16/17y olds register as well.

The very design of neoliberal principles is a direct attack on democracy and worker’s rights.

 

It’s time to call time on WMDs – and back Jeremy Corbyn.

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So Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party has said he would not use nuclear weapons? Phew, what a relief.

 Well that is hardly astounding News, but he is right to point it out nonetheless. It highlights the senselessness of spending resources on Weapons of Mass Destruction which can never, ever be used because it would be a suicidal act. For all those of who believe in humanity, in peace and abhor human suffering, there can be no alternative. Jeremy Corbyn was elected with a huge mandate and has opposed the replacement of Trident. Even former Tory Defence Minister Michael Portillo is opposing Trident’s replacement, claiming it is a waste of money.

I wonder, if Mr Cameron will not say he is also unwilling to use them, how can we trust such a man with the future of the human race, the continued existence of life itself? After all, this was the man who went against parliament’s decision to involve our servicemen in attacks on Syria. Please remember that David Cameron ‘was aware’ British pilots carried out Syrian air strikes despite Commons vote, and chose to disregard the democratic decision.

Why do these weapons exist at all?

Without going blindly into such a replacement wasting our precious resources on such a pointless exercise, it is time to have the debate and look at the facts. It is time to stop, think and call time on weapons of mass destruction. It’s time to educate younger generations about the facts. It’s time to face up to the reality – they offer no deterrent, they cost the earth, no one can use them; they certainly didn’t help the USA on 9/11.

Nuclear Weapons are Horrific, Pointless and Extraordinarily Costly

HORRIFIC:

What else is as unimaginably horrific as nuclear war? The horrors are so awful that the human mind cannot endure to see  images or to contemplate the physical, mental and emotional pain. It is now 70 years since August 6, 1945, when the United States used a massive, atomic weapon against Hiroshima, Japan. This atomic bomb, the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT, flattened the city, killing tens of thousands of civilians. While Japan was still trying to comprehend this devastation three days later, the United States struck again, this time, on Nagasaki. ( 9th August 1945)

It is not good enough to turn away – the images and the facts must be faced up to. We cannot uninvent nuclear missiles, but we can discover why they should not be in existence. I am appalled that there are plans to replace Trident, a nuclear missile which must be never used. No, not my name. It must not happen.

Face up to these images, the ones they don’t want us to see: listen to the stories.

Although the names of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incised into our memories, there were few pictures to accompany them. Even today, the image in our minds is a mixture of devastated landscapes and shattered buildings. Shocking images of the ruins, but where were the victims?

The American occupation forces imposed strict censorship on Japan, prohibiting anything “that might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility” and used it to prohibit all pictures of the bombed cities. The pictures remained classified ‘top secret’ for many years. Some of the images have been published later by different means, but it’s not usual to see them all together. (see more here )
Signals:

All the watches found in the ground zero were stopped at 8:15 am, the time of the explosion.

WatchStopped6Aug

Within a certain distance from the site of explosion, the heat was so intense that practically everything was vaporised. The shadows of the parapets were imprinted on the road surface of the Yorozuyo Bridge, 1/2 of a mile south-southwest of the hypocentre. Besides, in Hiroshima, all that was left of some humans, sitting on stone benches near the centre of explosion, was their outlines.

6th Aug 2

On August 6, 1945, 8.15 am, the uranium atom bomb exploded 580 metres above the city of Hiroshima with a blinding flash, creating a giant fireball and sending surface temperatures to 4,000C. Fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, unleashing a high pressure shockwave, vaporising tens of thousands of people and animals, melting buildings and streetcars, reducing a 400-year-old city to dust.
Housewives and children were incinerated instantly or paralysed in their daily routines, their internal organs boiled and their bones charred into brittle charcoal.

Beneath the center of the explosion, temperatures were hot enough to melt concrete and steel. Within seconds, 75,000 people had been killed or fatally injured with 65% of the casualties nine years of age and younger.

6th Aug 3
Radiation deaths were still occurring in large numbers in the following days. “For no apparent reason their health began to fail. They lost appetite. Their hair fell out. Bluish spots appeared on their bodies. And then bleeding began from the ears, nose and mouth”.

Doctors “gave their patients Vitamin A injections. The results were horrible. The flesh started rotting from the hole caused by the injection of the needle. And in every case the victim died”.
Hibakusha is the term widely used in Japan referring to victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese word translates literally to “explosion-affected people”.

They and their children were (and still are) victims of severe discrimination due to lack of knowledge about the consequences of radiation sickness, which people believed to be hereditary or even contagious.

Many of them were fired from their jobs. Hibakusha women never got married, as many feared they would give birth to deformed children. Men suffered discrimination too. “Nobody wanted to marry someone who might die in a couple of years”.
Yamahata, the photographer of Nagasaki

On August 10, 1945, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki Yosuke Yamahata, began to photograph the devastation. The city was dead. He walked through the darkened ruins and the dead corpses for hours.

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By late afternoon, he had taken his final photographs near a first aid station north of the city. In a single day, he had completed the only extensive photographic record of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

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“A warm wind began to blow – he wrote later – Here and there in the distance I saw many small fires, like elf-fires, smoldering. Nagasaki had been completely destroyed”

Mr. Yamahata’s photographs are the most complete record of the atomic bombing as seen in the most immediate hours after the bombing. The New York Times has called Mr. Yamahata’s photographs, “some of the most powerful images ever made”.

Mr. Yamahata became violently ill on August 6, 1965, his forty-eighth birthday and the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the duodenum, probably caused by the residual effects of radiation received in Nagasaki in 1945. He died on April 18, 1966, and is buried at Tama Cemetery, Tokyo.

Everyone should see them and understand. Hiding and pretending will not do.

Atomic Bomb survivors never forget, and while they inevitably diminish in number , their resolve to fight to rid the world of nuclear missiles grows ever more determined.

POINTLESS:

We cannot help but wonder what is the point and sense in developing more and more horrible weapons, which can never, ever be used, and if they were the consequences of modern weapons would be far worse. They can never be used without a suicidal action. In modern times of suicidal terrorism, suicide itself is no deterrent, the existence of nuclear missiles is not only pointless but an incredible waste of money, resources and human effort which could be much better used elsewhere.

Colin Powell:  I became Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff in 1989 and I had 28,000 nuclear weapons under my supervision. And every morning I looked to see where the Russian submarines were off the coast of Virginia and how far away those missions were from Washington. I kept track where the Russian missiles were in Europe and in the Soviet Union. The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. 

 

They could not be used. If you can have deterrence with an even lower number of weapons, well then why stop there, why not continue on, why not get rid of them altogether…This is the moment when we have to move forward and all of us come together to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate them from the face of the earth. “Nuclear Weapons Are Useless”   

The pointlessness of it all is clear – the danger of nuclear weapons is such that they should not even exist. That there are stockpiles of radioactive uranium and plutonium around the world is alarming – should these ever get into the hands of maniacs it would surely be an end. The expansion of nuclear power holds the same dangers,  and at a time when there are effective renewable sources for energy, why is it even being considered?

Who can we trust? Why is David Cameron in favour of supporting a replacement to Trident?  Parliament voted against British forces being used in Syria in 2013. Recently, it has transpired that David Cameron lied, and that was against Parliament’s explicit  instructions, British Forces were involved in an air campaign. David Cameron was fully aware of the action.  We must consider what are the reasons for Cameron’s support for a Trident replacement. Is it financial? Whatever is his reason, it is clearly very, very silly.

In January 2015, A Commons motion against renewal of Trident was crushed by 364 votes to 35 after Tory and Labour front benches joined forces to back the weapons of mass destruction. A number of Labour MPs abstained.
The motion was moved by the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Mr Blunt, the only Tory supporting the motion, said he was wearing the regimental tie of the Light Dragoons.
He told MPs that when he worked as a special adviser at the Ministry of Defence, he found it impossible to find a scenario in which Britain would decide to use nuclear weapons.

Labour MPs voting against Trident renewal were:
Diane Abbott, Ronnie Campbell, Katy Clark, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Davidson, Paul Flynn, Roger Godsiff, Kelvin Hopkins, David Lammy, Mark Lazarowicz, John McDonnell, Grahame Morris, Fiona O’Donnell, Sandra Osborne, Dennis Skinner, Andrew Smith, Graham Stringer and Joan Walley. (From Morning Star)

The SNP’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election opposed Trident’s renewal. and their landslide on May 7th, winning all but three seats in Scotland demonstrates that there is a huge opposition to this policy.

In 2016, there is to be another vote in Parliament on the replacement of Trident. Jeremy Corbyn, and several other MPs  will oppose  Trident replacement. Even if renewal is rejected, after the Syria vote was totally disregarded, I cannot help but wonder, whether Mr Cameron is taking much notice of parliament at all. What power does he hold over the use of nuclear weapons. It is truly terrifying.

COST:

If the cost to the planet of nuclear war is obliteration, it seems trivial to even consider the economic implications.The government is in favour of replacing Trident at a cost of around £100 billion. This money would be enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5 million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools, or cover tuition fees for 4 million students. It is astounding, and extraordinarily costly. So much good  could come of savings from the cost of the maintenance and replacement of Trident’s replacement, and the related  nuclear energy industry. The nuclear industry is massively subsidised by the British public. Sizewell B, the UK’s most recent power station cost the taxpayer around £3.7billion just to install Decommissioning and cleaning up all of our current nuclear sites is costing more than £70 billion.

Many people are employed in the nuclear industry – there is no logic in retaining it on the grounds of employment. Diplomatic solutions to conflict need personnel equipped  with necessary skills. We should be developing education, communication and understanding, of issues of other societies, not dividing the world further. We are one people. Jobs could be provided for scientists and experts developing our green energy policy.

PROTEST:

 People must protest against this renewal and demand an end to these weapons. Our politicians must stand alongside us. On this our opposition must oppose. Abstention will not do. There are protests (AWE) demanding disarmament all around the world including in the UK where 4 Day Fast Protest against Trident is planned  in London. (August 6th-9th).

CND have been campaigning since 1958. There is a host of information on their website.CND.jpeg

Workers Rights Attacked. “Unity is our Watchword!” : Jeremy Corbyn

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Protecting the Workers

Trade Unions. They are part of the Labour movement, and we have so much to thank them for. They gave us the weekend, the eight-hour day, and the paid holiday. Now they need our help. Yet again, a Tory Government with an overall majority is trying to crush the unions. They want to be able to use people, as a cheap resource to deliver their wealth. They have no concern for safety, health, dignity or human rights.

Think Left’s article ( 114 year workers’ rights scrapped by coalition government) reveals how long-standing workers’ rights are being eroded by the Coalition government. With legal aid cut, high unemployment and rising costs of living, everyone can see people struggling. How many are aware of how poor workers’ rights and protection in the UK really are?

protection for permanant workers

It is no doubt politics which preys on disaster politics and fear. Fear and lies. The graph shows that protection of permanent working staff in the UK is appalling. The effect of Thatcher’s attack on trade the unions leading to decreased union membership can be seen in perspective. The power of money over the individual struggling alone is immense. One can see how struggling to feed one’s family puts worker against worker, and provides an opportunity for right-wing parties such as UKIP to move in on the scene.

The erroneous lines, “we’re all in it together”, and Cameron’s patronising Keep Calm Dear , while criticised and ridiculed are tolerated by those who believe austerity is necessary, and in  the myth of the need to cut structural deficit though several economists argue otherwise.

Unemployment

Recent figures show unemployment is on the rise again. Not only is this costly, it is a waste of human resources, has  an impact on mental health, and divides working people.

Recently, immigration has become an issue, because families are living in poverty, and are unable to get work.  Meanwhile, there are cuts to the social security protection because of government austerity measures which gives people no hope.  A divided working class is a malleable one. The Tories know that. Tony Benn knew. He said, “People who are poor, demoralised and frightened are easy to control.”  This whips up division and hatred like in the thirties. As Jeremy Corbyn said, “They are trying to reconfigure our society in the image of the 30s. I’m not sure if it’s the 1930s or the 1830s but certainly some kind of 30s.” And we know what that led to.

“The psychology of competition and love of Peace are uneasy bedfellows” Aneurin Bevan

Michael Meacher comments on the recent statistics

“UK unemployment, which is still as high as 1,850,000, is now starting to rise again.   Combined with the jobs standstill, the lack of momentum in pay makes this the most worrying set of labour market figures for a long time.   What is equally disturbing is that almost all the increase in employment since the 2008-9 crash has been accounted for by workers from the EU.   Employment among EU citizens born outside the UK has now risen above 2 million for the first time.   The latest figures point to falling demand for jobs, fewer hours being worked, and little or no evidence of a rise in pay.”

“In that first quarter employment among UK nationals fell by 146,000 while over the same period employment among workers from overseas rose by 91,000.   It also emerged that since 1997 the proportion of employment accounted for by non-UK nationals increased from 3.7% to 10.3%.” Michael Meacher MP

The government has just launched its latest salvo attacking our rights at work.

NUAW strikeThe government’s plans to cut rights for working people, are described in detail, in this document for the TUC (pdf link Trade Union Bill – TUC briefing )

The government expects the Second Reading on the Bill will take place in the House-of-Commons either in September of October 2015.

The main themes are listed here

  1. The proposals will lead to a serious imbalance of power within the  workplace, undermining effective negotiation between employers and unions.
  2. The Conservative proposals will undermine constructive employment relations, extending disputes and making it more difficult to achieve amicable settlements.
  3. The government is not interested in encouraging workplace democracy. Instead , they want to prevent midwives, fire-fighters, teachers and cleaners working within the Underground from protesting against cuts in jobs, pay and conditions.
  4. The right to strike and to protest are  fundamental rights which should be protected in a free and democratic society. The government proposals will impose greater restrictions on trade unions than any other voluntary secret membership organisations.
  5. The Conservatives claim to be the party of working people. However their proposals will remove  employees’ ability to achieve better working conditions and living standards.
  6. Employees will be able to bring in agency workers with a view to breaking strikes, regardless of the consequences for health and safety.
  7. Trade union protests and pickets will be subject to levels of public and police scrutiny and controls that go far beyond what is fair and acceptable in a modern democracy. These changes will also be a waste of police time.

These must be opposed, by protest groups, by trade unions, and also by the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn will stand alongside workers and supports Trade Unions. Unity is our watchword, within the Labour Party, and within the Movement. We need a strong opposition in parliament. It is not acceptable that MPs representing the heart of the Labour Movement are not wholly behind the defence of these fundamental rights. Following this leadership campaign, it is imperative that the Labour Party and the whole Labour movement are united in opposition. We need to be ready to oppose, because you can be absolutely certain that the Tories will be and they do not need any further advantage than they already have. Unity is our watchword. There are more of us, but we will only be heard by a cohesive opposition led by a strong leader, such as Jeremy Corbyn.

The government is trying to make it even harder for unions to collect fees from its members by banning public authorities from deducting fees-direct payslips. It’s designed to cut off yet more money from trade unions and hobble their ability to defend ordinary workers from bully boy employers.

It’s vitally important to show we will defend our trade unions from these government attacks. They’ve given us everything from the weekend to paid maternity leave. If they are hobbled by ideologically driven laws then bad employers across the country will be able to chip away at our hard-won rights.

“Sum of Us Campaign” is already nearly 80,000 people strong. Their campaign contact is listed below.

Our trade unions are worth defending. They protect ordinary workers — care workers, teachers, nurses, shop workers, cleaners — from poor conditions, low pay and unfair dismissal. But now they need our help. Share information, protest, and ensure that this time the government are countered by a strong, united opposition.

More information: