The left is losing the war of public opinion at a time when it is needed more than ever. Marred by a perceived proliferation of in-fighting, incompetence and impotence, it needs to recompose and reorganise itself to stand any chance of success.
Contemporary political discourse is in disarray; the Overton Window is stretched to a breadth rarely seen in history, thanks in no small part to a steadily worsening quality of life for all but the richest in society. Worryingly, despite this, it is heavily skewed to the right, both economically and socially, as people look for easy answers to their troubles.
The symptoms of the problem are proliferating day by day, as far-right, fascistic political figures are normalised and rise to power, hate crimes and wealth disparity steadily increase and public services are systematically defunded to breaking point and dismantled. The left has been ineffectual at stopping this tide thus far, primarily due to a lack of overall strategy.
There are three key battlegrounds that the left must regain hold of. One has traditionally been the mainstay of the left but has been lost in recent years; one has never traditionally been a strength of the left but must become so in today’s society; one remains a forte of the left but is not being capitalised on.
How do we reclaim them? Three words:
Appeal. Educate. Mobilise.
These three actions must be at the forefront of all action by the left. In this three-part series, I will discuss each in turn, explaining their unique importance and how these battlegrounds can be won.
Part One: Appeal
Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 US presidential election in a startling display of complacency. Her most widely spread slogan, “I’m With Her,” was, without doubt, one of the worst choices that could have been made and yet epitomised her campaign perfectly. The entire message centred around a single individual’s desires and ambitions, occasionally peppered with a minute, unconvincing acknowledgement of social justice issues.
Barely a word was spoken on the unrelentingly worsening living conditions of a majority of Americans, on morally reprehensible sweetheart deals behind closed doors between governments and corporations, or America’s continued pursuit of a failed foreign policy that did more to damage and destabilise entire regions and populations than the corrupt regimes it was supposed to remove.
In the contemporary political climate, in which nearly any serious political issue is the subject of intense emotions, the most emotionally appealing concept that the campaign could muster was “at least she’s not Trump”. One merely has to compare images from her rallies to those of her Democratic party rival, Bernie Sanders, or Republican nominee Donald Trump, to see how much fervour her campaign lacked.
This was not an isolated incident. Here in the UK, who was genuinely enthused by Labour’s 2015 general election campaign? It was a complete damp squib: happy enough to accept the Conservative Party’s economic narrative and rhetoric whilst meekly substantiating UKIP’s unjustifiable stance on immigration (see the awfully conceived ‘Controls on Immigration’ mug).
The pièce de résistance was the ‘EdStone’, which, despite supposedly representing Labour’s commitment to maintaining their campaign promises, featured a set of six entirely vague and pointless pledges: an apt summary of the campaign as a whole. Is it any wonder that the Conservatives waltzed into Downing Street?
It seems downright ridiculous nowadays that the left was ever a voice of passion within politics. Simple, powerful messages have become the far right’s greatest asset and, as such, these fascistic movements have thrived.
What was once a major strength must become one again. The difficulty, and thus understandable concern of those on the left, is that the integration of socialist policies into modern society is a complex and nuanced matter, far more so than it has been historically. However, what is oft forgotten is that simple and powerful messages are more than capable of carrying complex and nuanced concepts, as was so aptly demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Primary campaign.
Moreover, the left needs to recognise that the ‘Status Quo’ is not a viable position to stand for any more. People will not be enthused by being offered more of a system that has failed them. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to Labour leader may not have had a positive effect on polling figures, but it led to one of the largest increases in involvement and engagement in politics in recent times. In a record-breaking increase in political party membership, we saw the product of offering a genuine alternative to the Conservatives’ policy and rhetoric by way of simple, powerful messages.
That the Labour party squandered their position as the political party with the most members in all of Europe has nothing to do with Corbyn’s policies and everything to do with the obtuse and opaque machinery and systems of the party. This will be discussed further in Parts 2 and 3.
The left needs to regain its emotional appeal. We have seen two campaigns within the last two years utilise this to great initial impact, but in order to make full use of it, the entire left, from the ‘soft’ or ‘centre’ left, through to the ‘radical’ or ‘far’ left, must embrace it.
Then, they must take the next step, which will be covered in the next article in this series: Educate.