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Did Labour win the election? A Sussex perspective

The short answer is obviously no. The Tories remain in power, for now at least, propped up by the DUP whose social views most in the UK and in the Conservative Party itself would find utterly repugnant. Whilst I understand that – after the disappointment of the council elections – people may celebrate this as a victory, they should not. It means for the third general election in a row the Labour Party finds itself in opposition, unable to implement the policies that this country desperately needs and which drove millions of young people  to came out in droves and vote  – many for the first time.

However, whilst Labour did not win this election, it shouldn’t be seen as a complete failure for the party either.

We gained seats across the country – including in seats we have never won before, such as Canterbury and Kensington. On top of this, marginal seats we feared losing when this election was called such as Hove have now seemingly become safe seats, with Peter Kyle in Hove increasing his majority from ~1,200 to ~18,800. Corbynites have pointed to this and have said this is proof Jeremy’s leadership and message has been successful and that last summer’s “coup” was pointless. I personally would disagree with this as it was not reflected in local campaigning with many voters telling me they were voting for their local MP and not Jeremy Corbyn. However, even the most staunch of Corbyn’s critics such as Peter Mandelson have praised his campaign, and even the most hostile people on the doorstep acknowledged he had run a good campaign.

Is this really a surprise though? After all, apart from “strong and stable leadership” what did the Conservatives offer the public? They offered nothing to young people as though they didn’t expect us to turnout, to parents they ignored their demands for increased funding for schools and to the elderly, the Tories core vote, they essentially stuck up two fingers at them cutting the winter fuel allowance, downgrading the triple lock for pensions and implementing a dementia tax that could have essentially lowered the boundary of inheritance tax to £100,000. In comparison, Labour offered young people the return of the educational maintenance allowance and the scrapping of tuition fees. To parents it offered free child care and increased funding for schools. To adults looking to retrain we proposed free courses from a newly established National Education Service and finally to the elderly we offered compensation to the WASPI women, protecting the winter fuel allowance and triple lock as well as the establishment of a National Care Service. When you you look at it like this is it really a surprise Labour did better than expected?

What is clear to me now is that the Labour Party must be completely united in the next few months, a second general election within the next 12 months seems inevitable and we must show the British public we are a government in waiting. This means our brightest and best MPs must return to the front bench. We need figures such as Yvette Cooper and Chukka Umunna to be on the front bench to show the British public that all of us in the party thinks we can win. Currently there are several members of the front bench who are clearly out of their depth, if we are to crush this conservative government we must have our best back on the front benches grilling the Tories and highlighting their pure incompetence. On top of this, the best way for social democrats, moderates, progressives or whatever you want to call us to put our message and values forward is to have us side by side with our comrades. Failure to do so could result in the social democrat voice in the party being lost.

With a second election imminent we do not know who will be leading the Conservative Party it will almost certainly not be Theresa May for long, but we do know that for the foreseeable future Jeremy’s position is secure. We must use this to our advantage, we will not be in turmoil, unlike the Tories and if Jeremy can build on his election performance we could rise even further in the polls. If the Tories select someone such as Amber Rudd I think we will face a far tougher opponent than May. Rudd carried herself well during the election dealing with two terrorist attacks and debating Jeremy just days after the death of her father whilst Theresa May hid from the debate. We must also expect the Tories to offer the public more incentives to vote for them than just “strong and stable leadership”. However, there is a genuine desire for change and for a Labour government. Our manifesto was resoundingly popular, but people were right to point out the its practical limitations. The costing are too simplistic even for the most amateur economist to take seriously and the failure to address cuts in welfare, but scrapping student debt seems to fail those who most need society’s help. Whilst scrapping tuition fees is an admirable aim, it would benefit myself and was probably a significant factor in our emphatic victories in university towns and cities it would have given a boost to those who could probably afford to, once working, whilst not addressing welfare would fail to help the most vulnerable in society. With a limited amount of money it is essential we help those in the most need first.

If we are to win in a second election we must stay in election mode and be ready for whatever the Tories might throw at us. Failure to do so would deprive people across the country of the Labour Government they desperately need and deserve. It is important to remember Labour did not win this election, the Tories are still in power but suddenly for the first time since disappointment of 2015 I feel the glimmer of hope.

Robert Williams is Secretary of Sussex University’s Labour Society. 

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