As we’re well into the Holiday season now, many people are looking back at 2019 and also looking ahead to 2020. 2019 has been a crazy year and has left us all with a lot to chew on and think about. Or at least, that’s where my mind is at these days. 2019 has taught many lessons for those who wish to learn from them, something that many people have shown us is not a guarantee. For progressives though, we’ve had a lot of big lessons that we need to perk up to fast. The topper of those lessons came just last week in the UK, but we also saw similar lessons in Canada in our Federal Election in the Fall. The open question that remains though is if we’ll learn from them.
Coming into this year some progressives were pointing to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders as the models that we should be following in Canada to achieve booming success. Radical change, they told us, would be the way forward that would get us to the promised land. We were supposed to forget the very basic fact that neither of these people had ever won a general election, or in the case of Sanders, never even got to the general election, we were supposed to be in awe of what they had accomplished and follow their lead to glory. And not to forget, those of us who dared to point out these major salient facts out were told that we were any variation of words that questioned our dedication, our integrity and alike.
This whole idea was something that we saw coming into 2019 in a strong way and I think that I can state with some safety that the results of this year, when faced with rising further-right sentiments in certain countries, was a wipeout. The UK General Election was a massive exclamation point on that to end the year, that should have made a strong point, again if people wanted to hear it. At home in Canada, we saw some stark examples of this. In Quebec we saw the rise of the CAQ with the closest progressive options being relegated to third and fourth party status. In Alberta, we saw the fall of the Alberta NDP government, with help from self-proclaimed “better progressives” slamming the work done by Premier Rachel Notley and kneecapping her government at every chance. And then in our Federal election, we saw the NDP relegated to fourth party and thanks to a strong performance from Jagmeet Singh, avoided complete disaster.
Then we saw what happened in the UK just last week, which should have been the biggest blaring warning to progressives everywhere. Labour got trounced, their worst result since before World War Two, lost to Conservative Boris Johnson of all people, and managed to make this all happen with a kind of tone deaf, terrible campaigning that will be a case study for how not to run a campaign for years to come. Between the record setting unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn, the issues in the Labour party under his leadership with anti-Semitism, and a promise to go hard left and basically nationalize everything under the sun, Corbyn’s team managed to do something that should have been extremely hard, if not impossible; make Boris Johnson look competent by comparison.
Corbyn lost seats that Labour had held for decades, working class areas of Britain that had seen Labour as their ally and partner for generations. And yet many of those voters moved away from Labour, mostly because of Corbyn himself. In many of those ridings, the Conservative vote didn’t soar for the most part; it was the swift and brutal decline in Labour’s vote that swung those seats from Red to Blue. The embarrassing result of that campaign, and the result of a Conservative majority government, should have brought some reflection by Labour and its leader, who has already said he’s going to resign (eventually). But what’s come in the aftermath of this is screaming another lesson at us all, one that we need to hear:
A week later, I am still gobsmacked at Corbyn’s response to what happened yet at the same time, not the least bit stunned. Corbyn’s response that “we won the argument” is exactly the kind of whistling past the graveyard that I would expect from him and his acolytes. Sorry, but they didn’t win a damn thing. They lost the election, the argument and the ability to do anything to stop the Conservative. They lost, lost, lost. The part that gobsmacked me here was that he was so thoroughly thumped that I would have thought that even he couldn’t ignore it, but no. There it was, showing that he simply doesn’t get it and has no interest in getting in. Another prime example of that came a few days later, which I believe speaks volumes to the character, or lack there of, in Corbyn himself:
When it comes to being a party leader, there are some basic things that you are expected to do, win or lose. One of those is supporting your candidates, regardless of the result. That involves talking to them after the fact, calling them and getting their views. At the top of that list should be any incumbent MPs who lost. That would be a natural place to stop, as these people were Mr. Corbyn’s colleagues in Parliament. You would think it would be a sign of at least basic decency, especially given everything that has happened with Labour under Corbyn’s leadership. The fact is that many long time and well liked MPs left over his leadership, so you’d think that he would want to show more appreciation for those who stayed put, stood in and ran for the party in this campaign. But no, five days after the campaign was over, he couldn’t bring himself to call that outgoing MP in question, to face her after she served under his leadership and gave him a chance. If that’s how you treat those who dare to stand in for you, it makes those who decided to leave because of your leadership look much better. And yeah, it makes Corbyn look exactly as that MP described her.
In the aftermath of the UK campaign though, the “explanations” for what lead to that historic loss is giving off another blaring warning to progressives. I’ve read people blame so many different things for this massive defeat; Brexit, the media, Blairites, racists, greed and on and on and on. For everyone one of those excuses comes another whistle past the grave yard and ignores what so many have been saying for years; that the Emperor of Islington North had no clothes, and never did.
But to admit such facts is too much for those who have held Corbyn up as the messiah, and so they will lay blame everywhere but in their own directions. They will continue to say that those of us progressives who dare to point this out, that have the temerity to suggest a more moderate path that is not subject to purity tests at every turn, are sell outs, “right-wing careerists”, and alike. They will continue to say that losing elections against Conservatives is really a win, and that to make any compromise to actually form government in an attempt to advance issues we all care about is really selling out. Oh, and they say this as they point accusatory fingers at the likes of Jason Kenney for undoing the progressive policies put in place by the likes of Rachel Notley’s NDP, the same leader and party they accuse as being sellouts. And they do it with no sense of irony at all.
This should all be a lesson for 2020 and the next decade to come. We’ll see more examples of this in the next few months, when Bernie Sanders doesn’t win the Democratic nomination again and actually does worse that he did in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. The question for us progressives elsewhere is what are we going to do to reverse this trend and, you know, actually win government? That is the whole point of a political party in the end; to win elections and put your policies into effect. When you look at the experiments of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, you can objectively say that while they have won a battle or two along the way, they’ve been completely trounced in every war they fought.
And that’s not my personal editorializing; that’s what the actually hard numbers have shown us when their approaches have faced the electorate. They have failed time and again to win government and instead of looking to learn lessons from those defeats, many of their supporters instead decide to denigrate those progressives who actually win campaigns and form government for not being pure enough for them. The fact is that governing, by its very nature, means making compromise on some level and that means making hard choices. Through their approach, many of these folks seem fine to leave it to Conservatives to make those choices instead of having deigning to role up their sleeves and face the prospect of making a few of those choices themselves, in case they risk having to make a compromise or two.
In the end, we need to learn the hard lessons from 2019 to try to bring some positive change and calm to 2020, which already promises to be more difficult than 2020. It should be noted that the Alberta NDP, who some love to run down, has as many seats in the Alberta Legislature (24) as the Federal NDP has in Ottawa (24). The Manitoba NDP, another common target for a “lack of purity”, won 18 seats this year, 6 less than the Federal NDP, in a legislature that has six times fewer seats than the Parliament of Canada. And the BC NDP government over the past two years has made progress on real progressive issues, despite being attacked for the same crimes of impurity because of a handful of decisions they’ve made. They even got UNDRIP into law, which is historic progress. So maybe, just maybe, instead of spending 2020 throwing stones at those provincial parties for their supposed imperfections and sins we should be looking at them as a model for forming an NDP government in Ottawa. If this year has taught us anything, maybe it’s that they have a real way forward to progress, rather than the dead ends that Corbyn has led Labour to in the UK. But hey, I guess time will tell.