How do you think things have gone for the British left in the two years since the 2017 election?
I think there are a couple of different trends that are worth attending to. On the one hand, we have the deepening of the Corbyn project’s social base. Organizations like Momentum and The World Transformed have built out, with a much greater engagement in political education in particular. You’re starting to see The World Transformed operate as a locus for the political education of the Left in the UK, and events springing up in various places all around the country: Birmingham Transformed, Newcastle Transformed, Brighton Transformed, and so on.
There is an increasingly self-confident movement that is able to discuss ideas and conduct political education in a way that we haven’t seen in a very, very long time. I think that will only deepen as time goes on. As the social and resource basis of these organizations expands, the movement will further deepen and broaden out.
At the same time, the basis of the success in 2017 — a focus, after it had been avoided for forty years, on class — is being blurred, if not eradicated, by the debate around and process of Brexit. The Brexit division is not primarily based on class — this is the biggest struggle we face. It cuts across the class divide in this country, and undercuts the relevance and precision of the economic message that we’ve been putting forward.
In 2017, the big ideas that resonated broadly were nationalizations and taking a vast swath of goods and services, from public services to housing provision, outside of the market mechanism. It was the attack on vested interests, on big business, on finance. This added up to a picture of what a good life might look like, on socialist terms.
The division of the many and the few, as I flesh out in the book, is essentially an effort to bring together a coalition of people who live off work versus people who live off wealth — effectively workers versus owners. The divides over Brexit, which cut across both class and identity, along with a whole load of other things like geography, make that message much more difficult to effectively communicate. As finance and investment is allowed to flow much more freely around the world, we see parts of cities like London, Dubai, or New York sucked up into this ethereal realm of the global economy, while many other communities in the rest of the country are left behind.
Today we’re seeing something of a reversal of globalization as it runs up against its political contradictions. We are in a crisis moment of the neoliberal political-economic model, which has resulted in novel political trends like this mass movement against an international, bureaucratic organization like the European Union. Rather than attempting to fit the concerns that motivated the Leave vote in Northern working-class communities into an identitarian frame, one that portrays Northern working-class people putting their cultural interests in front of their economic interests, we should say, “No, these people are perfectly right to recognize that the last thirty years of financial globalization has significantly harmed them, while benefiting other parts of the working class in different areas of the country.”