Thirteen million votes and a net gain of 30 seats is a remarkable achievement for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the recent 2017 U.K. election shocker. Party insiders and conventional punditry had decreed Corbyn’s “loonie Left” socialism unelectable, indeed the “death knell” of the British Left. But Corbyn, with his stubborn principles and homespun style, came to represent a kind of anti-politics to an electorate tired of being lied to by the slick and the slippery. These results are not just about Corbyn but down to an impressive generational mobilization of mostly young working-class activists — first to sustain Corbyn’s hold on the Labour Party and then to creatively mobilize for electoral success. All this marks a refreshing departure from Centre-Left capitulation to neoliberal austerity until recently de rigueur for Social Democrats trying to “moderate” their way into power.
What does all this mean for Canada’s NDP, caught up in the search for a new leader? Corbyn (with Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and new Left parties like Podemos in Spain or Portugal’s Left Bloc) achieved recent electoral success by stepping outside sterile consensus politics. So far, NDP leadership candidates (with the happy if partial exception of Nikki Ashton) show little appetite of moving beyond being “all things to all people.” Candidates seek to strike a series of sensible balances between the economy and the environment, between Israelis and Palestinians, between free and fair trade, between staying under the NATO umbrella and striving for peace, between husbanding taxpayer’s dollars and meeting social needs. There is nothing wrong with balance as a principle, but these are not equivalencies, and treating them as such will mean the former always undermines the latter. This is not a path to the radical passion that has propelled recent electoral success on the Left. The NDP needs to be willing to step outside Canada’s conventional political comfort zone. Don’t hold your breath.
Richard Swift is a member of the CD Coordinating Committee. The second edition of his SOS: Alternatives to Capitalism, came out this year, published in Canada by Between the Lines.
This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canada 150).