Time to get real!

In "Time to Get Real," Allan Todd urges British progressives and socialists to make pragmatic voting choices in the upcoming 2024 election that could defeat the extreme right wing Tory government, even if that requires backing imperfect Labour candidates rather than indulging in well-meaning political gestures that risk enabling further Conservative rule.


With a general election looming, this is a plea to all those who see themselves as political ‘progressives’, radicals, or on the left, to ‘get real’ when it comes to voting in this year’s general election.

Unfortunately, history has shown that such organisations and individuals very often fail to ‘get real’ at crucial times and then find themselves shedding tears of regret, pain, frustration, and anger when the dust of elections has settled. Here are two examples of when too few people ‘got real’: one dating back to the late 1920s or early 1930s, and one to 2019.

A fatal disunity

As early as November 1930, Trotsky, alarmed at the rise of fascism generally in Europe, called for an anti-fascist ‘United Front’ in Germany between all socialists and communists to oppose the rising Nazi Party. While an increasing number of ordinary members of both parties began responding to this call, their leaderships both decided to continue fighting each other instead. This included no cooperation when it came to elections, even when it became increasingly clear that a Nazi victory would be disastrous for all left-wing parties and the trade unions. In January 1932, with the Nazi vote having increased in successive elections from the late 1920s onwards, Trotsky warned in his pamphlet, ‘What Next?’, that:

“When a state turns fascist…it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated;…Therein precisely is the gist of fascism.”

Trotsky’s call for a United Front against fascism before 1933: unheeded by far too many on the ‘left’
Trotsky’s call for a United Front against fascism before 1933: unheeded by far too many on the ‘left’

In April 1931, as events unfolded in Spain prior to the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he made a similar plea for a ‘United Front’ there, between socialists, communists, and anarchists. According to Issac Deutscher, Trotsky’s first major biographer, his attempts to get such political cooperation amongst the left—in the face of such a serious fascist threat—were his “greatest political deed in exile.”

Yet, in both cases, his call went unheeded. In fact, in Germany, the Communist Party termed the Socialist Party a ‘social fascist’ party that was MORE of a threat to working people than the Nazi Party!! Well, we know how that all turned out.

In the last genuinely free election in Germany, in November 1932, the Nazis ended up as the biggest single party, with 196 seats—but with a loss of 34 seats. Two months later, Hitler was invited by Germany’s conservative elites to form a government. Yet in that election, the Socialists won 121 seats and the Communists 100 seats. Combined, that is 25 MORE seats than the Nazis. And that was achieved despite years of non-cooperation and even attacking each other.

Over the past few years, elections in various European states have shown that electoral cooperation between radical and left parties nearly always leads to winning more votes and seats than those parties had done separately in the past. Had socialists and communists in Germany acted differently, it’s even quite possible that the Second World War could have been avoided. Even after the war had broken out, and despite Stalin’s repressive actions, Trotsky continued to reach out in order to achieve a united opposition to fascism and its war machine. That’s precisely what ‘getting real’ looks like.

General Election, 2019

Moving on to a year MUCH closer to today, we have the general election of 2019. Despite what ‘progressive’ papers like ‘The Guardian’ and ‘progressive’ parties like the LibDems and Greens had to say, the two most important issues facing voters in that election were NOT Corbyn’s alleged ‘anti-semitism’ or Brexit. Instead, the two most pressing concerns were rising poverty and the worsening climate and ecological crises.

Rightwing propaganda in 2019: a message heeded by far too many ‘progressives’

After nine years of Tory and LibDem austerity, the number of people forced to depend on food banks was continuing to increase rapidly. According to the Trussell Trust, between April and September of that year, they’d had to give out over 820,000 emergency food parcels in 6 months: a 23% INCREASE over the same period in 2018.

The reality of capitalism in 2019: what ‘progressives’ should have cared about
The reality of capitalism in 2019: what ‘progressives’ should have cared about

While, as regards the existential threats posed by the Climate and Ecological Crises, the UN and the World Meteorological Organisation pointed out, at the end of 2019, that the global average temperature was already 1.1C higher than the pre-industrial level and that average temperatures for 2015–19 and 2010–19 were the HIGHEST on record. As a direct result, there has been a marked increase in the frequency and magnitude of ‘extreme weather events’ such as exceptional heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. According to a Christian Aid report, 15 Climate Crisis events in 2019 alone resulted in damages costing more than $1 billion each, with half of those events resulting in bills of over $10 billion.

ALL that information—on food banks and the climate—was known BEFORE the 2019 general election. Given our unfair voting system, voters had a clear choice: Johnson or Corbyn as the next prime minister. No one else—not even the excellent Caroline Lucas—was ever going to be the next PM. What should have made voting decisions easy in the vast majority of seats was the FACT that Corbyn, unlike Johnson, was offering real action to end ever-rising austerity-related inequalities. By 2017, such austerity (essentially a political choice to take money from the 99% in order to fund tax cuts for the 1%) had already resulted in over 120,000 deaths, termed by Professor Lawrence King as “economic murder.” Since then, it’s estimated that there have been over 330,000 austerity-related deaths in the UK.

If all that were not enough to help people make the right voting choice, Corbyn was also offering a Green New Deal, which Friends of the Earth judged to be the most ambitious programme on the Climate Crisis ever put before the British electorate. 

So… how did ‘progressives’ decide? Far too many of them judged, bizarrely, that poverty and climate were NOT the most important issues. Instead, the manufactured ‘anti-semitism’ issue and Brexit were what mattered most to them. ‘The Guardian’, for instance, ran over 1000 articles between 2017 and 2019, smearing Corbyn with false allegations. In addition, the LibDems decide to form a ‘Unite to Remain’ pact in order to attract votes AWAY from Labour—even to the point of targeting marginal Labour seats held by… PRO-Remain Labour MPs! In all of the 10 seats allocated to the Greens by this pact, the Tories replaced the sitting Labour MPs, helping to give Johnson his big majority.

Those ‘progressives’ who abandoned the precautionary principle in order to indulge their personal ‘privilege’ of voting for the party they ‘liked best’, should ask themselves this question:

“Is it at all credible than Corbyn would have handled the pandemic in exactly the same eugenics-based, inefficient and corrupt way as Johnson?”

Then recall that total COVID deaths in the UK are now approaching 250,000. And then they should try sleeping at night!

The next general election

And so we come to 2024—and another general election. And, just to be clear, in case the excitement of electioneering causes people to forget reality and recent history, what will be on offer will be either the continuation of this most hard-right of all Tory governments OR a Labour government headed by Starmer. If we had a much fairer and more democratic electoral system—and I’ve supported some form of PR for almost exactly 50 years—then other political outcomes might be on the table.

But we DON’T have such a system, so we have to work with what we’ve got. That’s what ‘getting real’ means in practice.

As regards the Tories, we know what we’ll be getting if they win: more austerity (currently termed the ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis, but its results are the same) and inequality; completely ALL the wrong decisions on the Climate and Ecological crises, which have gotten worse since 2019; the continual dismantling of human and democratic rights by outlawing peaceful protest and taking away the right to strike from large numbers of workers; and a set of xenophobic and racist policies that are encouraging the far right and fascist groups. We are well on the way to becoming an ‘illiberal democracy’ on a par with Orbán’s Hungary.

Is Starmer my favourite politician? Absolutely not. That’s why I’m a member of Transform (and Left Unity and ACR), not of the Labour Party. I would much rather it be Corbyn leading Labour. But you’d have to be living on a totally different planet to think a Labour government under Starmer would be EQUALLY as bad as a continuation of this Tory government. And let’s not forget what’s – or more precisely, who’s – lurking in the (right) wings of the Tory Party: Suella Braverman. Probably the leading Tory nearest in politics to Farage and Tice (or even worse), and a supporter of the ‘National Conservatism’ project, which the ‘Searchlight’ magazine has judged to be a “gateway to the far right”:

For those concerned about the worsening Climate and Ecological crises. It’s important to realise that even though Starmer has rowed back on several of Corbyn’s green policies—and, sadly, has watered down some of his own green ‘pledges’—it  now looks almost certain that several key policies will still nonetheless go into Labour’s 2024 ‘Manifesto’. In a recent interview, Starmer said he was prepared to defend these policies against any predictable Tory attack in the forthcoming election.

Capitalism’s Climate S**t-Storm has arrived - AND is getting worse year by year
Capitalism’s Climate S**t-Storm has arrived – AND is getting worse year by year

And it’s worth reminding ourselves of what policies are still on offer from Starmer, despite saying Labour would, in general, follow strict fiscal rules in office:

  • Decarbonising the National Grid by 2030
  • Getting spending on green policies up to £28bn a year by 2030
  • Setting up a new state-owned renewable energy company
  • Rolling out a massive retro-fitting programme to properly insulate 19 million of the UK’s ‘leaky’ housing stock (as well as reducing CO2 emissions, it will also take thousands of families out of fuel poverty by reducing home energy bills)

Just delivering one of those policies would be a HUGE improvement on what we know we’ll get from the Tories when it comes to climate action.

So, what to do?

Nationally, the decision on how to vote should be absolutely straightforward for all ‘progressives’, radicals, and those on the left. In most seats, what’s needed is a vote that ensures a victory for Labour candidates, and this is especially important in all marginal seats. Doing so will ensure the expulsion of the most reactionary Tory government we’ve ever had—and I’m old enough to have lived through the pain of the entire Thatcher era!—and its replacement by a less-bad Labour government.

Recent history has shown time and time again that kicking out Tory governments lifts the spirits and confidence of trade unions and social movements and empowers them to step up their demands. And this is for the simple reason that it’s easier for radical and left movements to force desired changes out of a Labour government than it is out of a Tory government, especially when it’s a very hard-right Tory government like Sunak’s.

Yet there are now two national ‘schemes’ that, whatever their stated intentions, will only help ensure another 5 years of Tory misrule. One of these projects is called ‘Stop Starmer!’—quite  frankly, it’s nothing short of self-indulgent ‘playing’ at politics. Because the reality is, if Starmer is stopped from becoming the next PM, the next occupant will be Sunak, who’ll probably soon be replaced by Braverman, who’s even further to the right than Sunak and his team.

The future: Braverman and ‘National Conservatism’ – “gateway to the far right”

The other ‘scheme’ being proposed is a nationwide spoiling of ballot papers by writing ‘None of the above!’ on them. This is something I’ve done in the past, but NOT in seats where there was any risk that, doing so, would allow a Tory to take or keep the seat. Again, by all means, express disgust at the FPTP system—in SAFE seats. But, FFS, don’t do it in marginal seats that Labour can hold or take. Unless, of course, you want to risk letting the Tories back in.

That latter strategy, if applied by enough voters in the new Cumbrian seat of Penrith and Solway (where I’m based), will only do one thing: allow the Tory candidate to get elected. And that Tory candidate is the hard-right, climate change-denier, and ‘Culture Wars’ bigot Jenkinson (currently Tory MP for the ‘Red Wall’ seat of Workington)! That alone should make the decision about how to vote in that seat one of the easiest in the country. Making the decision on how to vote even easier is that, by contrast, the Labour candidate has supported plenty of green initiatives as a local councillor, has spoken out publicly against the Whitehaven coalmine, and supports PR. The new areas brought into Penrith and Solway now make this a seat that Labour can take from the Tories, but it will be a close contest.

Do those who live in such marginal seats and who consider themselves to be politically ‘progressive’, really want to wake up on the day after the election to discover that, had they voted according to the precautionary principle instead of personal preference, they could have stopped a Tory? Especially any Tory candidate that’s on the ‘National Conservatism’ spectrum.

As the US philosopher George Santayana is supposed to have said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

I don’t have a problem with that. But I as sure as hell do object, if I can remember the past, to being nonetheless forced to’repeat history’ simply because of poor decisions made by ‘progressives’ and ‘radicals’ who, quite frankly, should know—and act—better!

Allan Todd is a member of ACR’s Council and of Left Unity’s National Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917, Ecosocialism not Extinction, Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary, and Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary


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