A hopeful letter from a Labour expat


In a year which is already saturated with exhausting electoral campaigns, and less than 12 months after a referendum that has torn the UK in half, it’s hard to feel enthused about the 8 June general election – especially from over 800 km away. But, for possibly the first time in my voting life, I feel hopeful about the Labour Party and what it has to offer for British people in Europe and back home.

Getting here has been a strange political journey, but we live in interesting times and probably have even more interesting times ahead of us.

For me, growing up in a city in the middle of England in the late 90s and 2000s, the Labour Party was both the stuff of historical legend – the workers’ party which fought for public services and social justice – and a disappointing reality.

The “workers’ party” was a slick centrist machine which was crazy about the financial innovation of the City of London, but not so keen on social justice; which talked big about “aspiration” but didn’t deliver a lot to left behind communities. It was also the party which led us into the disastrous Iraq war.

As someone who felt ideologically left behind by everything New Labour had to offer, but still felt convinced of the potential of the Labour Party, the Labour Party of 2017 under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn seems like a chance of real change in the grim political terrain which is post-Brexit Britain.

Mr. Corbyn is truly the proverbial, yeast-based sandwich spread of British politics – like Marmite, you either love him or hate him. But it’s not the personality at the top, it’s the policies revealed in the Labour Manifesto that give me real hope.

Firstly, with Labour, the frequent question I get from German acquaintances and colleagues – “Will you even be able to stay here after Brexit?” – has a far surer answer. Labour have demonstrated their commitment to protecting the rights of UK citizens abroad, and EU citizens in Britain, in their campaign manifesto.

This is in stark contrast to Theresa May’s previous refusal to guarantee the rights of millions of British citizens abroad and EU workers in the UK. The aggression with which Mrs. May has opened negotiations does not bode well for Europe’s collective future – nor does the fact that lead Brexit campaigner and xenophobic blunderer par excellence, Boris Johnson, represents the UK as Foreign Secretary.

What really gives me hope in the Labour Party are the domestic policies which have been launched.

Proposed Labour policies such as free university education, free school dinners and a nationalised train network point towards a view of an economy and society run for the many and not the few – a radical change from the political vision which has dominated in politics for so long, and which often has me despairing about the social and economic conservatism of life “back home”.

Here we see a breath of fresh air in politics; but is it something people will support after years of Conservative rule? Will Labour get voters to the polls?

I think now really is the time for a bold new direction. Brexit was many things, but Brexit decisively showed us that people – a democratic majority in fact – are discontent with “politics as normal” and that there is a real desire for a new direction. This election will decide which direction we take.

The Conservative Party plan on tapping into the toxic legacy of this Brexit vote, to tap into fear and distrust. They promise cuts to immigration and scaremonger about scarce resources and foreigners taking BRITISH jobs, BRITISH hospital beds, BRITISH houses und so weiter.

In terms of concrete change they offer little, and as a British citizen abroad, the thought of Brexit in Conservative hands is terrifying.

What gives me hope is that Labour are attempting to address the root causes of the discontent which led to Brexit: the crap pay, the collapsing public services, the idea that access to education and social success is a vicious battle. Labour will boost the minimum wage, fund our public services through increased taxes on the rich and guarantee free childcare and university education.

Even here in Germany, it was interesting to observe the “shock” felt by the media when just last week the SPD were soundly defeated in their own historical heartland of Nordrhein-Westfalen. It came as a grim sort of pleasure to see that it’s not just in the UK where the language of social justice alone doesn’t cut it with the electorate anymore.

Mr. Schultz could do well to observe how the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn have, in their new manifesto, put deeds to words when it comes to their promise of running the country “for the many, not the few”. That’s what gives me hope about what will be a hell of a fight over the next few weeks.

(Note: UK citizens living abroad have until Monday, 22 May, to register to vote in the 8 June elections.)

By Daniel Strange

Daniel Strange is a member of Labour International in Germany. The views of opinion piece writers do not necessarily reflect the views of The Leipzig Glocal. We encourage our contributors and readers to share diverse perspectives, and welcome constructive comments and discussion.

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