The Brighton and Hove left has a few lessons to learn
It is easy, these days, to forget that just two years ago, a minority Labour council would have preferred to work with the Tory group, rather than with the Greens. So much has changed in such a short time.
The city now has a council leader who is open to working with the left across party-lines, as well as with community activists and campaigning groups, to solve the big problems that our city faces.
We also now have a batch of councillors (both from Labour and the Greens) that is selected, by and large, from the ranks of those very activist groups.
In an important sense, we now have a truly grassroots council.
The story of our transformed council is not altogether disparate from the story of the transformation of the Labour party from a right-of-centre neoliberal, tough on immigration, rabidly militaristic and managerial party, to the grassroots socialist machine that it is today. Momentum has been the catalyst for much of that change, whether inside the party or now at the council.
But whether or not grassroots socialists can see it, there is much that we must learn from the ancien regime, if we are to make the most of our ascendency.
Perhaps the most important lesson the left needs to learn is that nothing lasts forever – especially in politics. At the height of the old regime, it seemed that their rise was unstoppable and that their actions were irreversible.
This led them to operate with pride and impunity. They showed their opponents no respect, repudiated any compromise with even conscientious objectors and crushed those who disagreed under their boots.
The left must take a different approach.
There are three things the left can do to ensure that leftwing ideas, under the umbrella of municipal socialism, take root and outlive this historic moment.
First, the left needs to understand that internal party fights are not all interesting to anyone outside the Labour party. However important those fights may be – and they are often quite important – they make the left look negative and shambolic.
This image is exacerbated by the fact that the media always prefers the side of the story that casts the left as villains.
This is of course not to say that the left ought not to fight those battles where necessary. It is to say that the left should not fight them as though they are the left’s sole raison d’etre.
Second, the left needs to offer a positive vision for the city. People are not motivated by a desire to be against something; they need something to be hopeful about, something to fight for. This means giving policy flesh to the idea of municipal socialism.
The left needs to create an avenue, in collaboration with activist-experts across the city, for producing creative, well thought through and legally workable policy ideas to solve some of the problems people face in the city, from homelessness and community safety to green spaces and environmental pollution.
Offering a positive vision also means taking the lead in helping formulate a climate agenda for the city as well as helping in the fight to prevent academisation and the sell-off of public property (like the Brighton General Hospital).
Lastly, the left needs to redouble efforts in community campaigning. In the past year, Momentum has worked with a good many local campaigning groups and charities in the city on important issues, from Acorn and Sussex Homeless Support on housing and homelessness to Park Life, Spoonstrike and Extinction Rebellion on green spaces, workers’ rights and climate change. There is so much more to do.
This is precisely how the left wins in the long-term. Residents of Brighton and Hove will be willing partners in this as they showed at the council election.
Johnbosco Nwogbo is an activist involved with several social movements in the city and a PhD researcher in philosophy at Sussex University.