6 Lessons from the UK Election for National Improved Medicare for All

Britain had mass youth riots before us, the biggest anti-government resistance movement since the 60s before us, Conservative victories in 2015 and then Brexit before Trump. What happened last week says a lot about the future of politics in this country. It's also telling for what lies ahead in the fight for single payer healthcare and how we’re going to win. Here are six key takeaways from the 2017 UK General Election for our movement:

1. This is the end of the center-left as we know it. In democracies across the world, we have seen a polarization of politics, with far-right populists and ethnonationalists sparring against a new wave of leftist political activism as the traditional center-left collapses under its own weight. The process has a name, Pasokification, after the Democrat-esque Greek center-left party that went from a major government player into a fringe institution overnight after an election in 2015. 

Had Labour replaced Jeremy Corbyn with a centrist, Theresa May and the Conservative party would have won by a landslide. Instead, we see a leftist coalition built on a visionary plan for a future for the many rather than for the few taking on a highly popular right-wing government and almost beating it entirely after only six weeks of campaigning.

Some will bring up Macron in France as an example of a centrist, neoliberal political party holding its own against the far right. But we need to remember that Nazi sympathizers and collaborators founded the Front National. As Naomi Klein has said, the Front National is more David Duke than Donald Trump. Defeating a party founded by Nazi sympathizers is not a good litmus test for the popularity of centrist politics.

What we do see in Corbyn's Labour leadership is the viability of socialist and social democratic policies as a winnable alternative to the far right. The argument that Sanders had a better chance at winning the 2016 election has been strengthened. That said, Sanders has a history of hugging the center left.  We need to keep calling his office to make it known that the Medicare for All bill he’s putting together right now has to be a companion bill to HR676 that guarantees healthcare based on principles of universality, accountability, equity, transparency, and participation. Hopefully, his recent visit to the UK has reminded him that these compromises aren’t necessary.

2. The Labour manifesto, a visionary policy document outlining the party’s priorities, resonated with British youth, who were expected to not turn out. But they did. Appealing to the youth vote with a radical message is a better strategy than appealing to the right, as Clinton did fatally in 2016.  Ed Miliband failed miserably as the head of Labour in the 2015 election - the "I'm Voting Labour for Controls on Immigration" mugs they put out for sale during that campaign didn't go down so well. 

Labour's "Controls on Immigration" mug from the 2015 election. After promising a leftist campaign, the party veered to the right, likely Labour voters failed to turn out, and the Conservatives celebrated a massive electoral victory.

Labour's "Controls on Immigration" mug from the 2015 election. After promising a leftist campaign, the party veered to the right, likely Labour voters failed to turn out, and the Conservatives celebrated a massive electoral victory.

In contrast, Corbyn's election shows that if you as a politician are willing to support left social movements, even and especially at your own expense because you know it’s the right thing to do, you will be gifted with a massive influx of energetic and talented campaign volunteers.

Becoming a champion for HR-676 is crucial for US politicians facing tough re-election battles in 2018, especially when young people tend to not turn out in high numbers for midterm elections. Democrats took the youth vote for granted in 2016. Just because the youth didn’t turn out for them, that doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future.

Along with free college tuition, paid sick leave and the fight for 15, National Improved Medicare for All is a project that appeals to the sensibilities of the same demographic that just destroyed Theresa May’s career. Labour only didn’t win because she called the election at the height of her popularity and they only had six weeks to campaign.

3. Brexit was a protest vote against the status quo. It also had strong elements of racism and xenophobia. Last night we saw populations that voted Brexit also chose a leftist vision of a government for the many, not for the few. A left populist platform can bring voters – even baby boomers – back from the pearl clutching racism of the far right. Much anti-racist work needs to be done here and the UK. But it’s important to note that hope for the future was a greater motivation last night than fear of the immigrant other.

4. Mainstream media cannot be relied on to support or accurately represent the advocacy work we do, or to give a fair chance to politicians who champion our message. We have to be our own media if we want to win. Every mainstream media source, even The Guardian, wrote Corbyn off as a radical old man out of touch with reality. Independent and activist-run media organizations like The Canary and Novara stepped into this role and in many cases provided superior commentary to established sources.

5. The far left needs to stop distancing itself from electoral politics. This doesn’t mean that people who have felt disenfranchised should shut up and vote for whichever Democrat is on the ticket. Corbyn’s leadership of Labour happened because the young activists who he had offered support to during the student and anti-austerity movements made him the leader of the Labour Party. And then campaigned on the streets to get him elected. In many ways, this election has been a reckoning of scores for left social movements. The victory is more theirs than Labour's.

6. Labour may have won enough seats to make it difficult for the Conservatives to form a government, but the latter still won the election. Labour would have won if it hadn’t been for continuing attempts within the Labour Party to replace Jeremy Corbyn with a centrist alternative.

Some centrists will cling to the status quo and try to poison our message that healthcare is a human right, calling it an impossible task or something to be done at the state level or something to wait another decade for. That’s the DNC party line. But the Democrats have a choice to make: they can either be the party with a platform based on whining and using Russia and Trump as an excuse for inaction, or they can be the party of the future. 

In the meantime, our movement will continue to grow. National Improved Medicare for All is no longer a pipe dream – it’s the future. 

Brittany Shannahan is the Statewide Organizer for the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign. An educator, social scientist, and historian, Brittany has been involved in a variety of social movements in the US and the UK since 2009. You can follow her on Twitter at @ecoshenanigans.