On Lessons from Portugal

In today’s article, Guy Cooper talks about how we can learn lessons from Europe, and particularly Portugal, about being both Socialist AND electable. Guy is the Youth Officer for Fylde CLP and the Campaigns Officer for Blackpool & Fylde Young Labour. He is also a member of Unite the Union and Momentum and has just done a Masters degree in the History of Art.

As I write this article, the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa is visiting Goa in Southern India. It must be a source of great pride for both Portugal and India that Mr. Costa is the first person of Indian origin to lead a European country. Alongside his reputation as an international statesman, Costa has good poll ratings in Portugal as well as an enviable reputation across the globe. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, he’s a socialist! Whilst progressive politics seem to be taking a hit across Western Europe, Costa and his Portuguese coalition government are a living, breathing example of socialism in action.

I believe that by looking to Portugal as an example, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party can win a general election, whenever it may be, by presenting themselves as simultaneously radical and competent.

The parallels between Antonio Costa and Jeremy Corbyn are striking – particularly in terms of the predictable barrage of abuse launched at both men by the dinosaurs of the right wing press and right wing politicians. We can all recall the risible attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by most of the press, and I wont give them more air time by repeating it. Similarly before Costa took office in Portugal, the outgoing centre right Prime Minister said; “I hope not to be summoned back to a house in flames.” The message is always the same, socialists cannot be trusted to run a country. It is therefore a source of great delight that Costa has proved his critics wrong and enjoys such impressive support in the country..

I believe that by emulating Antonio Costa, and following these five key points, Jeremy Corbyn can become the visionary and radical Prime Minister that this country so desperately needs.

Unite Society around an anti-austerity programme.

As we prepare to exit the European Union, it is now more important than ever that Jeremy Corbyn forms relationships with other anti-austerity champions across the continent. Once again it is an idea that Corbyn has mentioned but one that I don’t believe we have seen enough evidence of. The Tories very successfully spun the idea that austerity was the only viable economic option. Anything else would be lunacy they said. Only by demonstrating that austerity is failing across Europe will the Labour Party be able to regain public trust on the economy. I would like to see more co-operation between Corbyn, Antonio Costa, Pablo Iglesias, Jean-Luc Melenchon and others to demonstrate that austerity has failed and that there is a viable alternative.

Form an anti-austerity coalition throughout Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to austerity has always been known and he has thankfully managed, along with John McDonnell, to transform the Labour Party into an anti-austerity movement. It is important though, to really drill the anti-austerity message home from now until the next General Election. In Portugal, Antonio Costa realised the importance of pitching himself strongly against austerity. Instead of scapegoating migrants or immigrants or welfare, Costa pitched himself and his party against the economic elite and on the side of ordinary people. If Corbyn can do the same he will begin to draw more voters to the Labour Party as we begin to feel the economic effects of Brexit.

At least discuss the idea of an anti-austerity coalition.

Antonio Costa was only able to roll back the tide of austerity in Portugal with the help of other parties. I believe that we in the Labour Party need to at least discuss the idea of a so called, ‘progressive coalition’, so that we can defeat Tory austerity. As distasteful as it may sound, we may need to consider holding our nose and working with other parties (the Glib Dems included…).

Demonstrate that being anti-austerity and fiscally disciplined are the same thing.

To win a General Election, Labour needs to be trusted on the economy. Simple. I believe that when many people hear the Labour Party fighting against austerity and demanding investment they assume that this means the Labour party will be reckless and frivolous with the economy. Portugal has proved that his is not the case. Portugal has ditched the idea of austerity and as such it has a falling deficit, falling unemployment and economic growth. PM Costa has also increased workers protection and rights which we are told by so many on the right would deter investment. Once again Portugal has demonstrated that this is not the case. In 2016 VW and Bosch invested millions of pounds into Portugal and will continue to do so in 2017. Labour needs to repeat this ad nauseam to show what a socialist economy looks like!

Be hopeful and positive!

Although it may sound a bit simplistic, after a miserable 2016 and a poor start to 2017, it would be easy for those on the progressive side of politics to let their heads drop. I believe that by looking to Portugal we can see that progressive change is still possible and that should energise us! Portugal must be a socialist beacon for all of Europe and by following its example I believe that the United Kingdom can successfully follow suit.

Guy Cooper




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