Labour's strong performance at the 2017 general election demonstrated that policy ambition need not be a barrier to electoral success for parties of the left. Yet it also allowed all of us - including this journal - to sidestep hard and necessary reflection about the work needed to build a social democratic majority in twenty-first century Britain. After last year's electoral rout, the future is uncertain. We must face it without illusions.
Here we go again. Labour members, and other left and liberal Britons who wish the party well (or should do), are going through the Groundhog Day experience of picking over defeat. Some of the mood music - especially about the need for Labour to reconnect with 'communities' through new organising initiatives - was present in both 2015 and 2010. Yet in electoral terms, Labour's position is probably worse. A 1997-style swing is required for even a small majority, and the party will now be forced to actively defend many once-safe seats that are now knife-edge marginals.
Labour must rebuild, meanwhile, in a horrifyingly unfamiliar and threatening political landscape, at home and around the world. The Conservatives have the means and the ambition (if not, we must hope, the skill) to transform the political and economic settlement of a post-Brexit Britain. Under Boris Johnson, they are little concerned with the mores and conventions of liberal democracy. As it proclaims its post-Brexit exceptionalism, the UK will continue to follow the US, Russia, India and Brazil down the road to authoritarian plutocracy.
Renewal endorsed and wanted to develop the radical policy programme advanced by Labour at the 2017 and 2019 elections. There were good reasons for doing so. The circumstances demanded radicalism - and they still do. Amid a meltdown of 'centrist' political reasoning and a radicalisation of the right, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell offered policies matched to the scale of the crises facing capitalism, democracy and the climate.
Renewal came to see our role as helping Labour get ready for government: advancing a new political economy based on democratic ownership and climate justice, and drawing attention to the broader international and social contexts that would frame British politics. But we stopped asking hard questions about the party's effectiveness as a vehicle for that policy radicalism, either as an electoral or as a governing proposition. We were no longer preoccupied with interrogating Labour's position within the British state and the British party system, as we were before the party's deceptively strong result in 2017. Like so many after that, we clung to the slowly fading hope that a latent majority for 'real change' was already in being, trusting to radical policy and energetic canvassing as a...