Fort Lauderdale The voters came out from under the rocks and jumped over the hedgerows to vote for the Conservatives behind weird and wacky Boris Johnson in the recent snap election in Britain. Labour took a drubbing, even in the northern districts that had been their equivalent of the upper Midwest Democratic firewall. Johnson claimed the largest electoral margin in Parliament since Margaret Thatcher. All of this was about greasing the skids for Brexit.
There are almost as many theories about what it all means in the UK, and whether it signals danger for progressives elsewhere around the world, as there were votes. Was this a rejection of the progressive platform of Labour which included tremendous support for tenants and affordable housing, free internet access, and a goody basket of other advances? Perhaps, but others argued it was a rejection of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, rather than the political program.
Talking to Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN in the UK, he was clear that the results were disappointing. The Labour commitments to support tenant unions would have been huge for the ACORN Tenants Union which has been growing rapidly around the country in recent years. At the same times, he kept arguing there were huge opportunities for us as well. We were speaking only days after the election and an interesting thing had happened already: ACORN’s membership had surged! More than 200 members had joined in the aftermath of the election. People weren’t crawling into holes or slow dancing at a pity party. They were fired up and wanted to organize!
ACORN had been actively involved in trying to increase the number of tenants who were registered to vote in our offices. The numbers had been impressive. Total registration for this contentious election had surged by millions. On some days hundreds of thousands had registered. We were in that play all the way.
One of the interesting observations political commentators had made in the election run-up focused on the massive registration effort, particularly because the largest increases were among new young voters. One noted that the way these new registrants were favoring Labour, “age, not class” was becoming the dividing line in British politics.
The Guardian featured ACORN’s efforts prominently, especially in the north around Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Sheffield. In the wake of the article, ACORN had another membership surge as new enrollments flooded our online portals.
Simultaneously, we received a request from the Community and Tenants’ Union (CATU) in Ireland to affiliate with ACORN. Coincidence? Probably. But it all comes to sharp point at the same time.
We don’t know what the Conservative victory or the coming Brexit withdrawal will really mean for Britain, but from ACORN’s experience in these brief days before Christmas, it’s clear: people want to organize, and they want to fight.