When Corbynist Labour lost their second election in 2019, many socialists were left scratching their heads. Jeremy Corbyn, the man whose feverish popularity among hardline socialists had seen him survive the party’s greatest antisemitism crisis in decades, was gone. As the nationalist right bathed in its post-victory hubris, it was socialists who were left asking big questions about their political future. While many have continued to vocalise support for the former Labour leader, a growing number of socialists have begun searching for socialism on their terms.
To be clear: out of the 2019 ashes, a phoenix is yet to rise. But for those leftists looking for fresh beginnings, a new socialist party has formed. In 2021, former Labour member, Alex Mays, founded The Breakthrough Party.
Breakthrough describes itself as a ‘democratic socialist party’ that ‘aims to disrupt the current status quo, promote and secure a socialist government’. The party ‘operates on a grass roots, member-motivated structure and is steered by a democratically elected National Comittee and leadership duo, Sherilyn Wileman and Alex Mays’.
One year on, the party has amassed over 22 000 Twitter followers, and recently welcomed the Mayor of Bangor, Owen Hurcum, into their party, joining three other Breakthrough councillors (all Labour defectors) across England. In light of the party’s first-year anniversary, Politika News spoke with Deputy Leader Sherliyn Wileman on socialism in British politics, the housing crisis, and defying cynics.
A big question to start with, but one that is on many people’s lips on the left. Can socialism really get elected in our current political system?
This is an important question! I’m under no illusion with regards to the current electoral, media and establishment system – it’s definitely stacked against us, because those few who benefit from things the way they are will fight tooth and nail to preserve it.
The way I see things, a big part of their plan is to weaken people to the point where they have little financial, physical and emotional reserve left and thus little flexibility to deal with change. They think that this can then be used to scare people from the radical changes of socialism.
However, I genuinely feel that as a society we are becoming more altruistic, more empathetic and more understanding as we experience the hardships of circumstances like COVID, the cost-of-living crisis and stealth NHS privatisation together. More and more people stand in agreement that our current capitalist system is not only unduly precarious, but also completely unsustainable!
With this collective agreement comes power, both in communities and on the ballot paper. It goes without saying that I’m a staunch advocate for PR and electoral reform, but I firmly believe that even if the rules of “democracy” continue to be re-written by our power-hungry Tory government, that we will still find a way out on the ground!
One of your party’s core aims is to end the housing crisis. What does the crisis look like in Britain today?
The housing crisis in Britain today is absolutely dire.
Home ownership for younger generations is rapidly declining as we see greedy landlords buying up vast swathes of affordable houses to rent out privately to tenants or to students. Rent alone is costing tenants anywhere between 30-50% – sometimes even more – of their income and on top of other outgoings is making saving impossible, trapping millions of us tenants in the renting market for years and years.
The quality of social housing and private rental properties shocks me. We see properties built with unsafe cladding, riddled with damp and mould and not sufficiently insulated, amongst so many other issues. As a private renter myself I understand the insecurity of knowing that you are essentially beholden to a landlord you may never have met or had any direct contact with. We need huge investment into genuinely affordable social housing, action and accountability on housing quality and to bring an end to no-fault evictions.
Amid the pain and suffering caused by COVID itself, the secondary consequences of the pandemic have been sidelined. How has COVID exacerbated existing inequalities in British society?
COVID has definitely seen the billionaires grow, the poor become poorer and pushed many people who were financially coping into a state of insecurity. But these inequalities have existed for years.
I think that COVID has shone a light on them because for the first time since World War Two the country has faced a collective profound change in circumstances and therefore everyone has been able to relate to everyone else on some level, even if it’s just on the emotional impact of lockdowns.
I think this has made people who perhaps weren’t aware before, aware of how choking and claustrophobic poverty is. Poverty is not a restriction that can be lifted and unlifted, it does not go away with a 6pm announcement or a “next slide please”. Poverty is like a permanent lockdown; a permanent set of rules inflicted upon the existence of those who are burdened with it.
Two words that appear on your website are ‘revolution’ and ‘democratic’. Some would say these two concepts are mutually exclusive. What is your response to this?
I feel like you’ve almost spared me an awkward future canvassing moment by asking me this question! Democracy underpins Breakthrough‘s internal structure and progress and is something we absolutely cherish. I don’t always view revolution in the classic sense of anarchy and chaos. I think for example what the Tories are doing to systematically dismantle our NHS and strip us of our rights to protest could be viewed as a revolution against democracy.
I believe that if they were to have the courage to ask this country via referendum if they would want to preserve a public healthcare system and ability to cause disruption through protest for example, a majority would vote yes. Meanwhile, the Tories are quietly chipping away at these fundamental treasures in our society. I see that as a slow overthrow, a revolution, of sorts.
So we fight back with our own little revolution based upon what our members want. And what’s more, socialist policies which would see power and dignity restored back to ordinary people are becoming increasingly favoured in national surveys too. Just without the word socialism attached, of course. Funny that, isn’t it…
This year, the international non-profit civic alliance, Civicus, added the UK to its global human rights watchlist ‘due to a rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms’. Do you think this is justified?
The phrase “disappointed, but not surprised” comes to mind. I think this is justified. We have seen the Tories attempt to pass some of the most draconian legislation in years.
I recently took to the streets in Manchester with fellow comrades to protest the ongoing Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. I was particularly alarmed at how vague and prejudice a lot of terms in this proposed bill were. For example, criminalising people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community for the assumption that they would be “likely to” cause disruption and demonstrators whose protests are “annoying”.
For years now we have also seen the police force become more brutal and devise ways to insidiously infiltrate and spy on the lives of activists, whilst seemingly protecting or turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of the government. It’s a big club that’s for sure, but we ain’t in it.
Finally, what do you say to any of our readers who may be feeling disillusioned with British politics, or helpless in making a difference?
Have confidence. Don’t sell your own skills and ability short.
Don’t think that just because something has never been seen or done before, that means it’s wrong. If there isn’t someone in politics you feel looks like, or speaks for, or represents you – think about becoming that person yourself. I feel like the left has been in somewhat of a stalemate situation since 2019 and now we’re finally seeing a lot of people who took a couple of years out to gather their thoughts jumping back into politics again.
If party politics aren’t for you, and I genuinely understand that they aren’t for everyone, then why not create something activism-related? Start a podcast, write a song, or create a social media account to do with the topics you are passionate about. Volunteer your time, write to your MP or Cllr, donate if you can – this is all political. Build up your confidence by doing these minor acts of altruism. It’ll have a positive effect on the lives of those around you and who knows, you might just get the itch to join a new party… !
Politika News would like to thank Sherilyn and Breakthrough for their time.
Article Image Credit: The Breakthrough Party