Monday, 12 June 2017

Its Not Over

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When the general election was first called by Theresa May in April Labour had a disappointing 25 point lag behind The Conservatives. Theresa May was portrayed as the strong and stable leader that would lead us through Brexit, while Corbyn was the old, unelectable terrorist sympathiser whom the right of the labour party would point the blame to when Labour was inevitably wiped out. It was looking bleak on all counts.

Yet as series of incredible opportunities changed this consensus. A leaked Labour manifesto containing policies such as the nationalisation of key infustructure, the creation of a national investment bank and the abolishan of Tuition fees, proved incredibly popular. Some of the UKs best rap and rock musicians turned out to support Corbyn, inspiring over 70% of young people to take an interest in the Corbyn surge. While Theresa May went around the country speaking to Tory councillors and refusing to debate her opponents, Corbyn was out there speaking to huge crowds and challenging the PM to face him head to head. I could go on.
All this resulted in a tense atmosphere on Election Day. It was a make or break moment for the British left. If we got this right we would go back to being a major player in British politics. If we got this wrong, it would leave the left demoralised and unrepresented by the Labour movement. As polling stations around the country closed, and the election coverage announced the exit polls, everyone’s mouths collectively fell open. The final polls showed a hung parliament, with the Conservatives losing and labour gaining a substantial amount of seats. Throughout the night this proved to be a reality as Jeremy Corbyns Labour exceeded both their vote share and their number of seats impressively, with Labour taking conservative seats like Kensington and Canterbury. By Friday morning we had a weak Tory government propped up by, far right northern Irish party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and a strong and stable opposition led by a newly energised Jeremy Corbyn.
So where does this leave us. Let’s not forget that Theresa May called this election with the sole purpose of crushing opposition to her government. It was nothing but brazen vanity cheered on by an ever more right wing and nefarious press. Instead the opposite happened – Theresa May destroyed herself, and in the process significantly weakened the conservatives grip on power, undermining their entire reason for having an election in the first place and forcing them into a coalition with a small group of former Ulster Defence League, northern Irish fanatics. For Theresa May to do anything but resign in disgrace at this point would show her lack of decency and integrity.
Why did Labour do so well? Over the coming months the mainstream media will be attempting to set the narrative that Corbyn did not really do well, and that the success that The Tory’s were headed for was compounded by a failure to avoid the U turns that inevitably came with the criticism of Conservative policies like the Dementia Tax. However, this narrative completely fails to explain why this is the highest turnout since 1997, eclipsing Tony Blair’s result in 2005. Young voters and previous non-voters didn’t flock to Labour because they thought ‘Hmmm Theresa May isn’t very good at sticking to her promises’. Also, if this result is all down to Mays poor leadership, why didn’t Labour get a similar result in 2015, after David Cameron famously chickened out of having a head to head debate with Ed Miliband? That seems very weak and feeble as well doesn’t it?
The young have suffered disproportionately these past few years: Student Debt, a housing crisis, a lack of secure jobs, falling wages, cuts to social security – young voters have been ignored, ridiculed and demonised. This has in the past had the dangerous effect of making young people so disillusioned with politics that they don’t vote, which in turn contributes to their lack of representation by the political system. In fact, it was thought by some that, despite the Corbyn surge, the young vote would be no different at this election. One sickeningly disrespectful Tory candidate told the Huff Post that regardless of under 30s enthusiasm for Corbyn ‘they don’t care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him’. Well get of our lazy arses we did, and we made Labour the strong opposition party that this country needs.
This election result was about millions inspired by a radical, left wing programme that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustice and to challenge the vested interests holding this country back. Don’t let the press barons and conservative MPs tell you that this is wrong. Polling for years has shown that people on the whole believe that the well-off should pay more that we should invest money into our schools and hospitals, that the living wage should allow people to live, that young people should not be saddled with debt for aspiring to an education. The left has long been argued that these ideas have the support of millions: On June the 9th that argument was decisively proved correct.
Even better, Labour is now permanently transformed. Their radical, left wing, socially democratic policy proposals are now the party’s consensus. It cannot and will not be taken away. Those who claimed that its ideas would fail to get off the ground or win seats for labour were simply wrong. Labour didn’t win the general election, but being 25 points behind the Tories at the start of the election, they were never going to. That policy programme enabled Labour to eclipse Tony Blair’s swing in 1997, a stunning achievement. Social Democracy is in crisis across the whole of the western world. Many of its political parties are now nothing more than pitiful, right wing imitations of the movements they once were, Labour are one of the most successful parties are they are left wing.
However, it seems I owe Corbyn a bit of an apology. Following the Copeland By-election result earlier this year, I wrote a piece entitled On Copeland. Here I entertained the idea, notably being proliferated at the time by Owen Jones, that many had a bad impression of Jeremy Corbyn as a leader and that as a result Labour were headed for a catastrophic general election defeat (In what was then still 2020) that would crush all the things that I believe in.  Although I had previously supported Jeremy all the way, I concluded from Copeland that it would make sense for Corbyn to step down, to be replaced with someone who can carry Corbyns left wing ideas into a general election. Looking back on that blog post, I think I was naïve in suggesting that someone with Corbyns opinions could be put onto the ballot paper in a Labour Leadership contest.
I was wrong. So utterly, completely wrong. Usually when I have to admit that I am wrong about something I have written on this blog it is increasingly frustrating, due to the fact that I try and hold all my work to some sort of honest standard. In this case however, admitting I was wrong is perhaps the best thing I have ever written. Those who read the aforementioned blog post will know that it is one plagued with a kind of solemn and sad attitude towards what I was saying. I even considered never publishing the article, and filing it away in the ‘unfinished’ folder on my laptop. Never Again. Corbyn stays and – if indeed the Tories continue to be thrown into crisis – Corbyn has a very real chance of becoming the Prime Minister, and a very good PM he would be as well.
At the very least I know I was not alone in being wrong. The biggest perpetrators of all are surely the mainstream media. Both the right wing and the left wing press. Although I think one side is more likely to admit it than the other, they were wrong to vilify Corbyn supporters as delusional cultists. They were wrong to suggest that Corbyn could not mobilise young people and previous non-voters. They were wrong to suggest Corbyn couldn’t make inroads in Scotland. They were wrong to suggest Labour couldn’t take seats of the Tories in England. They were wrong to suggest a radical left wing programme was a recipe for electoral disaster. Labour may not have formed a government, but they are far closer than they have been for a very long time. The prospect of a left wing government run in the interests of ordinary working people – not the cartel of vested interests who have plunged us into crisis after crisis – is an idea many of us thought would never happen. It is now much closer than it has ever been. So to quote a Jeremy Corbyn tweet I ridiculed in by blog post on Copeland: The fight starts now.  

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