“Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking” — Clement Attlee
Oh Theresa, Theresa, Theresa . . . You had one job! Theresa May, ignoring the better judgement she had earlier in her premiership, decided to press ahead with what proved to be an abortive bleach-fest of an election, ran a campaign that would make Ramsay MacDonald wince, squandered any chance she had of crushing the Labour Party, lost her majority entirely, and just about managed to cling on by allying with a gang of uber-conservative religious leprechauns whose most useful policy suggestion is likely to be remedying the winter fuel shortage by burning Catholics.
She still has no mandate, the leader of the opposition is still a terrorist sympathiser1 and his party is still infested with literal communists of one variety or another; the only thing that’s really changed, thinking about it, is the country has now objectively become a global embarrassment, as if it wasn’t already. Juncker might as well invade Poland, for all we’re in a position to do about it. STRONG AND STABLE STRONG AND STABLE . . .
Seriously though, this is a time for introspection, consideration. This election rewrote traditional thought in a number of ways and undermined a lot of assumptions we all had. There are lessons to take away. And no, this isn’t about buyer’s remorse for me. I opposed G.E. 2017, admittedly for a set of reasons that pale in comparison to the ones I would bring up now rewriting that post (I thought it was divisive and unnecessary, which barely scratches the surface of what we’ve dug up here), but I’ve nothing to regret in that specific regard. However, I think we all need to have a good long look and what we have uncovered, and what we have done, because for anyone to rattle on now like their narrative is pristine would be hubris effectively defined; it would be proverbial head-in-sand.
Most of us owe Jeremy Corbyn a mea culpa. I threatened several times to give up political commentary altogether if he won the election, and thankfully he didn’t, but the frankly amazing and certainly shocking performance he put in rightly gives me pause. “I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first”, were his words after the election was announced. “. . . We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain”. I laughed at him for that; a lot of people did. Then he gained thirty-one extra seats and bagged 40% of the vote — a whole ten points up from Miliband’s share — orchestrating the first net gain of Labour seats since 19972 and overcoming what looked like fate to change an outcome I described myself as “[not] really any more in dispute than it was in 1997”. The poll lead I cited was twenty points, and, even as it closed and closed and closed, and became more and more and more unpredictable to the point it could have been anywhere from 12% to 1% by June 7, I still refused to seriously worry. I never quite contemplated the idea he could outperform expectations. He still lost, of course, but everyone consoling themselves with this thought knows deep down that it isn’t really the point, is it? He was never expected to win, and arguably he didn’t need to in order to be the real star of this election.
A huge redpill has been presented to us, if we’re willing to swallow it: populism can come from the left as well as the right, and it can be just as earth-shaking. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Media outlets have for a couple of years now been drawing attention to the rise of right-wing extremists — anti-immigrant, nationalistic, consummately anti-establishment. We are pointed to France’s National Front, the Alternative for Germany, Wilders in the Netherlands, U.K.I.P.’s 12.5% vote share in 2015, etc. We are not pointed to Syriza, which has been running Greece since the start of 2015, or Mélenchon, who quit the French Socialist Party in 2008 because it wasn’t left-wing enough, and ultimately came in less than a percentage point behind François Fillon, or Podemos in Spain, which, only five months old in May 2014, won 1.25 million votes and bagged five seats, and became the country’s third largest party within twenty days of opening its membership (it is now the second largest). In the next set of elections in December 2015, Podemos came third and shattered the country’s traditional two-party system, taking 20% of the vote share and sixty-nine seats.
That these parties have not had quite the success or international coverage of their right-wing counterparts should not prevent us from seeing a simple truth: it is the entirety of centre politics that is collapsing in the face of radicalism. The hard left is on the rise once again — morally self-assured, isolationist, consummately anti-establishment — and, as it has definitely demonstrated now, it can be fragrantly populist.
Corbyn’s charm never worked on me (I neither brag nor complain), perhaps because I have that cynicism that separates a slim slice of largely disillusioned left-wingers from the main: I am not an idealist, much less a utopian. But I made the mistake of assuming he didn’t have any charm, when I couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the more upset Conservative voters are trying to find ways of avoiding crediting Corbyn with anything. It was the awful Tory campaign, they say, with its lacklustre and complacent attitude, and its draconian manifesto, and the U-turns. These surely played their part, but I advise against such dismissal of one’s opponents. You won’t be murdered without a killer, even if you hand him the knife.
I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but I agree with Owen Jones:
Don’t let them get away with the claim that, “Ah, this election just shows a better Labour leader could have won!” Risible rot. Do we really think that Corbyn’s previous challengers to the leadership — and this is nothing personal — would have inspired millions of otherwise politically disengaged and alienated people to come out and vote, and drive Labour to its highest percentage since the famous Blair landslide? If the same old stale, technocratic centrism had been offered, Labour would have faced an absolute drubbing, just like its European sister parties did.
The truth is that Corbyn has certain charismatic qualities. His manifesto was not the return to the 1970s the tabloids played it up as, and its policies were always more popular than the Conservative ones. Politically, he has brought social democracy back to the mainstream; personally, he has given people an “indefinable sense of hope” — perhaps not outside of a certain base, and certainly not among the small-c conservative British working class, or the crucial C2s, but he has enthused a significant minority of Britons under many of our noses. His mass movement worked, largely. He has offered something different, new, like we’ve seen in an increasing number of elections in recent years, but this time from the left instead of the right. All that was needed was a good dose of Tory-hatred among the apathetic masses — supplied by seven years of austerity — and something to get the youth vote out. This last feat was in my opinion the most impressive. I await reliable figures for demographic turnout3, but I have heard the number 72% circulating, which is frankly astounding. The youth vote fell away dramatically after 1997, and not since the days of Harold Wilson, who drew out 88% of 18-24 year-olds, has a shock like this been registered. I’m sure anger about the E.U. Referendum had a lot to do with it, but so too I imagine did Corbyn’s pledge to end tuition fees.
Look at a selection of Labour voters explain what motivated them, and you’ll see the potent combination I mean:
Jeremy Corbyn has inspired me. His policies make total sense. Yes, they may all be crowd-pleasers, but if he were given a chance to enact even half of what he plans, I think the country would be a much brighter place, especially in the poorest of our communities, like Motherwell. We’ve tried Conservatism and it’s not working for everyone. Corbyn has always been a principled man and I think the party would unite behind him if he won the election.
I was hoping that my grandchildren would benefit from my estate to help pay off their debt, and after reading the Conservative manifesto I now know that this won’t be possible if I vote Tory.
I cannot stand the idea of a further five years of Conservative rule, so as soon as an election was announced I decided to vote tactically to ensure a Labour win. Also, for the first time I can remember a mainstream party has offered genuine hope, and something I can buy into. The Labour manifesto does just that.
For the first time in my life, Labour policies fall in line with my own sensibilities. I went to see Corbyn when he came to Leeds, and he spoke sense: he spoke like a person and not a soundbite. He doesn’t dodge questions. I’m never going to agree with everything he says, but at the moment he’s the best shot we’ve got for a government that cares about people and not money.
Do I still believe Corbyn is incompetent? Yes. Do I still believe his plans are unworkable? Yes. Do I still believe he has too many shady connections and dark rumours about him to ever be allowed to hold office? Absolutely. But I am allowed to hold these opinions while also congratulating him for charisma I never saw. He is a natural campaigner, a firebrand after the likes of Tom Dalyell. He found his footing when the time came, slipped into his comfort zone on the soapbox. Like Trump, his ability to govern is up for debate, but, like Trump, he knows how to hold a rally.
1. I do not exaggerate. The man has deliberately frustrated the Northern Ireland peace process by voting against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and was general secretary of the editorial board of Labour Briefing, which supported the 1984 Brighton Bombing and distanced itself from an article critical of the atrocity. In addition to this, he appeared on a state T.V. show for the Iranian regime six months after it had had its Ofcom licence revoked for filming the confession of a tortured journalist, and has said very nice things about Raed Salah, a man who spends his days spreading the Blood Libel and claiming the Jews were responsible for 9/11.
3. An impressive YouGov survey of 50,000 has now come out to partially deflate this shocking figure. Turnout seems to have been 57% for those aged 18-19 and 59% for those aged 20-24, which is much lower than expected, if considerably higher than average. However, of those that did vote, Labour’s lead is even greater than I thought: 66% and 62% respectively, compared with only 19% and 22% who voted Conservative. Age has now become the primary predictor of voting intention, considering the Conservatives were ahead by fifty points among those aged over seventy, while Labour was ahead forty-seven points among those aged 18-19.