Jeremy Corbyn began his 2017 General Election campaign in a seemingly hopeless position, up to 20 points behind in the opinion polls. He faced a relentless barrage of vitriolic abuse from the right-wing press, and most of Britain’s mainstream print media is among the most extreme right in the whole of Europe. The Mail, Express and Sun, in particular, never mentioned a word about Corbyn’s policies, preferring instead to heap abuse and insults on him. Even the supposedly neutral BBC got in on the act pre-campaign, featuring a Shadow Cabinet Ministerial resignation live on air !
In addition to his media troubles, Corbyn also had the formidable problem of the large cohort of ‘Blairite’ pseudo-Tories in his own Parliamentary ranks, some of whom openly opposed and criticised him, and all of whom, one suspects, secretly preferred Tory hegemony to a win for a left-leaning Labour Party.
Yet despite all the above handicaps, Corbyn’s Labour Party made excellent progress in the election, helping to replace a Tory Government with a small but clear majority (and three years to run) with a hung Parliament and all to play for. How did Corbyn manage to achieve this ? I think that there were four main reasons, as follows.
Firstly, and most obviously, a lot of voters liked Corbyn and liked his policies. Instead of the mad Marxist bogeyman portrayed in the Daily Mail, voters saw an affable, reasonable man promoting reasonable policies. Nationalisation of the railways and water industry; a state bank to lend to small businesses; more money for vital public services paid for by increases in corporation tax and in the taxes payable by high earners; abolition of university tuition fees – all mainstream centre-left ideas. The reason that the papers attack them as ‘extremist’ or, to quote a favourite right wing term ‘loony left’ is that, after nearly 40 years of neoliberal Thatcherite dominance, the centre of British politics has moved way to the right.
Secondly, British people are absolutely fed up with endless austerity and falling living standards. Since the financial crash of 2008, of EU members only bankrupt Greece has suffered a higher decline in average earnings than Britain. All happening while the pay of boardroom fat-cats continues to grow relentlessly, irrespective of performance.
Thirdly, Theresa May ran a disastrous campaign. Aloof and unwilling to meet either her opponents in debate or any ‘ordinary’ (i.e. not hand-picked) people, and doing a spectacular U-turn on a key manifesto policy days after campaign launch, she seemed weak and wobbly, not strong and stable.
Finally, some voters may have registered an anti-Brexit protest vote. As the scale of the post-Brexit catastrophe becomes ever clearer, voters may have wanted to clobber the fools who got us in to the mess.
In summary, Corbyn’s achievement in the election has been remarkable. He has moved from being a fringe Labour left-winger, shunned or ignored by the Blairites, to within touching distance of Downing Street. It is reasonable to speculate that, if the Blairites had backed Corbyn instead of attacking or ignoring him, Labour would now be in power. Whatever the future holds, the 2017 election has caused a political earthquake, and the after-shocks will resonate for a long time yet.
David is a retired UK Government purchasing and supply specialist, originally from Leeds, with a history degree and a lifelong interest in history and politics. He and his wife Sandra retired to Cyprus in February 2015 and live in Peyia.