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.
David Greensmith’s analysis is fine as far as it goes but there some additional factors.
1) Mrs May called the election against the advice of Sir Lynton Crosby who warned her and Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill that the 20 point poll lead was “soft” and was in reality just 10%
2) The timing was wrong, calling the election should have been done when students were on holidays and gap years.
Instead it was called in term time when Labour/Momentum were able to target them with glowing promises on tuition fees which had the costings hidden in annexes to the Labour Manifesto.
Mrs May should have Hammond take these apart but he was kept away from the business of electioneering so these young people thought that all their Christmases had come at once.
May haughtily dismissed the costs by saying “We know Jeremy Corbyn’s costs don’t add up” without further explanation.
3) May did not attend the debates and in one Q&A session with an NHS nurse who had received no real pay rise for 9 years told the nurse “We will of course fund the NHS but there is no magic money tree”.
The body language was clear enough to me and to the television audience “You will just have to get on with it”.
There was not an ounce of compassion, remorse or understanding just a swift head turn to the next questioner.
My sister Elizabeth and I watched this exchange and the audience reaction which was “May hasn’t a clue she just doesn’t get it and does not care”.
There was no pretence or offer of hope for the future.
Being a realist and a Stoic I expect little from politicians and proceed on the basis that they are liars and scoundrels but to win elections or be in a people business you have to be able to at least pretend to like people.
May failed in this regard as well so the electorate punished her.
4) Then there were the U turns by May and her earlier climb down on fat cat pay when the CBI and the City tested her mettle and Hammond failed to back her despite the growing pay inequality which is now 450 to 1 when bonuses and emoluments are factored in.
5) The Dementia tax and IR35, the HMRC witch hunt against plumbers and small builders was an attack on the self employed who are natural Conservatives as well as Pensioners who outnumber young people.
Above all the arrogance of May, who talks a good fight but does not deliver was further highlighted by the limp wristed response to ISIS jihadists on not one but three bouts of terrorism.
Her statement” I will keep you safe” was more empty rhetoric that convinced no-one.
People punished her for that as well.
Finally of course there is the BBC and Channel 4 and their collections of biased left wing reporters.
May should have privatised the BBC as soon as she got into office and sold off Channel 4.
In this way these roadblocks to reform could have been put to the sword but again nothing was done so their gnarled presenters and secular humanist reporters were left to lionise Jeremy Corbyn and make even more trouble for May than she was making for herself.
The refusal to cut foreign aid when people are sick to the back teeth of austerity and are angry about corrupt dictators stealing our aid money was the last straw leading to the result which we now see.