Against all the odds, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn scored a landmark victory of sorts in the British general election. Under his leadership, he has brought the party back as a major political force with future momentum.
Only a few weeks ago, he was written off as a «loony left» no-hoper who would crash the Labour party into oblivion. This week, however, his confident socialist manifesto has been vindicated as a winner among voters, especially the younger ones. That bodes well for the future.
Granted, Labour did not win the election with an outright majority. But the dramatic gains in new parliamentary seats brings the party into a position where it is able to propose forming a minority government if the ruling Conservatives implode from infighting.
For the Conservative party under Prime Minister Theresa May the result is a «disaster», reported Bloomberg News. The rightwing Sun blasted its front page with one word playing on the premier’s name: ‘Mayhem’. While the more sober pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph headlined gravity of the setback with: ‘May’s gamble backfires’.
Back in April, Theresa May was so confident of thrashing Labour at the ballots she made the extraordinary call to hold a snap election – three years ahead of the scheduled parliamentary cycle. May, who took over from David Cameron last year after his Brexit referendum debacle, wanted to boost her mandate with an election victory carried under her own leadership.
When she called the early election, her party enjoyed a 20-plus point lead ahead of Labour in various opinion polls. However, that lead was slashed over the weeks running up to election held this week, to the point where Labour has managed to increase its national share of the votes to 40 per cent compared with the Conservatives, who won 42 per cent, according to a BBC summary report.
That outcome marks a stupendous personal victory for Corbyn’s style and substance of leadership. It wasn’t just the opposition Conservatives and largely rightwing British media who were denigrating him as a «Marxist» and «terrorist sympathizer». Many of his own parliamentarians on the Blairite right of the Labour party were casting him as a «loser» and dead-end throwback to the party’s traditional socialist policies. It was being predicted that Corbyn would be sacked in the anticipated electoral wipe-out. As it turns out though, Labour under Corbyn has soared with the voters. He has ignited a new political energy across Britain, especially among younger voters, to give socialist ideals a renaissance.
In terms of seat numbers, Labour won some 30 new parliamentarians, while the Conservatives lost 13 seats. Rather than increasing its majority, Theresa May’s party has ended up losing its overall majority. It can only form a minority government if it manages to negotiate a working coalition with one of the fringe parties, such as the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland who have 10 seats. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of stable government.
If the Conservatives fail to produce a working minority government, then in theory Labour could form an alternative administration if it can align with the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats in an ad hoc progressive alliance. Corbyn said after the result that his party is «ready to serve the country».
It’s hard to overstate the scale of defeat for Theresa May. The BBC called the result for her «humiliating». And while she might remain as prime minister in the short term in order to maintain a modicum of political stability in British governance, the knives are already out for her ouster among rivals within her party. The gaffe-prone foreign secretary Boris Johnson is being touted as the next Conservative leader and premier.
May gambled that a strong electoral win would give her more leverage to negotiate the Brexit from the European Union on more advantageous terms for Britain. As it transpires, the Brexit process is now thrown into even more disarray because of May’s diminished mandate. Those negotiations between Brussels and London were set to begin later this month. But it seems that the talks will have to be put on hold – much to the annoyance of EU leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel. It can be expected that the EU will drive a tough bargain and not give Britain the concessions on trade and immigration control it was rather arrogantly demanding.
May’s pitch to the voters of electing a «strong leader» to negotiate a super Brexit deal with Brussels just didn’t deliver.
Labour under Corbyn is also committed to leaving the EU as per the referendum result last July, even though the party campaigned on a remain ticket. May’s calculation that voters would view him as unreliable was way off target.
What seems to have mattered most to British voters was not the politics of Brexit, but rather the more traditional issues of socio-economic concerns and class interests.
Corbyn bravely put forward a Labour manifesto which confidently called for socialist policies such as a progressive tax on the wealthy, increased government spending on public services and social welfare, and generally shifting governing power in favor of the working majority of people, the unemployed, the elderly and poor. In many ways, it was a complete repudiation of the neo-liberal capitalist agenda that has dominated British governments for the past four decades, including Labour governments of the Blair and Brown eras.
Corbyn’s socialist manifesto was lambasted as «ludicrous» and «loony left». The Conservatives and the British media arrogantly assumed the electorate would spurn Labour.
But the opposite happened. His courage, humility and tenacity under fire won voters over. Corbyn managed to capture the electorate’s imagination, courage and desire to create a new break from the failed neo-liberal orthodoxy. He dared to make voters hope again for a more democratic politics. And while not winning outright in this election, the dramatic gains made by Labour under Corbyn have put the party back as a serious contender for government.
There are several insights to be drawn from the shock British election this week. One is that the voters have been galvanized by an unabashed socialist vision of Britain. One where the economy is taken under control to serve the «many, not the few».
Another revelation is that the British voters have shown an independence of judgement that is not swayed by the propaganda of elite power, as has happened in the past. This reflects a general demise in establishment politics and oligarchic power, as seen in many other countries.
Corbyn was savagely, relentlessly denigrated for allegedly being a Marxist maverick and of being «soft on terrorism» and towards Russia. The latter because he is opposed to NATO expansion in Europe and refused, despite intense media pressure, to yield on his commitment to nuclear disarmament.
Corbyn, who has been an MP for nearly 35 years, stuck to his socialist principles and his vision for a more just and peaceful British foreign policy (vowing, for example, to cancel weapons sales to Saudi Arabia). The British establishment dismissed his politics and gave him no chance in the election. Well, guess what, the British people are increasingly with Corbyn and his socialist vision.
Theresa May won a Pyrrhic victory, by shooting her party in the head as one Conservative MP put it.
Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, has returned Labour to being a real political force, with the future on its side. Why? Because, in short, it’s the democratically, morally and intellectually sustainable way to go.